Engineering Happiness: A How-To Guide to Designing a Happy Life

Engineering Happiness: A How-To Guide to Designing a Happy Life

Last year there were over 667 million searches on Google for answers to the question, “How can I be happy?”

That sounds like there’s a problem that needs solving.

Being an engineer, I approached it as an engineering problem. Is there a “how” to happiness and can you use it to design and build a happier life?


The key is in knowing what happiness is and understanding what you need to become happy.

Defining the Problem: What is Happiness?

With any engineering problem it’s important to be clear about your goals. The goal is happiness but what is that, exactly?

The dictionary says happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience” but that doesn’t help us much, it’s too vague.

It’s simply an effect without a cause. If it was the right definition, you’d see this on bumpers everywhere:

I haven’t seen that one around, have you? Mostly it’s something else that seems to happen.

Here’s how I define happiness: Happiness is when your life fulfills your needs.

When we feel fulfilled, our needs sufficiently satisfied, we experience happiness. We now have a cause for our effect and an engineering problem to solve.

Engineering 101: The 6 W’s

Back in grade school you were probably taught that to understand something, you needed answers to the 6 W’s*: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?.

Our problem is just like any other. Answer these six questions* and you’re on your way to a solution.

Since our problem is to figure out how you can be happier, let’s get the answers to those 6 W’s now and see how you can apply them to design and build your happier life.

Who Is To Become Happy?

The only person you can actually control is yourself. That means that it is only your happiness you can truly work on.

Sure, there are many people out there trying to change someone else; a lover, a friend, or a “misguided soul”, but they’re wasting their time. The best you can do is offer a helping hand.

The hands of fate are random. Life comes with fixed barriers, unexpected challenges, and people adverse to you. You cannot control these but you can control a great deal. Your destiny and happiness are something you have an active role in creating. Change happens when you choose for it to.

Since you can’t control others and you can’t change outside forces, your control over your life is not infinite. What that means is a certain degree of acceptance. It also means you have the power to control the rest – and that’s quite a lot.

You have the power to make your life happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. With that power comes the responsibility to do so. If you don’t control your life, random chance or someone else will.

Who is to become happy? The answer is in your hands. Is it you, who is to be happy, or will you leave it to fate?

Where Can I Find Happiness?

All your feelings, experiences, and sensations are in your mind. I don’t mean that you’re living in “The Matrix” or anything like that, rather that the only way you can interact with the world is through your mental processes.

Happiness is just one such mental process. The exact workings of happiness in the brain are still being worked out but we do know something about it.

What we know is that it’s a combination of the brain’s wiring and the levels of various neurotransmitters that determine your mood. If you’re happy, then things are in balance. Happiness is something you can maintain, as compared to Pleasure, which is a temporary high state.

People show their happiness in different ways. Some people are bubbly, others calm and quiet. What matters is if they feel happy.

Science speaks of the brain’s emotional set points but these set points aren’t fixed. Due to brain plasticity, you can change them over time.

What Do You Need To Be Happy?

Since happiness is when your life fulfills your needs, the question becomes what are your needs?

As humans, we all share the same basic needs which fall into nine categories in the WE PROMISE theory of happiness: Wellbeing, Environment, Pleasure, Relationships, Outlook, Meaning, Involvement, Success, and Elasticity.

Within those nine categories are specific needs, what we call your Happiness Essentials™. For example, Environment includes factors outside you that influence your happiness: Freedom, Safety, and Beauty, to pick three.

All together, we’ve identified nearly sixty Happiness Essentials that factor into your happiness. Many of these will be well satisfied, of low priority, or otherwise off your radar but not all.

To be happy you need to work to fulfill your unmet and high priority needs, which leads us to the next question…

Why Do You Want To Be Happy?

What motivated you to read this article? It was a desire to live a happy, fulfilling, and satisfying life, wasn’t it?

For us humans, answering the “Why” question of happiness is kind of like asking, “Why should I fall in love?” It just happens, right?

Not exactly. Science has an explanation rooted in evolutionary theory.

The scientific explanation is that we’re wired for happiness and, like most things about us, it has a purpose. Evolutionary psychology says that most of who we are as humans boils down to one thing: it helped us reproduce.

I know, it sounds kind of cold to describe the loving, creative, and curious person you are as just a “baby factory” but evolution is relentless over the long term. Whoever has the most babies wins and those winners were your ancestors. At least that’s how it’s been for the last few billion years.

So, why do you want to be happy? The answer is so deep within that it’s completely below your conscious awareness: Happy people attract better mates. Better mates make more and better babies.

Or you could just use the easy answer: It simply feels better to be happy. What’s not to like about that?

When Should You Be Happy?

Since happiness is when your life fulfills your needs, there is no reason for any delay. GET HAPPY NOW!

Okay, easier said than done. I know there are many gurus out there claiming you can “just be happy”, and I know some people who just are.

My research suggests that “just being happy” is a strategy that works for maybe 25-30% of the population, primarily people with a certain personality temperament, the “Artisan” or xSxP types.

These people tend to live in the present moment. It’s how their brains were wired at birth and who they are but, odds are, it’s not who you are or you wouldn’t be reading this article.

What’s Your Personality Type? Find out in 30 seconds with our free test.

True happiness is a lifetime activity. A continuous effort to fulfill your needs. Unless you’re one of those Artisan types, it’s not just about now. It’s about guiding your life to make those present moments the best they can be.

Abraham Maslow suggested that we had a hierarchy of needs and while I don’t agree completely, I do agree that our needs vary at different points in our lives. For example, at some point raising children will probably be a high priority need you’ll work to fulfill. At other times, you’re more interested in giving to others, getting into flow, or learning to overcome fear.

When should you be happy? Maybe the gurus are right and the answer is now. By working to fulfill your needs, starting now, you are creating the happy life you want. Happiness is lived in the moment.

How you get there is a plan you create for your future. That’s what we’ll explore in our final step next.

How Can You Become Happier?

This is the point where theory turns into action. It’s time for some applied engineering of your happiness.

Happiness is when your life fulfills your needs but with nearly sixty Happiness Essentials spread over the nine WE PROMISE categories, which needs should you work on?

When it comes to happiness, the fastest route is by changing your life to fulfill only those needs which meet the following three criteria:

  • They can be changed by you (i.e. not death and taxes)
  • They are a high priority to you at this time in your life
  • You are furthest from having them fulfilled

We’ve designed a tool that helps you identify which of your Happiness Essentials meet this criteria for maximum happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Our invention, the world’s first online Happiness Planner™, shows you how to engineer your optimal route to happiness. I encourage you to try it out.

Can you engineer happiness? Yes, you can.

Only you can take action to change your life. The question is will you?

* Apparently the British only teach 5 W’s leaving off the “how?”. I guess that makes you Brits extra good a defining the problem but leaving how to solve it to us Yanks. That explains the whole “stiff upper lip” business. 🙂

About Kenneth Benjamin

"Your happiness is locked within. It's my job to be the locksmith." Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happiness International, Kenneth Benjamin transforms the science of happiness into real-world tools that help people discover their needs and follow them on their unique path to happiness. 

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