The secret to happiness boils down to three simple things – good personal relationships, financial security and a sense of purpose in life.

This “Golden Triangle of Happiness” has emerged as the key finding from 15 years of research into personal wellbeing conducted by Deakin University, using more than 60,000 responses to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index survey.

When these three elements are present, normal positive levels of mood happiness will almost certainly be found, regardless of age, income or health status. These findings are summarised in the new publication “What Makes Us Happy”, published today.

The Index is based on survey responses and, for the last 15 years, has recorded average wellbeing at around 75 out of a possible 100. People are normally satisfied with their lives.

“These results also show that people are naturally resilient. Even in challenging times, people do a good job of holding their mood happiness steady,’’ Deakin University emeritus professor Robert Cummins, author of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, says.

“We have an inbuilt defensive mechanism that generally returns people to their normal level of mood after most life events, good or bad. However, if the challenge is too persistent and strong, these defences fail, and people become prone to depression,” Professor Cummins says.

“It is interesting that money is not the most important corner of the Golden Triangle. This honour goes to intimate relationships. People on low incomes can have normal levels of happiness provided that their relationships and purpose in life are strongly positive,” Professor Cummins says.

Also surprising is that health and happiness are normally unrelated. While satisfaction with health falls as we age, overall happiness tends to rise. Essentially, we adapt to most slow-onset medical conditions.

“What Makes Us Happy” includes a range of other findings, including the effect of children on parental happiness (negative for low income parents, neutral for high), where we live (move to Tasmania), and the use of social media (high use is linked to low happiness).

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index evaluates satisfaction with life across a range of areas– standard of living, health, achievement (purpose) in life, personal relationships, safety, community connection and future security. Together, these provide a measure of mood happiness.

See the full report What Makes Us Happy to the right of this page in the downloads section.

For further information or interviews please contact:

Professor Robert Cummins on 0402 917 972 or


Stephen Lunn, Senior Manager Public Policy, Australian Unity on 0401 704 352 or