Is there a secret to true happiness? Is the propensity to be cheerful and positive built into our genes, or is it completely dependent on our attitude and circumstances?

It's common in our culture to assume that wealth and material belongings are major contributing factors to our happiness. But most of us have found that "stuff" just doesn't do it. In his book, Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century, Stanley Lebergott discusses the conundrum: "....[G]oods yield a wavering stream of satisfaction. Some movies prove to be boring; books, dull; automobiles, lemons. And yesterday's delightful purchase may be dumped in today's trash can. Consumers nonetheless keep searching. "

So if "stuff" doesn't bring happiness--at least long-term happiness--what does? Are there strategies, attitudes or habits that can actually increase our happiness quotient? Following are 5 ways to be happier in life.

1. Start a "dream bucket."

Tony Robbins, life coach extraordinaire, believes that setting aside money to invest in short-term dreams can help you enjoy life now--not just "someday". In an interview with OWN TV, he discusses the importance of planning for and living out some of your short-term dreams: "I don’t believe you should just save money and miser, and ‘someday’ you’ll have that money when you’re old." He goes on to explain how this leads to happiness in the present: "That joy is going to create momentum that will make me feel wealthy or alive today — not just ‘someday’ 25 years in the future."

Take some time to come up with some short-term goals that will bring you joy. They don't have to be big or expensive goals, but should somehow add value to your life: like visiting family or taking a holiday to recoup from a stressful period at work.

2. Consciously engage with life.

Living life without goals is a great way to become totally unmotivated and even depressed. In his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi urges his readers to engage with life, rather than being passive observers.

He writes, "In our ESM studies we find that even physical health is better when a person focuses on a goal. On weekends, when alone, and with nothing to do, people report more symptoms of illness...Without goals and without others to interact with, most people begin to lose motivation and concentration. The mind begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems that cause anxiety."

It's not necessarily which goals you set for yourself that matter, it's that they're meaningful to you. Even setting small, seemingly insignificant goals throughout the day may reduce anxiety and increase happiness.

3. Exercise regularly.

We've long known the benefits of exercise for improved health and energy levels, but we also now know that regular exercise can make you happier. A review of research into the benefits of exercise has shown improved mental well-being as well as a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Other positive benefits were:

Regular exercise may not be the cure-all for anxiety or unhappiness, but the potential benefits clearly make the effort worthwhile.

4. Surround yourself with happy people.

You've probably noticed that when you're in the company of negative, grumpy or sarcastic people, your mood suffers. Conversely, when you're around positive, optimistic people, you start seeing the brighter side of things.

Research that followed 4,739 people over the course of 20 years, found that those participants who were surrounded with happy people were more likely to be happy themselves: "Clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in the network, and the relationship between people's happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one's friends' friends). People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future."

If you have negative people in your life, make sure you balance the happiness scale by also spending time with happy, upbeat individuals. And don't feel bad about it: your own happiness depends on it!

5. Take time out to meditate.

Prayer, meditation, alone time--call it what you want. But research has shown that a regular practice of meditation can improve many aspects of your life. Regular meditation can not only decrease stress levels and symptoms of depression, it can improve overall satisfaction with life: "Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms."

But the question remains...

The question that I'm left with is this: how much of our happiness is dependent on genes? Sure, we can try incorporating some of the strategies above into our lives, but how much of our well-being is passed onto us through our genes?

Fortunately, researchers set out to answer this question with the Minnesota Twin Family Study. They looked at 1300 sets of twins, both identical and fraternal. What they found was surprising: while identical twins exhibited similar happiness levels, fraternal twins had a fair bit of variation.

Researchers concluded that around half of happiness is in our genes, while the other half is influenced by circumstances: "In other words, everyone is born with a certain "set point" for happiness in the same way that your household thermostat is set to maintain a certain temperature in your home. Tragedies and pleasures might affect your level of happiness. But eventually you will return to your genetic set point, just as the temperature of your home will return to your thermostat's set point after you have let in cold air by opening a door or window."

When pursuing happiness, keep in mind that happiness is a byproduct--not necessarily a goal. If life is only good when you're happy, you're setting yourself up for a miserable life! Difficult circumstances and events are going to happen, and seeing a greater purpose in those circumstances will go a long way to living a meaning-filled life.

What habits do you practice in order to improve your mood and outlook on life? Share below!