Loving your life and your work. Now that's the ultimate dream. And, according to your Instagram feed, many people have already achieved it. But social media isn't telling the whole story. 

We've been conditioned by society to believe that the secret to happiness is that, well, it just happens to us. We've also been taught that happiness means having lots of friends, traveling to beautiful destinations, and having pockets (and pockets) full of money. But this is wrong. Dead wrong.

Despite all of those photos we see of people who are just bursting at the seams with joy, the truth is that Americans' happiness levels have been on the decline.

According to data from The General Social Survey, one of the longest-running and most highly regarded public opinion research projects in the nation, life in America just keeps getting more miserable.

On a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 representing "not too happy" and 3 indicating "very happy," Americans average out at a 2.18--just a hair above "pretty happy." That might seem great at first. But it's actually a significant decline from the nation's peak happiness, as measured by the survey in the early 1990s.

This change in average happiness is driven by the number of people who say they're not too happy: 13% in 2018 compared with 8% in 1990. That's more than 50% increase in unhappy people. (Are you happy? Truly happy? Find out here.)

Other recent research confirms this trend. The World Happiness Report 2019 found that a separate measure of overall life satisfaction fell by 6% in the United States between 2007 and 2018.

While this is due to all kinds of factors, it's probably a safe bet that one of the reasons our happiness levels are decreasing is because we're basing them on the wrong things (read: material items, money, and more). So, what does being happy really mean? Here are 13 surprising truths that you can use as your happiness bible. And from this point forward, you can start ignoring the erroneous messages about happiness that you see everywhere.

Happiness is:

  1. Valuing and appreciating who you are and practicing that belief every day.

  2. Having deep connections with other people that truly see you for who you are and that you can be completely vulnerable with.

  3. Having work that energizes you and makes you feel as though you are making a contribution to the world that is really meaningful to you. (More on that here.)

  4. Not caring what other people think.

  5. Not measuring your value based on others value. It's appreciating everyone for their unique value and perspective.

  6. Having friendships that energize you and are supportive when times are tough.

  7. Knowing the difference between your past baggage and your present and doing the work to ensure you're not always operating from your childhood blueprint/trauma.

  8. Having psychological safety at home and at work. Meaning you can fully express yourself emotionally and physically in both environments.

  9. Knowing that how you feel is more important than how you look.

  10. Having the time to create meaningful connections with your family.

  11. Knowing that if you died tomorrow, you wouldn't change anything about your life

  12. Slowing down at work, so that you can notice how you're treating other people. Then be proactive about your behavior rather than reactive. 

  13. Not using material items as a Band-aid for lack of emotional connection.

Published on: Jul 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.