At the beginning of the year, CivicScience took the pulse of U.S. adults to better understand how they define happiness and success. Now, it’s time for an update. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the top level results echo those of our last report. Family and home life are still the main definitions of both happiness and success. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

As the data show, low-income earners are more likely to define happiness as health and friendships than any other income level. And when it comes to money, low and high-income earners are nearly tied. 

Career was more of a barometer for success among each income group, but low-income adults put slightly less emphasis on it than earners of other levels of income.

The Gender Gap 

Men and women also have different opinions when it comes to their definitions of happiness and success. Across the board, women place greater emphasis on family and home life, while men place more emphasis on friendships, romantic relationships, and career. It almost feels like a cliche, and yet, the data tells it like it is.


Consider the role of parental status and you’ll see that for parents and non-parents alike, being able to connect with other people – whether or not those people are family or friends who they may consider to be like family – is a top priority for both.

Take an even closer look at data from the last year and it becomes clear that while happiness amongst parents of school-aged children comes in at 61%, happiness amongst non-parents lags behind at 52%. This further suggests that non-parents may rely more heavily on their friendships for a sense of connection, which has likely been more challenging in the last year with the various lockdowns and social restrictions in place.

However, when it comes to success, while parents and grandparents still value family and home life, parents define success by career and money, as well. This suggests that priorities shift for those with families, perhaps especially depending on life stage and connection to the workforce.

So while family and home life continue to dominate Americans’ definitions of happiness and success, the relationships that fulfill that desire for human connection – and the happiness that it brings – are nuanced. And as a result, those with easier in-person access to those who bring them joy may be emotionally better-off during this time.