It’s said that into every life a little rain must fall. In your life, does the rain come from a stray cloud on an otherwise sunny day, or is it from a gray overcast sky that never goes away? Hopefully, your personal forecast calls for sunny days and sunny moods. The reason is that medical studies have repeatedly confirmed that happiness contributes positively to a person’s health.

That a contented mind and cheerful spirit can improve physiological functioning should not be a surprise, since we’ve known for a long time that the opposites – stress, depression and anxiety – can cause physical illnesses. We know that stress and depression both can lead to heart disease and heart attacks. We know that people with heavy job stress have 50 percent higher health-care costs. We know that almost all visits to primary care physicians are in some way related to mental health.

There is a common misconception about happiness. We convince ourselves that life will be better if we have a larger home, a nicer car, and a corner office. We tell ourselves we’ll be happier if we are married, if we have children, if we get divorced. We tell ourselves that life will be better once we finish a difficult task at work, or perhaps when we change jobs altogether. The truth, as we are constantly shown, is that life is always full of challenges. Happiness doesn’t suddenly, permanently envelop us when we’ve completed a task or cleared an obstacle. At some point, we must admit to ourselves that these tasks and obstacles are life, and decide to be happy in spite of them.

Are there built-in barriers to happiness of which we need to be aware? Some people believe that happiness is related to age. Surveys of many thousands of people tell us, though, that age alone has very little impact on the level of happiness experienced by humans. Teen-age years are for some are carefree and joyous, but for others are angst-filled or disturbing. Post-retirement is a time of adventure and exploration for some, isolation and loneliness for others. Different ages offer different challenges, but happiness correlates to the way in which challenges are handled, not the age at which they are handled.

Similarly, happiness is not related to gender. Studies show that neither sex is inherently or statistically happier than the other.

Can money buy happiness? There’s been a lot of discussion on this subject throughout the history of humankind. At first glance, the answer would seem to be no, that wealth does not confer happiness. In a 1957 study, about 35 percent of the population identified themselves as happy. Today, 30 percent of Americans call themselves happy. This is despite a a doubling in average family earnings and despite the explosion in comforts and luxuries such as air conditioning, television sets, computers, mobile phones, etc.

The truth is, though, that money does have some correlation to happiness. People who are wealthy enough to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter and health care are generally happier that people who lack such necessities. After basic needs have been met, though, wealth loses much of its power to create contentment or happiness. a study of the people on the Forbes Magazine list of the 100 wealthiest people indicates they are only slightly happier than average citizen. Research seems to say that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.

There are many characteristics of happy people. Happy people have little or no preoccupation with worry or guilt. They usually have pleasant, positive feelings about the present and the future. They are less focused on themselves and more focused on others. They are less hostile, and tend not to be abusive to others. More than others, happy people are energetic, forgiving and helpful.

Through the years, experts like Dr. David Myers, author of Pursuit of Happiness, have identified a number of qualities shared by many people who tend to be happy. From that research, seven concrete characteristics of happy people have emerged.

First, happy people like themselves. They seem themselves as emotionally and physically healthy. They believe they are more ethical and intelligent. They believe they are less prejudiced and better able to get along with people. Basically, they like themselves.

Second, happy people feel a sense of personal control. They feel empowered. Because of that, they tend do better at work and school and cope better with stress.

Third, happy people are optimistic. They expect good things to happen. They feel upbeat. They see the glass as half full, not half empty. They try to make sense of events in an optimistic and positive way.

Fourth, happy people are extroverted. We do not know if happiness makes people more extroverted if extroversion causes happiness, but statistically, we can see that they correlate.

Fifth, happy people have close relationships. That shows up most obviously in surveys, which tell us that married people are usually happier than unmarried people. But it’s not a question of marriage; close, trusting relationships of any kind tend to help people be happy more readily than they would be without.

Sixth, happy people have a spiritual foundation. Spirituality is a belief system that focuses on intangible elements that add meaning and vitality to life’s experiences. Whether that shows up in belief in God, a dedicated prayer life or communing with nature doesn’t matter. Whatever the basis, highly spiritual people are twice as happy as people who are not highly spiritual, studies show.

Seventh, happy people tend to have balanced lives. The time in their lives dedicated to work, play and spirituality is sufficient for each. They make time for reflection and relaxation.

Finally, happy people are creative. They look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible and find creative ways of handling those problems. When something strikes a spark of interest, they follow it. They don’t let life become sedentary. They keep producing new ideas and learning new things.

The relationship between mind, body and spirit is very intimate. When one aspect is affected, the other aspects feel it, too. Proverbs 17:22 says that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” That ancient piece of advice is now supported by the most modern scientific research. What we know, you can practice: human wholeness includes a healed body and soul, and a happy spirit contributes to the health of the whole person.