By Dr. John Schinnerer

Executive Summary: A recent study looked at the commonalities between success, life satisfaction and happiness for men in the United States.  5,000 men were surveyed and some interesting findings resulted… happiness is most closely related to following (in order of importance from most to least): 1. meaningful work, 2. physical and mental health, 3. income, 4. age, 5. marital status, 6. leisure and sports, and 7. military service.

Contentment. Money. Cars. Hot wife. Confidence. Ripped muscles. Satisfying work. Frequent sex.  The single life. Autonomy. Control. Youth. Good looks. 

Which of the above are most important to happy, successful men in America? What are the values of a satisfied American male? 

A huge study was done recently asking these important questions. After all, which man doesn’t want to be happy and successful?!

Over 5,000 men aged 18-95 all within and across the United States were asked hundreds of questions to gain insight into what provides us with emotional, physical and mental health. The one commonality among the 7 billion humans on this planet is that we all, at some level, want to be happy. 

How Is Happiness Measured?

Participants were first asked about their happiness, confidence, sense of being in control of their lives, emotional stability, optimistic outlook and motivation. This set of questions comprised the Positive Mindset Index (or PMI), a well-defined estimate of how happy and optimistic these men are. 

Next, subjects were asked how satisfied they were in important areas of life: career, friendships, marriage, income, physical health, work-life balance, and mental well-being. And lastly, they were asked about what type of values they aspire to. In other words, what motivates them. 

General Discoveries

The modern American man is clear on his values and battles to live accordingly. The values that U.S. men aspire to are other-focused – reliability, dependability, honesty, respect and loyalty. At the bottom of the list of values, surprisingly, was being athletic and having a ripped, muscular body, showing that men have learned that happiness starts on the inside and emanates outward. 

The Happiest Man in America – An Average Profile

The happiest man in America is very satisfied with with his job. He places a premium on mental AND physical health. He earns a good income. He is more likely to be married and he is over the age of 50. 

  1. What Impacts Men’s Happiness The Most?

The biggest impact on a positive mindset for men is – by far – meaningful work. This seems to be the cornerstone upon which a happy, meaningful life is built. 

Men who have meaningful work are happier men. Even when other things in life are difficult, meaningful work can increase feelings of satisfaction, meaning and a sense of control. 

Meaningful work is such a strong predictor of wellbeing that it was found to be 300% higher than the next predictor (i.e., physical and mental health). 

And take note, this isn’t mere greed. Meaningful work was about having an positive impact on the company’s bottom line; hanging out with coworkers, a feeling of making a difference, a sense that what one does matters, being part of something bigger than oneself, and making a fair amount of money.

2. The Pathway To Happiness Begins Inside

Health, both physical and mental, came in as the second highest predictor of happiness and wellbeing for men in the U.S. This was broken down into subcategories and surprisingly, grooming (e.g., taking care of one’s outer appearance) was the strongest predictor within this group. It is thought that this is due to the positive impact of looking good on one’s confidence and mood. 

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Men’s happiness predicted by male friendships

A huge finding was the strong emphasis U.S. men place on their mental health. This insight is enormously hopeful  for all men (as well as women!). U.S. men place more weight on their mental health than on their physical health. Across all respondents, 52% stated their mental health was “very important” compared to 43% who stated their physical health was “very important”. This shows massive growth in men around the need to address mental health issues and the willingness to learn new tools to increase their mental health and happiness. 

3. Money Comes In At Third

The 3rd most important predictor of happiness for men was money. Of course, a minimum amount of money is needed to fulfill one’s basic needs. Earning a healthy wage, a wage which one feels is fair compensation for work done, is a major contributor to men’s happiness. 

4. Men Improve With Age, Like A Fine Wine

Men age well, getting happier as they get older. We peak in our 50’s. This sends a hopeful statement to the nervous younger men who dread old age. Instead, it is a period of life to which they can look forward.  It also points out the need for mentoring programs in which younger men can learn tools for happiness, values and good living from older men. 

5. Despite What Single Men Say, Marriage Boosts Happiness

Being married came in 5th place for most significant determinants of men’s happiness and well-being. Men who are married are significantly more happy followed by those who are in a committed relationship or living together. At the bottom? The single guy who was found to be even worse off than divorcees or widows. 

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Happiness is predicted by marital status

6. Men Need Male Friends For Happiness

Those men who place a premium on friendship, family and sports (particularly team sports) have more wellbeing and satisfaction with life. Friendships fulfill some of our essential needs including socializing, belonging to a group, competition and conversation. 

Surprisingly, having the perfect body was relatively unimportant to men. What was important was staying fit – mentally and physically – for the benefit of their children, spouse and families. 


7. Military Service Adds A Big Boost

And finally, being a member of the U.S. armed forces, in the past or present, is connected to having a more optimistic, happy outlook on life. What’s more, being on active duty confers the highest PMI. This makes sense when you consider that 3 significant pillars of happiness are an awareness of one’s deeply held values, meaningful work, and being part of something larger than one’s self. Being a member of the military neatly fulfills all three of these. 


While the results of this research are encouraging, there is still much work to be done to slow the rise of male suicide, drug and alcohol addiction and loneliness worldwide. This research suggests pathways to do that. Begin with getting men into fulfilling work. While the dignity of respectable work fulfills men’s need to provide, joblessness, on the other hand, contributes to depression, anger, social withdrawal and addiction. To the extent policy makers can incentivize employers to move into economically disadvantaged areas to create employment opportunities, they should. More education around sustaining and leveraging social networks to aid in job search is needed as well. Watching for changes in grooming habits is a good indicator of a man’s mood. And encouraging men to step up their physical appearance and grooming can give them a psychological boost. Finally, supporting relationships and families for men is critical. Men in a committed relationship with male friends are among the happiest of all. Let’s encourage involvement in sports teams, men’s groups, and rekindling old friendships. These findings suggest men are looking to be honest, loyal, dependable and respectful. Let’s speak to the best, most aspirational values in men in order to help all men be the kind of men who can look at themselves in the mirror with pride, dignity and hope. 

About Dr. John Schinnerer:

Dr. John hosts a top 10 podcast to help men evolve, The Evolved Caveman. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He was an expert consultant for Pixar’s Inside Out. He has spoken to organizations such as Stanford Medical School, Chinese entrepreneurs in Hebei, China, U.C. Berkeley, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Gap and UPS. He has been featured in national media such as U.S. News and World Report, Readers Digest, and SELF Magazine. Dr. John has worked with Army Rangers, Navy Seals, entrepreneurs, and executives from dozens of Fortune 500 companies. His areas of expertise range from high performance, to positive psychology, to anger management, to positive masculinity, to creating happy, thriving relationships. Over 10,000 people have taken his online anger management course. He recently recorded 2 mini-courses on anger management and forgiveness for Simple Habit; they have been listened to nearly 100,000 times in the first year. Visit, or to learn more.