In her best selling book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, identifies three of the most important factors and their importance in determining your level of happiness:
- 50% of the difference in happiness levels between people is determined by their Happiness SetPoint (the baseline level of happiness you are born with).
- 10% of the difference in happiness levels between people is determined by their life circumstances.
- 40% of the difference in happiness levels between people is determined by their “intentional activities.”
Happiness Set Point
Research shows that our genes play a role in determining our level of happiness. Lyubomirsky explains that everyone is born with a Happiness Set Point, kind of like a baseline happiness level. Some of us are simply happier than others (think Tigger vs Eeyore)
And as we go through life and experience all sorts of ups and downs, we tend to return to our Happiness SetPoint. But don’t despair, if you have a low happiness set point, it doesn’t mean that you are destined to be unhappy your whole life.
The right conditions (environmental, social etc.) must be present for a gene to express itself. For example, someone with a depression gene may never experience depression unless the environmental factor for gene expression presents itself, which for depression is severe stress.
Contrary to popular belief, life circumstances such as whether you’re rich or poor, beautiful or plain, live in a mansion or townhouse, or whether you are healthy or sick have very little to do with how happy one person is to the next.
When we change the circumstances of our lives to try to make ourselves happier, it doesn’t work. This can be explained by the concept of hedonic adaptation. Humans are very good at adapting to sensory or physiological changes. For example, the happiness we feel when we first get a raise in pay wears off quickly as we adapt to our new circumstances.
So, if we can’t change our Happiness Set Point and a bigger house, better job or new Louis Vutton handbag aren’t going to make us happier, what are we left with? Lyubomirsky explains that how we think and act and what we do with our lives determines our level of happiness and that by engaging in the same intentional activities and developing the same characteristics of happy people, we can ultimately become happier.
Some of the most important intentional activities and characteristics of happy people include:
- spending a lot of time with family and friends
- working on achieving goals and dreams
- engaging in regular physical exercise and activities
- practicing acts of kindness
- have good coping skills in the face of adversity
- are optimistic about their future
- live in the present, and savour life’s special moments
- express gratitude for what they have