What makes happy people happy? Is it the money? A promotion? A new iPhone? Their family’s health?
University of California-Riverside researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work informs us about where our happiness comes from and how to get more of it.
Pieces of the happiness pie
Dr. Lyubomirsky proposes three components to happiness: 1.) a genetically-based “happiness set point;” 2.) life circumstances; and 3.) intentional activities and practices. She has broken these three areas into percentages regarding how much they are responsible for your happiness.
The first one, a genetically-based happiness set point – something you inherited – is responsible for a whopping fifty percent of your overall happiness. You’re stuck with it.
The idea is that no matter what happens – good or bad – you tend to eventually settle back into your inherited level of happiness.
Life circumstances account for only ten percent of your happiness. These circumstances include where you live, how old you are, your ethnicity, how much money you make, the status of your health, and good or bad life events such as getting a raise at work or being in a car accident.
You could try to improve your life circumstances by getting more stuff, striving for career goals, and finding the perfect partner.
The problem is that even if your life circumstances improve greatly – you win the lottery – studies show that we get accustomed to the new circumstance and our happiness level returns to its usual setting.
So, if fifty-percent of your happiness pie is taken up by your genetic happiness set point and ten percent is attributed to life circumstances, where is the last forty percent?
This final slice of pie is what Dr. Lyubomirsky calls intentional activities.
Intentional means that you are choosing to do something. Lyubomirsky points out that there is a critical difference to be noted here between life circumstances and taking action: “ . . . circumstances happen to people, and activities are ways that people act on their circumstances.”
So this forty-percent portion of your happiness and well-being is quite under your control.
And, unlike the other two components, pursuing intentional activities allows us to keep changing them so that they always seem new and we don’t lapse back into our old, lower state of happiness.
Dr. Lyubomirsky suggests three ways that her research has proven to be effective in raising happiness levels:
1. Commit acts of kindness.
Performing acts of kindness helps you to feel happier. And they don’t have to be big things; small kindnesses go a long way in increasing your happiness.
“Stealth kindness” is a way to do something kind for others while having fun yourself. The idea behind this is to do something nice for someone without them seeing you do it. Examples might be:
Paying for the coffee of the person behind you in the line at your drive-thru coffee kiosk.
Saying something nice about your restaurant server to her manager on the way out.
Leave a good book on the bus or train with a note that says, “Hope you enjoy this as much as I did!”
Of course, you can always do something kind for people right in front of them, too!
2. Notice things to be grateful for.
A little gratitude can not only break up your bad mood, it can actually make you happy.
And here’s something interesting Lyubomirsky’s research revealed: people who wrote down only once per week what they were grateful for had higher levels of happiness than people who kept daily gratitude journals.
It seems that daily noting of gratitude can become too habitual while writing about gratitude one time per week keeps the activity new, fresh, and more apt to have you actually notice the great things going on in your life.
3. Savor positive moments
We all like to share the good stuff that happens in our lives. But it turns out that one of the best ways to keep happiness at its peak is to continue to savour your best moments privately.
Not that you can’t share them with others, just remember to think about them and replay them in your mind when you’re by yourself, too.
This idea of savoring also includes noticing and appreciating things that are happening in the moment around you – the smile of a stranger, a beautiful flower, the laughter of children, or an awesome sunset.
What is it that makes you happy? Share your insights by commenting below or by posting your lovely comment on the PurposeFairy Facebook Page.
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Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. You can find her blog at www.TheBounceBlog.com and follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bobbiemel) and Twitter (@BobbiEmel.)