Who doesn’t want to be happy or happier? Even the US Declaration of Independence offers the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right. Evidence shows that happy people are more productive, more likable, more active, more healthy, more friendly, more helpful, more resilient and more creative. They tend to have more successful marriages, have more friends, a better income and even a longer life.
So what are we considering “happy” and why are some people happier than others? Researchers define happiness as “the overall appreciation of one’s life-as-a-whole”. “Essentially, it’s a measure of how much you like the life you’re living and how much enthusiasm you feel when you wake up every day”, says Dr. Lissa Rankin in her book, Mind over Medicine. Dr. Martin Seligman, considered to be the founder of Positive Psychology, may have a good explanation as to why some people are happier than others. He came up with the Set Point Theory of Happiness. Here is his Happiness Formula:
Happiness Set-Point = Set Range + Circumstances + Voluntary Control
This formula explains our personal ability to be happy. Our individual happiness ability level is thought to be 50% determined by genetics (set range) that I would suggest includes the human inborn “negativity bias” and traits learned growing up.
In medicine, a set point is the level a physiological state such as body temperature or weight tends toward homeostasis. You might be surprised to know that there is also a set point when it comes to happiness. A happiness set point is considered to be our level of subjective well-being and like body systems that maintain homeostasis, our happiness set point returns us to our baseline everyday mood. It remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Science backs up Dr. Seligman’s claim that we all have a happiness set-point.
Then there is 10% affected by our circumstances. It’s clear that outer circumstances can influence our happiness level. Circumstances such as a new job or loss of a job, new relationship or a breaking up of an old relationship, a move to a new home or health issue can influence our happiness level. But these turn out to be temporary shifts. “Hedonic Adaptation” is habituating to the new situation so that we end up returning to baseline levels once the circumstantial event is complete. Even when winning the lottery or getting a flashy new car we eventually return to our set-point.
The remaining 40% of our ability to be happy is under our control. It’s how we can raise our happiness level, our vibration. It lies in our outlook, our attitude, our daily thoughts and actions. Dr. Sonja Lyumbomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, offers scientifically proven methods to boost happiness through our voluntary control. The book offers thorough explanations of 12 scientifically proven techniques and describes why they work and how they should be implemented to maximize their effectiveness. The 12 techniques she recommends are:
- Practicing gratitude and positive thinking
- Cultivating optimism
- Avoiding overthinking and social comparison
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Nurturing social relationships
- Developing strategies for coping
- Learning to forgive
- Increasing flow experiences
- Savoring life’s joys
- Committing to your goals and increasing flow
- Practicing religion and spirituality
- Taking care of your body, meditation and physical activity
In truth, we can increase our happiness simply by turning off the news or choosing to focus on positive aspects of our daily lives. We can choose to pay attention to that which we appreciate and flow with activities we are engaged in. Simply put, it’s ways of living our lives with new eyes, new sight. The key is to choose to see the brighter side to life. Surrounding yourself with others who support you and who are also choosing to be more positive can help your effort. It takes commitment but eventually becomes habit if you make it a priority.
Some of you might be saying, “this is naive, foolish or unrealistic”. To this Dr. Lyumomirsky uses the words of her graduate school advisor, “Optimism is not about providing a recipe for self deception. The world can be a horrible, cruel place and at the same time it can be wonderful and abundant. These are both truths. There is not a halfway point; there is only choosing which truth to put in your personal foreground.”
In this society we are encouraged to look outside ourselves for fulfillment. As such, we expect to find our happiness in things, or in relationships, or in large bank accounts. How many of us have said to ourselves, “if I only had (fill in the blank), I would be so happy!” But true happiness comes from within. It may take some effort and motivation to keep focused on the positive to increase your level of inner happiness but which would you rather be? Happy or right?