I talk to men and women nearly every day who possess a lack of happiness in their lives. As I listen to them talk about what they believe is the source of their unhappiness I often discover that they lack understanding about both the cause of their unhappiness as well as the solution associated with overcoming it.
Many people believe that happiness is determined by their circumstances. “If only I weren’t sick,” “If only I had more money,” “If only I was married – or single,” “If only I was thinner,” and the list of “if onlys” goes on and on.
Since the late 1990’s, psychologists have been taking a closer look at the topic of happiness and why it seems so elusive to many people. In their book The How of Happiness: A new Approach to Getting the Life You Want, psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ken Sheldon, David Schkade and Martin Seligman, outline what they believe is the formula for happiness: H = S + C + V.
The formula is broken down as follows:
H = your enduring level of happiness
S = your biological set point
C = conditions of your life
V = your voluntary activities
“Enduring Happiness” is a sense of well-being and joy that lasts rather than a temporary or momentary sense of gratification. It is easy to find instant pleasure or gratification experiences, but living a life of enduring happiness is much more of a challenge – and only humans have the capacity to experience it.
A “Biological Set Point” is described as one’s inherited potential for happiness and it accounts for approximately 50% of our happiness. The biological set point helps to explain why some people “naturally” see the glass as half-full while others see it as half-empty. Through extensive research involving identical twins, psychologists discovered that each person has a genetically produced natural bent to be either optimistic or pessimistic and there is nothing that can be done to alter it. A person’s level of happiness can temporarily rise above or fall below their natural set point during unusual circumstances such as winning the lottery or losing a loved one. However, when their life gets back to normal their level of happiness gradually makes its way back to their biological set point.
Although most people attribute the bulk of their happiness to the conditions in their life, studies reveal that they only account for about 10% of our happiness. So regardless of your gender, race, geographic location, financial status, quality of marriage or the weather, only a small fraction of your happiness is negatively or positively impacted.
So if nearly 60% of our happiness is attributed to our DNA and conditions in life what accounts for the remaining 40%? This is the really good news: the remaining portion of your happiness comes from the voluntary actions you choose to engage in every day. This can be anything from getting up early and going to the gym to sitting on the couch watching television and eating chocolate. But according to researchers, the most powerful voluntary actions are those that involve helping others. The decision to eat an ice cream cone can increase one’s immediate sense of gratification or happiness, but the satisfaction doesn’t last much beyond the last bite. However, if you engage in an activity that benefits another person your gratification can last long after the action is taken.
So, if you really want to enjoy your ice cream longer, invite someone out and treat them to a double-dip cone or a banana split.
Your challenge today is to think about what voluntary actions you will engage in that focus on helping or bringing happiness to someone else, and the side-effect will be the rise in your own level of happiness. The choice is yours!
Live, Work and Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.