In a world where there is so much going on in peoples lives I find it interesting we now have a day to remind us to be HAPPY.
What does happiness mean for you? How do you define it for you? I believe we all define happiness differently. One thing I know for sure, it is definitely an inside job!
What are the Sources of Happiness?
Happier people are more likely to live longer and tend to be healthier, more successful, and more socially engaged than people who describe themselves as less happy. But what causes happiness? And can we change how happy we are?
Three basic sources of happiness
Researchers have explored three basic sources of happiness: genetics, including temperament and personality; life circumstances, such as wealth and health; and our own choices.
We tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances in how happy we are.
We think if only we had more money, or a better job, or fell in love, that we would be happier. We sometimes underestimate how much control we have over our own happiness. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, analysed studies and reports that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions.
People tend to have a “set point” or “baseline” level of happiness, but that this point can change.
Even though genetic factors like temperament and personality play a large role, there is almost an equally large role under our own control. We have the power to make choices that can raise—or lower—our set point.
Who is Happier?
- People with strong ties to families and friends are consistently happier than those without social ties.
- Some personality traits tend to go along with happiness. People who are optimistic, have high self-esteem, and are extroverted are more likely to describe themselves as happy.
- Married people are happier, though scientists aren’t sure whether this is because of the marriage or because happy people are more likely to get married. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the couples are parents or not.
- People who grew up with parents who divorced or in a home with a high level of conflict are less happy than people who grew up in homes with intact marriages.
- People who attend worship services regularly are happier than those who don’t.
- The middle-aged and seniors are happier than the young; and this does not seem to be generational, as this is consistent across time in longitudinal studies. Younger people tend to have higher levels of negative emotions such as anxiety and anger.
- People with enough money to make ends meet are happier than people who are poor, but beyond that more money doesn’t make much difference.
- While men and women report similar levels of happiness in most studies, men now are somewhat more likely to be happy than women. This is a switch in recent decades; women used to be happier than men.
When we do pursue happiness, we may be looking in the wrong places.
Chasing—and achieving—wealth, fame, and good looks may actually make us less happy. Researchers asked young adults for two years after graduation what they wanted in life and categorized the answers as intrinsic or extrinsic. They also asked the young people how much progress they had made toward their goals, and asked them to rate their well-being and happiness. The researchers found that young adults who valued intrinsic goals, such as personal growth, close relationships, and community involvement, were more satisfied with their lives than those who had extrinsic goals, such as wealth and “achieving the look I’ve been after.” Even the young people who had achieved their extrinsic goals reported more negative emotions like shame and anger, more physical ailments, and less satisfaction with life. It seems that happiness really does come from within.
So is the deck stacked against us? Not at all. Forty percent of what makes us happy is within our control. Genetics and evolution explain about half; and life circumstances only about 10%.
There isn’t much people can do to change how happy they are. Some people are just happier than others.
Researchers have found that genetics and temperament form a baseline or “set point” for happiness. However, genetics only explains about half of our happiness level, and life circumstances beyond our control are only another 10% or so. That means 40%—nearly half—of our happiness level is determined by our own choices and actions. Even people with a more melancholy temperament or difficult life circumstances can be happier with some effort.
Happiness is subjective and can’t be studied.
Happiness is subjective—each of us has our own individual experience of happiness—but it can be studied. Researchers accumulate data on happiness by asking people to report their levels of happiness. Since our memories are not always very accurate, scientists design studies to collect reports on happiness “in the moment” as well as asking people to reflect on their overall happiness levels. Studying happiness is like any other field where we have to rely on people’s own reports of their experience.
Happy people aren’t very bright.
There’s a stereotype in our culture that happy people aren’t very bright, or they’re naïve. This stereotype is not at all accurate. There’s no relationship between happiness and education or IQ. Happy people tend to be more successful at work; have a higher income; are viewed as more likable and attractive; have better relationships; get and stay married; are healthier; and live longer.
Young people are happier than old people, and people get less happy over their lifetimes.
Older people consistently report higher levels of happiness than young adults, and this research has held up over time, so it’s not a matter of some generations being happier than others. A big part of the difference seems to be that younger people experience more negative emotions like anger, anxiety and shame. Seniors tend to experience fewer negative emotions and with less intensity.
Money makes people happy.
Once people have enough money or income to meet their basic needs and stay out of poverty, wealth and income don’t make as much of a difference to how happy people are as you might think. People with more money are slightly happier than people at lower income levels, but it doesn’t seem to be the money so much as satisfaction in earning it and giving it away. And a windfall typically doesn’t make people more happy than they were before. People who get a big raise or win the lottery tend to settle back to their previous level of happiness before long.
“I’ll be happy when….”
It’s easy for people to think that they’ll be happy once something they want happens. This is usually not the case, however. People are not very good at predicting how happy (or sad) an event will make them or for how long. We are very good at adapting to changing circumstances, so even though we may be happier for a short time, we often revert back to our prior levels of happiness. Happier people are ones who tend to enjoy the journey, cultivating relationships and positive emotions along the way.
People who think about their own happiness are self-indulgent and selfish.
The opposite may be true. It may be that the best thing you can do for other people is to be happy yourself. Research shows that happy people boost the happiness of others in a wide network through three degrees of acquaintance. The happiest people are the most engaged with others and the least wrapped up in their own problems. Happy people are more likely to express positive emotions like gratitude, altruism, and forgiveness.
So Get Happy!!!
“Laughter is like the human body wagging its tail.” — Anne Wilson Schaef
Excerpt: This Emotional Life
Subjective Well-Being, Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology
Still Happy Campers, Pew Research
Are We Happy Yet?, Pew Research
“The New Science of Happiness,” Time