With gas and food prices skyrocketing, the sheer number of foreclosures, and disasters across the country, such as floods, fires, and tornadoes, it can be difficult for many people to even think about happiness. But regardless of your circumstances, happiness is something everyone yearns for and wants. And oddly enough, setbacks and disasters of the above kind do not affect everyone’s happiness in the same way. Some people return to their usual happy disposition only a few days after a serious setback, while others are sad and depressed for months, even after a minor setback. Why? Recent research seems to give us an answer.
In the early 1990s, David Lykken of the University of Minnesota decided to examine the question of whether we have any control over our happiness. He selected 4,000 pairs of twins, some identical, others fraternal, and analyzed how they differed in happiness. The results of his study led him to the conclusion that approximately 50 percent of our happiness is genetic (and therefore outside of our direct control), and the remaining 50 percent is mostly “learned” happiness.
Based on this, he suggested that each of us has a “happiness set point,” and no matter what happens to us, good or bad, we eventually return to our set point. It’s like it has rubber bands that control us. Of course, we can feel very happy or very sad, but in no time we return to our set point. It’s a lot like the “weight set point” that most people have. And now there is considerable evidence to support his idea. Several studies have shown that while lottery winners are ecstatic for weeks or even months after their windfall, they eventually return to their previous starting point. This also applies to people who have suffered from serious illnesses or other problems. They may be in shock for the first few weeks, but most recover quickly and return to their previous set points in no time.
Does this mean that we are forever limited by our set point and that we have no chance to change it, in particular to increase it? The answer is no. And it’s easy to see why if we look at the 50 percent of our happiness that doesn’t depend on our genes. Research has shown that about 10 percent is the result of life circumstances, that is, our wealth, social status, education, marital status, and job security. But this leaves 40 percent, and is controlled by our thoughts, feelings, and actions. And we have control over this part; in fact, we can use it to readjust our set point.
So how do we go about it? The best way is to focus on the three main components of happiness, namely:
1. Get more pleasure out of life.
2. Find ways to make our life more meaningful.
3. Get more involved in what we do.
A list of things that can help you achieve this (and increase your set point in the process) is as follows:
1. Believe in yourself. Every morning when you wake up, give yourself a little pep talk: tell yourself that you are going to be happy that day and firmly believe that.
2. Act happy. In particular, smile and talk like you’re happy.
3. Enjoy your work. Even better, “love” your job and your hobbies.
4. Practice acts of kindness. They must be both random and planned. Being kind to others makes us feel good and increases our happiness.
5. Count your blessing. Think of all the good things that have happened to you and the good luck that has come your way. Make a list of them in a journal as often as possible.
6. Savor the joys in life. Take your time to enjoy the little things.
7. Learn to forgive. Do you have any resentment? Get rid of them.
8. Build friendships.
9. Take control of your time. Set goals and make sure you meet and stick to them.
10. Take care of your body. Make sure you get enough sleep and exercise.
11. Learn to manage stress.
12. Forget about accumulating large sums of money. It won’t buy you happiness.