The pursuit of happiness is an ongoing activity for most people, but you may be searching in all the wrong places. While happiness is generally believed to be a goal, attained by achievement and material possessions, it's partially pre-determined by genetics, according to research. Surprisingly, only ten percent of your long-lasting happiness quota (researchers call this chronic happiness) is determined by your environment. Thus, by searching for happiness through tangible possessions you are setting yourself up for failure.
If you lean toward pessimistic thinking, you may feel like giving up your pursuit at this point; whereas, a positive thinker will believe the statistics are very promising. If clinical depression runs in your family, for instance, this means you are not doomed to a life of depression yourself. You still have the remaining fifty percent to work with; that's powerful.
Researchers who have completed happiness studies have consistently found three major factors that determine our happiness: a genetically determined set point for happiness, happiness-relevant circumstantial factors, and happiness-relevant activities and practices.
Happiness set point: 50%
The happiness set point is genetically determined and is assumed to be fixed, stable over time, and immune to influence or control. This is fifty percent of your happiness factor. The other fifty percent is what I like to look at as an experimental playground.
The happiness-relevant circumstantial factors take into account things like ethnicity, age, gender, religion, and the geographical region in which you live. It also includes your history of life events, both negative and positive. This ranges from events such as childhood trauma to rewarding experiences like promotions and other achievements.
Surprisingly, although the life status variables are included here: marital status, job security, income, and health, the circumstances factor is only ten percent of your happiness quota. In my opinion as a life and business coach, this is the place where most people unsuccessfully conduct their search for happiness.
Intentional activity: 40%
So, where is the opportunity to successfully alter your level of chronic happiness? 40 percent of your happiness comes from intentional activity; this is very promising. If you choose your activities wisely, you will raise the bar on long-lasting happiness. Here are three areas to place your focus:
1. Be true to yourself.
Choose activities and goals that fit your personality, interests, and values. Extroverts, for instance, might choose activities that expose them to varying groups of people. Introverts do well when they honor their need for space and time to regroup after being in groups. When engaging in physical activities, select activities and the environment that suits you best. If you are a nature-lover for instance, forego the treadmill for a trail in a wooded area.
It's also important that you select goals that honor your values and are based on what you want, not because someone else thinks it's a good idea. Understand why a specific goal is important to you and remain focused on it since successfully achieving your goals also influences your level of happiness.
2. Perform acts of kindness--mostly in one day.
We all know that treating others with kindness has an impact on how we feel about ourselves, but I found this especially interesting:
One study found that "participants who committed acts of kindness experienced a significant increase in well-being, but this increase was evident only among those who showed their weekly generosity all in a single day. Because many of the kind acts that students performed were small ones, spreading them over the course of a week might have diminished their salience and power or made them less distinguishable from participants' habitual kind behavior."
This does not mean you shouldn't perform acts of kindness often, only that you will benefit from grouping many of them into one day a week.
3. Count your blessings.
Gratitude, along with love and joy, is the purest, highest form of energy available to us. When I suggest to clients that they engage in a gratitude practice, most make lists of things like their children, home, job, etc. While it's important to acknowledge those blessings, we receive great benefit from focusing not only on demographic facts but also on enjoyable experiences that happen from day-to-day. This trains the brain to think appreciatively and to look for the good in life, instead of concentrating on its negative aspects.
Actively search for three different things a day that bring a smile to your face. It can be as small as witnessing a positive parent-child interaction in the park, or your co-worker surprising you with a vanilla latte. Write these things down at the end of each day and enjoy the positive effect this process has on your life.
It's powerful to know that genetics and unfortunate past circumstances don't have complete control over who we are and how we feel. What good deeds will you perform today?