Studies have shown that how happy we are has a lot to do with our natural temperament. To a large extent, it’s in our genes. Circumstance also affects happiness but not always in ways that we would expect.
Apparently wealth, education, youth and good looks don’t contribute very much to happiness. So what does matter?
For a start, married people are significantly happier than those who are not whereas divorced people tend to be more miserable. In case you’re wondering, having kids doesn’t do much to boost happiness, especially if they are living at home! There’s an injection of joy when a child is born, but that wears off after 2 years.
The good news is friendship has a significant effect on happiness. The wider and deeper your relationships with friends, the happier you’re likely to be.
On the other end of the scale, circumstances like losing a spouse or a job can produce lasting unhappiness and long term damage.
How to boost happiness? Genetic disposition makes up a whopping 50% while circumstances account for only 10%. Are you surprised that factors like health, wealth and good looks have so little impact? Well, this is largely due to a psychological process known as adaptation. People adapt to new circumstances rather quickly. For example, once you have adapted to new found wealth, your happiness soon reverts to original level. Similarly, it allows people to bounce back from setbacks like an accident victim who has lost his limbs will recover from depression and regain something very close to their original level of happiness.
There is still hope. Psychologists believe that adopting appropriate intentional activities (thoughts and behaviors that require effort, and that we can control) can make us happier. Some happiness-boosting strategies include performing acts of altruism or kindness as well as cultivating and expressing gratitude.
Living a productive and meaningful life is another essential ingredient of well-being. Dr Seligman, a renowned psychologist, says that you can achieve this by identifying your personal strengths (curiosity, ingenuity, social intelligence, courage, etc) and using them to achieve worthwhile goals.
Do you feel happier already?