50% of the variance in happiness amongst people comes down to genetics. 10% comes down to circumstances. 40%, down to intentional behaviour. Do the secrets to happiness lie herein?
These figures, based on Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleague’s extensive research into human happiness, suggest two things:
- Our degree of happiness is out of our control, to a degree.
- Our degree of happiness is in our control, to a degree.
This is encouraging. It means that people who are more naturally melancholic do not have anything wrong with them. It also means that regardless of our genetic predisposition, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we can all take intentional, evidence-based steps towards raising our own happiness. If you’re someone who doesn’t see the point though, and thinks becoming happier just means silly giggles, over eager smiles and random skipping, let’s look at why it may be a good idea to experience more happiness in our lives.
There are numerous studies that have found happier people to be more successful across various life domains. These include income, work performance, marriage, friendship and health. The cynical among us may say the fact that someone earns a nice salary, has a good job, a loving partner, quality friendships, and is in good health is the reason they’re happy in the first place. The research however, says that although some degree of life success brings happiness, happiness has a causal effect on success. It also tells us that circumstance only accounts for around 10% variance in happiness amongst people, remember? The truth is, happy people seem to engage in behaviours that positively impact their lives, their psychology and even their physiology. It is this intentional behaviour that typically underlies both their happiness and their success. It’s the 40% – the secret to experiencing more happiness, and it would seem, authentic success.
Key happiness boosting recommendations
- Practice gratitude. The research shows that identifying three things you’re grateful for each week is most effective.
- Be kind to others. Studies show that not only will the giver and the receiver of kindness benefit from the interaction, but the observers too.
- Highlight successes rather than failures. You will be happier if you direct your energy and attention toward your successes rather than ruminate over your failures. Happier people accept, learn and move on after failure.
- Choose and pursue meaningful goals. Intrinsic goals relating to domains such as personal growth, relationships, community and health lead to happiness, whereas extrinsic goals such as wealth, fame, image and power typically don’t.
- Nurture social relationships. Establishing and looking after relationships through mutual care and respect will go a long way towards cultivating happiness.
- Create opportunities for flow. Setting aside time for activities where you can truly enjoy yourself and be absorbed fully in what you are doing raises happiness both during and after the flow experience.
- Exercise most days. There are many studies that show that exercise positively impacts mood and wellbeing. 20 minutes a day of focused exercise seems to be the magic number when it comes to happiness.
- Meditate regularly. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to create observable changes in the brain that relate to elevated happiness. It also helps to develop greater awareness around, and less attachment to habitual negative thinking. This enables us to unhook more easily from the kind of thinking that holds us back from feeling happy, and allows us to direct our thoughts more positively.
These intentional behaviours may not make you the happiest person in the world (your genetics or circumstances may have something to say in the matter), but they will certainly help to bring more happiness into your life.
So, the next step is committing to the above behaviours in order to become happier right? Well, no, which leads us onto the final “secret”. Don’t pursue happiness as a means to an end. Pursue meaning first. Carl Jung said, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it”. Choose intentional behaviour that raises your spirit because you know it will help you to add more value to people and the world around you. If happiness follows, it’ll be a fuller, more soulful happiness.
Steve is a Corporate Wellness Facilitator & Consultant who has supported individuals, teams and organisations in both South Africa and the UK. He is driven to help people maximise their potential. In his spare time he makes music.