Unlocking the Secrets of Happiness

Do you want to increase your happiness set point and avoid the hedonic treadmill? Happiness is subjective. It can be defined as your personal opinion as to how pleasurable, satisfying or gratifying your life is.

Positive Psychology (founded by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania) has been actively pursuing research to discover more about the state of happiness for over a decade. Several things have been discovered about the pursuit of happiness:

• It is more global than ever before.

• It is not viewed as futile.

Recent research indicates that when you are happy, you tend to:

• Be more social and creative.

• Earn more money (although once basic needs are met, the actual level of income is not associated with happiness).

• Be happily married.

• Be more resilient.

• Have a stronger immune system and longer life.

Perhaps, because we know more about the benefits of happiness than ever before, it seems it is important to learn how to be happier.

In the past, researchers believed your level of happiness was 50-80% inherited. According to this view, you have a set point or range for happiness similar to weight. After a happy or sad experience, you will return to your set point of happiness. For instance, if you win the lottery or get the promotion you wanted, about 1 year later, you will be as happy as you were before your good fortune.

Another belief that supports the set point theory is what is called the “hedonic treadmill.” It views both negative and positive events as only temporarily decreasing or increasing your level of happiness. It believes that you will adjust to the new situations over time. This holds true if you get a new house, job, car, or become disabled.

It is also believed that happiness may be somewhat dependent on your personality preference, i.e. introversion/extraversion. Some definitions of happiness are highly associated with socializing and what is typically thought of as more extraverted behavior.

Sonya Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., has been doing research on happiness over the last eighteen years at the University of California, Riverside. Her latest work is more optimistic about being able to increase levels of happiness. She has discovered three factors that determine happiness:

1. Genetic – set point is stable over time (50%).

2. Life circumstances or situations you find yourself in at the time (10%).

3. Choices we make after basic needs are met (40%).

This indicates that the choices you make daily will have a lot to do with how happy you will be. It also makes you more responsible for your own happiness.

It is known that exceptionally happy people think of themselves, their peers, and life events in ways that seem to maintain their happiness. They react to life circumstances in adaptive ways and more optimistically.

In contrast, unhappy people think of their situation in ways that tend to reinforce unhappiness. They believe a situation cannot change and tend to generalize their pessimism to other areas of their life.

Specific things that are known to increase levels of happiness and show promise of moving your set point higher over time are:

• Being aware of your blessings and acknowledging what you are grateful for at least several times a week.

• Savoring good things that happen.

• Avoiding comparing yourself to your peers and obsessing on negative outcomes.

• Practicing small acts of kindness to others.

• Having self-awareness and self-management to allow time for meditation, yoga and smiling at others.

• Viewing negative things as temporary and specific rather than permanent and pervasive.

Aristotle said “happiness depends on ourselves.” New research indicates that with commitment and effort, you can influence 40% of your happiness. It is necessary to take time to make choices that will enhance your level of happiness starting today. The choice is up to you.