Tue 23 Mar 2010
(c) March 23, 2010
When our nation’s forefathers boldly assured future generations “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” they had a very big vision indeed.
Unfortunately, the Declaration of Independence didn’t come with an annotated bibliography for how to go about pursuing that happiness. And, when left to our own devices, experts say we tend to go about it all wrong.
Here’s a personal example.
At various points in my life, I thought I would be happier if I had a different job. Lived in Washington, D.C. Lived anywhere else but Washington, D.C. Made more money. Made less money but had more time. Took more vacations. Had a BlackBerry. Didn’t have a BlackBerry. Lived in a different house. Had more closet space. Had a car with a sunroof.
Many of you likely have had feelings similar to mine, preoccupied with striving for personal and professional contentment.
It’s such a rite of passage in our culture that it seems like this is just the way we’re supposed to find our bliss, with the hope that one day, we’ll finally crack the code and it will all fall into perfect place and we will be satisifed.
But you know what? We’ve got it all wrong.
In her book The How of Happiness, research psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., says years of documented research and studies point to a very startling fact: Only 10% of a person’s happiness is impacted by situational factors. In other words, your job—or your home, the city in which you live, the car you drive, the spouse you chose—only accounts for a tiny fraction of your overall perceived well-being.
In fact, she says, studies show that 50% of our happiness level is credited to our DNA (our “set point” that determines how we’re hardwired, how resilient we are likely to be), 10 % is due to life’s circumstances and a whopping 40% of our happiness quotient is actually attributed to what she calls our “intentional activity” or the actions we deliberately bring to every situation—our attitude, our thoughts, our daily practices and rituals.
So, to put it plainly, we’ve been grabbing at all the wrong straws. (And if anything, the current state of the economy should be illustrating for us just how true this is. Countless folks who have bravely faced job losses and financial difficulties these past couple years—and even those who are employed but intentionally “tightening their belts”—are often among the first to express that downsizing and simplifying has come with its own surprising sets of joys.)
While it’s nice to have a fulfilling occupation, a house that feels like home, and a spouse who sees our best selves even when we don’t, a statistically surer road to happiness can be found not by searching outward for it but by simply deciding to create and cultivate it for ourselves.
Lyobomirsky says that it’s important to think about happiness as a continuum, sort of like your temperature. There are days when you may be happier and days when you will be a little less happy. But, on the balance, the happiest people share some of the same characteristics, including:
- Devoting time to family and friends and nurturing these relationships.
- Feeling comfortable expressing gratitude for what they have.
- Being willing to help others.
- Practicing optimism when considering the future.
- “Living in the moment.”
- Taking time for regular exercise.
- Committing to lifelong goals and ambitions.
- Possessing strength and poise in the face of crisis or stress.
The best news of all? All of these characteristics of happy people are within our reach–and can be learned!
To find out how, check out The How of Happiness, which includes several customized tools to help you evaluate your current ”set point” and to identify an action plan with 12 strategies that will help you focus your efforts on the 40% of your actions that will make the most difference in your pursuit of happiness.