What determines Happiness?
Is it what exists in our external world?
You may be a little shocked, as I was; based on scientific research the percentage of happiness that comes from our external world. (Finances, relationships, environment).
The interesting part of the research, for me; was that 50% of our happiness is based on our genes. Yes, the random set of genes you received from your biological parents defines your overall range of happiness.
Some of us won the genetic lottery, and blessed with sunny dispositions, naturally see the good in life. Others of us have a tendency towards pessimism and glass-is-half-empty thinking. Some scientists describe this as a basic happiness “set point.”
Here is the shocker….
Only 10% of our happiness comes from external circumstances. Your financial resources, your career, the climate where you live, your health, whether you have a life partner, how hot you look – all these things determine just 10% of your ongoing level of happiness.
This must be very upsetting for marketers trying to get us to buy our way into happiness! So the question is why only 10%?
It is due to adaptation. No matter what good things or bad things happen to you – a promotion at work, a new car, getting married to the love of your life — you adapt. After a time (often not very long), it no longer carries much emotional benefit. Think about the last time you worked hard to accomplish something or bought something you really wanted. How long did the buzz last? How long before those positive emotions yearned for the desire for the next thing.
Research has found that both lottery winners and people who had become paraplegic returned to their original baseline level of happiness within one year of their life-changing event. Striving to achieve and acquire, while a fine way to spend your time, is not a path to sustainable increases in happiness.
That remaining 40% of our happiness comes from our intentional activity: what we do and how we think. Forty percent of our happiness is therefore IN OUR CONTROL. Study after study has shown that as people integrate these activities into their lives and make new habits, they increase their happiness.
Choosing happiness can help us achieve the incredible benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional space. However, as you embark on your own path towards more happiness, I want to be clear that this work is about becoming happier, NOT about being happy all the time.
As we engage in living and loving in this world, we are going to feel negative emotions. Life is not always easy and ‘stuff happens’. It is part of being human. One of the most powerful things we can do in our quest to become happier is to give ourselves permission to be human and let those negative emotions be experienced and felt.
Bad things happen. The happiest people embrace the negative emotions that come with these challenges and problems. Science has shown conclusively that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives. Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life. It grounds us in reality. It is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something does not go your way.
These physical and mental discomforts are part of our human existence but all too often, we begin to add layer upon layer of gratuitous negative emotions on ourselves with our thoughts of these disappointments. It may start out with not getting that promotion at work and be fueled and expanded with negative thoughts such as,
“I am not good enough.”
“I knew I should have done x instead of y.”
“Why do I never get anything I want?”
“Oh God, this is the first step to me getting fired and then we’ll have to sell the house and move in with the in-laws. Everyone will know what a failure I am.”
Moreover, on and on and on we go.
Next time you notice feeling bad, try to distinguish the necessary negativity from the gratuitous negativity of your reactions. By adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous, it can significantly reduce the amount of negativity you experience.
Our goal is to become happier, not completely eliminate negative emotions. Give yourself permission to be human. Allowing ourselves to feel necessary negative emotions, gives us the ability to fully experience our positive emotions.
So for today be a little bit happier and keep the flow moving forward!