The Keys to Happiness

Researchers have begun to investigate the topic of happiness! What they have found is that 50% of the “happiness pie” is genetic. In other words 50% of how happy we are is determined by our genes. This is called our genetic “set point”. We are born within a certain range of happiness and even when very good or very bad things happen to us we return to our genetic set point relatively quickly.

Surprisingly, only 10% of our happiness is based on our circumstances i.e. our income, social status, age, our appearance, where we live etc. These are the things society tells us will make us happy, but in reality these circumstances account for only a small fraction of our happiness.

The remaining 40% that determines how happy we are is “intentional activity”. In other words the things we choose to do.

Another way to look at this is to distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Examples of extrinsic goals are rewards, praise, money, image, status and popularity.

Intrinsic goals are personal growth, relationships, community feeling (helping out in our community), and compassion/acts of kindness.

The research now shows that people who pursue extrinsic goals tend to be less happy, less satisfied, and are more prone to depression and anxiety as compared with those who pursue intrinsic goals.

Here are the keys to increasing your happiness:

-Vary the things you do (don’t get into a rut).

-Be more active (activity produces more of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases happiness).

-Follow your bliss/get into the “zone”. This is also called “flow”. Runners often talk about this as “runners high”. Writers experience this when the words seem to flow onto the paper by themselves. Musicians feel this when they are “in the music”. We can lose ourselves in flow by being “in the experience” regardless of what the experience is. Sometimes it is just the experience of well being when on a beautiful day you feel yourself in tune with nature. Flow is a peak experience of connection.

-Spend quality time with friends and family

-Be helpful to others. Show compassion. Perform random acts of kindness whenever possible.

Doing these types of “intentional activities” maximizes the 40% of happiness over which you have control!

Until next time, be well and HAPPY!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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