The Habits of Happy People, Part 1 of 8

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“Because I’m happy…”

The Happy song by Pharrell Williams became an instant hit, being played and replayed and getting stuck in heads worldwide. The song speaks to an obsession with happiness that also has increased significantly in recent years.

Over and over again, in poll after poll, all sorts of people identify happiness as their main goal in life.

To be sure, happiness offers some lucrative benefits. Among them are better health, a tougher immune system and a longer life; more effective coping methods and greater self-control; more and stronger relationships; and a successful work life, higher income and greater job satisfaction.

Being happy seems very positive, and it feels good, too.

It has been said, “Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy.” Happy people choose to be happy.

But can we really become happier, just like that?

Some of us view happiness as our birthright, while others see happiness as an elusive state akin to paradise or nirvana.

We want to be happy, yet we may be going about pursuing happiness in entirely the wrong way.

In this series of blog posts, I will explore happiness and some of the habits that are most closely associated with a happy life.

Longitudinal research with a variety of populations indicates that the life events that we associate with happiness are not necessarily where it’s at. Happiness does not require much. Achieving lasting happiness is not dependent on securing a bigger paycheck, being cured of an illness or recapturing youth or beauty.

We humans tend to assume that positive events – job promotions, victories by our favored candidates or sports teams, attractive mates or smart kids – will make us happier than they actually do. These events lift our mood for a bit, but they don’t bring long-term joy.

Rather, happiness is influenced by three specific areas of life. The researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote about these in her 2007 book The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want.

The largest influence on happiness seems to be our genetics, also known as our nature, which accounts for 50% of our happiness level. This is our set point, how happy we are naturally. If we have happy parents, we are probably more likely to be happy people. If we have unhappy parents, we are probably affected by that, too. Our set point accounts for a lot, and it is not very changeable.

Another area that influences our life is our circumstances, also known as nurture, which accounts for about 10%. This is our environment, which is what most people focus their time and energy on changing or at least complaining about. Our childhood experiences, the city we live in, our friends and neighbors, our job, our income and our looks would all fall under this category. We have some control here – we can change jobs or move – but we don’t have much.

The area that really gives us the most bang for our buck is the last one: our activities or choices. This area accounts for 40% of the influence on happiness.

The remainder of the posts in this series will focus on the habits we can cultivate to make an impact in this area of our lives.

To read the other blogs in this series:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8


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