In recent years, happiness has become an increasingly popular topic in the field of psychology. But as many researchers have found, it’s a tricky topic to study. Happiness is easily misread, difficult to measure, and often created by counter-intuitive actions.
One researcher at the University of California Riverside, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, has made some significant strides towards understanding what makes us happy. And based on her research of thousands of individuals she’s created an interesting guide to understanding what it is, and what it isn’t.
Her research suggests that:
- half of our happiness is determined by our genes,
- 10% is based on the life circumstances we find ourselves in,
- and 40% is based on our attitude and the choices we make.
So, while 60% of our happiness is out of our control, 40% is very much in our control. That 40% might seem like cause for celebration, but Lyubomirsky also found that many of the assumptions we hold about the things we believe will make us happy, may actually lead us towards greater melancholy. ~GASP~ Lyubomirsky also found that some of the social norms we are encouraged to embrace will likely be detrimental to our happiness in the long-run.
Lyubomirsky debunked 3 common myths:
Myth #1: Homeowners are happier than renters.
Contrary to what we hold to be true as part of the “American dream,” researchers have found that homeowners are actually less happy than renters. They derive more emotional stress from their homes than do renters, and they spend more time on housework and less time interacting with friends and neighbors.
Myth #2: Getting a good education is the key.
Turns out the more educated people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives. The enhanced satisfaction that we might derive from our advanced degrees appears to be outweighed by our increased aspirations and their attendant risk of disappointment and regret.
Myth #3: The young have more fun!
The media tends to portray 20-30 year-olds as the pinnacle of life exuberance, fun and happiness. Yet, as Lyubomirsky finds, “A 22-year study of about 2,000 healthy veterans of World War II and the Korean War revealed that life satisfaction increased over the course of these men’s lives, peaked at age 65, and didn’t start significantly declining until age 75.”
In general, what Lyubomirsky found is that life is less about ownership or accomplishments than it is about the richness of our experiences, the friendships we make along the way, and the mindset we approach our day-to-day life with—no matter your age. So, the next time you have a choice between buying the latest gadget or spending money on an outing with friends, go with the people. And when you’re thinking about your next job, focus on vacation time, flexibility, and office culture, not just the salary, title, and position.
We all want to be happy, but it’s often difficult to parse cause from effect. What initially seems like an obvious improvement in our lives, may turn out to be a short-term jolt that quickly fades away.
Thinking back on your life what has made you happiest? What are your keys to success? Do these findings resonate with you? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and feedback.