Most people live their lives feeling that if they only got one more thing or achieved one more goal then they would be happy. So they are always trying to get more money or bigger houses and chasing after the elusive feeling of happiness or contentment.
What if I told you that you were born happy or sad and it didn’t really matter what you did or what happened to you? Surely not, you’d say. What if I won the lottery, wouldn’t that make me happier? Or, what if I became a paraplegic wouldn’t that dramatically reduce my happiness?
Well, I was amazed to read the following in the The Happiness Hypothesis:
“In fact, happiness is one of the most highly heritable aspects of personality. Twin studies generally show that from 50 percent to 80 percent of all the variance among people in their average levels of happiness can be explained by differences in their genes rather than in their life experiences.”
And in regard to those lottery winners and paraplegics:
“Within a year, lottery winners and paraplegics have both (on average) returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness. “
It goes on to explain the reason for this is that the mind is very good at adapting to any circumstance. After time, being rich or paralyzed becomes normal and you return to whatever your baseline of happiness is.
Frankly, that’s what I’ve experienced in my life. As I’ve made more money and got more stuff, it has not dramatically increased my happiness. Similarly, as bad things have happened they general do not affect my level of happiness for long. For the most part, I stay pretty happy.
But what if you were one of those poor souls who was born to be unhappy? Well the good news is while genetics will exert a strong pull, there is still a remaining 50%-20% that is not controlled by genetics.
Research shows that the remaining percentage is controlled by relationships, finding meaning and our mental images. Let’s deal with each:
- Relationships: In most studies, married people are happier than single people. We are social beings and need others to be truly happy. Marriage is one way to achieve a deep connection with another.
- Finding Meaning: In most studies, religious people are happier than non-religious people. People need meaning in their life to be happy. They also need to be committed to something beyond themselves and religion provides this outlet.
- Mental Images: Negative thinking will make you unhappy. Some people have some real cognitive dissonance in their life and always see the glass half-empty. They beat themselves up for everything and feel like life is pointless. A good behavioral therapist can teach a person how to catch and break these negative cycles which in turn can lead a person to lasting happiness.
So were you born to be happy (or unhappy)?
People are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be Abraham Lincoln