The truth is, we have far more power over our own happiness than most of us realize.
Research conducted by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, offers scientific evidence to support this. (1)
In each of us, some of our happiness level is inborn.
It's true: Some people are just born happier, and they have an innate tendency to find the sunny side of things. This inborn level of happiness accounts for about 50 percent of our happiness ranking.
Lyubomirsky and her team of researchers also discovered that 10 percent of happiness comes from circumstances: a good marriage, good health, food on the table, a job that we enjoy. But the startling findings are that overall the rich are no happier than those earning much less.
Of course, enormous stressors like poverty, homelessness, and abusive relationships can be massive barriers to happiness, and homophobia can provide obstacles, but as long as people are safe and earning enough to cover basic living expenses, the research shows that happiness levels fluctuates very little with income level.
Paradoxically perhaps, while being in a fulfilling relationship or working at a job you enjoy are great gifts, these things only account for a relatively small percentage of our overall happiness.
If approximately 50 percent of our happiness level is predetermined at birth, and 10 percent is dictated by circumstances, we are left with about 40 percent. That's the percentage of happiness over which we do have influence.
And that 40 percent is more than enough to make a huge difference in our lives.
Lyubomirsky's research indicates that all of us can develop proper attitudes and cultivate happiness habits that will allow us to live happier lives. In so many ways, happiness is a choice that we can make.
I believe this to be so important that I'm going to repeat it:
Happiness is a choice that we can make.
It takes some effort, because cultivating happiness is an active, ongoing endeavor, but a happier life is well within the reach of every one of us. Happiness is within your reach!
Why It Matters
Forty percent is less than half; so perhaps at first glance this number doesn't seem as significant as the fifty percent of our happiness quotient that's innate. But it's certainly a larger percentage than the ten percent dictated by circumstances. Yet circumstances are the things so many people blame for their lack of happiness.
How would you feel if you owned 40 percent of the entire world's gold? Wouldn't that be an awful lot of gold bullion? Wouldn't it make you rich beyond your wildest dreams? What if you owned forty percent of the world's happiness? Would that be enough for you?
The point is that you do own 40 percent of the world's happiness -- 40 percent of your world's happiness. That really is a big piece of the happiness pie!
And it's something that we ourselves can control, so it makes sense to use it to our own advantage.
Think of it this way: We are all born with certain genetic strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you have a family history of diabetes. There's nothing you can do to change your genetics, but there are many things you can do to lower your risks: watch your diet, exercise, avoid smoking, work with a physician to make sure you're getting the proper screenings, and so forth.
So it is with happiness. You're wired a certain way, certainly, but when it comes to enjoying life, genetics are not destiny, and there is much that you can do to increase your own experience of happiness.
One of the greatest myths about happiness is that it is found, stumbled upon, or discovered: that it happens to us. The truth is that it is cultivated.
Happiness levels may spike when something great happens, but without effort they tend not to change in the long term. If you are truly happy today, you'll probably be equally happy tomorrow -- even if your circumstances change.
Just like every other emotion, happiness is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even happy people can get the blues, and even the most morose of us laugh from time to time. Often, those who have faced seemingly insurmountable, crushing circumstances are able to find happiness.
Some of their resiliency might be innate and attributable to the level of happiness they were born with, but this certainly isn't the whole story. For so many, happiness is chosen.
And the fact is that it's up to us to choose it.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn't, what shouldn't make you happy, but does. New York: Penguin Press.