Note: This is a guest post by Stu of Improved Lives.
In the last few years the psychological study of happiness has experienced amazing growth. Happiness, once a subject that barely got any attention from researchers, has become a topic that makes the news over and over again and is the subject of many new and fascinating personal growth books.
I believe that one of the most fascinating and important things to come out of all this new and exciting research on happiness is the fact that our level of happiness is the result of three different things:
- 50% of our happiness comes from our genetics – This one is fairly self-explanatory. Some of us are simply pre-programmed to be happier than others.
- 10% of our happiness comes from our circumstances – Our circumstances are what I like to call our ‘census info’. Your age, how much money you make, which country you live in, your job, your neighborhood, your education, whether you’re religious or not, these are your circumstances.
- 40% of our happiness comes from our intentional activities – Our intentional activities are the things we do day to day. A tasty meal for dinner could be an intentional activity, and so could a nice relaxing walk in the park.
These are the things that determine how happy (or how unhappy) we are.
Looking at that list though, the only thing that is easy to change is the intentional activities. It is simply impossible to change our genetics, and changing our circumstances is difficult and probably not worth the effort since it only accounts for 10% of our happiness.
Clearly, to change our happiness levels we need to focus not on the future but on what is happening right now.
How to Squeeze More Happiness Out of Intentional Activities
In an extremely interesting study (Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?) by Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S) of how intentional activities can be tweaked for maximum happiness levels, it was found that to achieve those maximum happiness levels four things should be done:
- Be persistent – It was found that happiness, like all good things in life, is not easy to achieve. Happiness takes work. You should remember, however, that if you do activities that fit well with your interests and your personality they will seem less like work and more like play.
- Know you can become happier – The researchers in this study found that “if people do not want to become happier, do not believe it is possible, or are not willing to invest the energy, then their happiness level is unlikely to change.”
- Be spontaneous – In psychology there is a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. It means that the amount of happiness you can extract from an activity gradually diminishes. To forestall this, try not to make the activities you do regularized. Instead, do them as you feel like it, and do it all at once; gorge on the activities that make you happy, don’t hold back!
- Embrace variety – Another essential way to fight hedonic adaptation is to make your activities new and novel by changing things about them such as where, when, and with who you do these activities. Be on the look out as well for other kinds of variation you can add.
So if you want to get the most happiness out of the activities you do in your day to day life apply these four rules to them and you will be well on your way. Keep in mind though that these are just rules to govern the activities that you do. It’s up to you to find the day to day activities that make you happy, and there are no shortcuts to do that, you simply have to try them. The more things you go out and try, the more happiness-raising activities you will have to apply these rules to.
Stu writes about how to use psychology for personal growth over at Improved Lives. He is the author of posts such as 112 Quick and Easy Personal Growth Exercises and The Experts Speak Part 2: Favorite Personal Growth Techniques and Life-Hacks (which Donald was featured in!).
This article is part of July 2008 theme: Happiness
Photo by orangeacid
The study results are interesting, but I’m not sure I agree 100%. (I’ve read a few different happiness related studies and disagree with many of the research methodologies, in particular survey testing for happiness levels can be very inaccurate. )
As for the tips, I think that #1 and #2 are very solid. However, the last two, IMO, are superficial at best. Even though spontaneity is a lackluster word to describe a calculated effort to avoid hedonistic adaptation, I don’t think lack of novelty is the problem. I have a old-school Zen take on things – it’s not what you do specifically but how you relate and feel about that matters. Life can be joyous in the simple, everyday things – but it’s a change of awareness and philosophy that drive it, not the external stuff.
There are differences between pleasure, positive moods, happiness and joy that are difficult to measure and evaluate. Personal contentment is a complex thing, and all I know is what works for me.
Anyway, thanks for the stimulating article!
being spontaneous, or present, is the key! thank you
Good points Bart. One of the challenges I constantly come across is trying to describe the immense amount of complexity that is at work both on us and within us.
On the one hand, I think you’re right to say that there are subtleties to the human experience that are difficult to measure and quantify. At the same time, I think it’s commendable of psychology to attempt it, and I think too that if we look at the immense amount of progress that has been made in measuring and quantifying mental illness, it must be only a matter of time until we know just as much about mental health.
I find that we tend to think that happiness is something that happens “to” us and that we’ve got no control over it. Your post with helps the understanding that much of our happiness is our responsibility. Thanks for that.
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I tend to believe that whatever your doing, you might as well enjoy it. Not always as easy as stated, however, if you make a choice to do so, over time it becomes more habitual. For me, I tend to look for anything positive I can take from whatever tasks lies ahead of me. I do this until I find something I can be happy about, then I begin the task. It doesn’t always work, but for me it works most of the time, leaving me whistling more than groaning. Maybe it can work for you too.
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