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Increasing Happiness is a Matter of Intention

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For many years, the prevailing theory was that individuals have a genetically determined happiness set point.

In other words, scientists believed that each person could temporarily experience more happiness (depending on circumstances, relationships, and life events), but would then slide back to his or her "pre-programmed" set point.  In fact, less than two decades ago, one researcher was quoted as saying, "It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller."

However, current research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that people can become happier and the change can be long-term.  Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. (University of California) wrote:

My colleagues and I believe that sustainable increases in happiness are possible through the execution of intentional cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities that are feasible to deploy, but require daily and concerted effort and commitment.

Lyubomirsky received a grant from the National Institute of Health to identify specific ways individuals can sustain higher levels of happiness.  Her pioneering research revealed that our genetic set point accounts for only 50 percent of the happiness we experience while a mere 10 percent can be attributed to life circumstances and situations. 

That means a full 40 percent of our capacity for happiness lies within our power to change.   For Lyubomirsky (and for the rest of us), this is heartening news!  Scientific evidence confirms that we can maximize our happiness by managing what we do and how we think.  She explains:

If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented.  They make things happen.  They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. 

In her book, The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky provides an engaging review of her research, and outlines the strategies she identified as being the most effective in increasing long-term happiness:  

  1. Expressing gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one "counts one's blessings")
  2. Practicing optimism (i.e., visualizing the best possible future for oneself)
  3. Engaging in positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one's happiest life events)
  4. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness)

“In sum,” Lyubomirsky wrote, “our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.” 

Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, Inc.