Happiness-What does the research say? (Part 1)

Everyone wants to be happy. That is pretty self-evident. Regardless of the specific problems clients come to see me about-whether it is depression, anxiety or other similar problems, all of these problems represent a lack of happiness. Depression, for instance, can be conceived of as an all pervading, global lack of happiness. Anxiety, a more specific lack of happiness in certain situations.happiness2

So, given happiness is such a global goal, how do we achieve it? There are many, many self-help articles and blogs on this topic. However, we are lucky too in that in the last 20 to 30 years there has been huge amounts of scientific research on this topic. We now know more than we ever have before about what can create happiness and what does not. And the results are surprising!

The first and most important thing to understand about happiness, as I tell many of my clients, is that happiness has a high genetic component. What does this mean? It means, simply, that some people are just naturally happier than others. Identical twin (and other) research has revealed that about half (50%) of a person’s level of happiness is determined by their genetic makeup. This component is fixed. It is not changeable. Science has confirmed that some lucky people are just born happier than others!

So, what about the other 50%? The same research has determined that about 40% of a persons total happiness is due to that person’s thoughts and attitudes. These thoughts and attitudes include what we think about ourselves and others, our levels of gratitude, our tendency to think of things in positive or negative ways, how willing we are to do things for other people and so forth.

The above two factors then, namely our genetic makeup and our specific thoughts and attitudes account for 90% of our total happiness. The remaining 10%? This 10% comes from ones life circumstances. This includes our educational level, our relationship status, our employment status, our income, where we live and so forth. Like our genetic component, these factors are hard to change.We can strive to achieve a higher income, a more compatible partner, a bigger house and so forth, but these changes will not increase or decrease our happiness as much as we would think.

happiness5The process of counselling works on the 40% of total happiness that is not genetic and not circumstantial. Unlike other components however, our thoughts and attitudes are changeable and can make a huge difference to ones total level of happiness. Simple changes in thoughts and attitudes, such as seeing oneself differently, valuing our strengths and abilities and relating to others in different ways (such as increasing attributes such as generosity and gratitude) can make far more significant increases in our level of happiness then (say) a better job, more income and so forth.

So, if 40% of one’s total happiness is determined by our thoughts and attitudes, what specific thoughts and attitudes can help create high levels of happiness? Luckily, scientific research has answered this question too. In my next article I will look at this answer and begin to detail some specific, scientifically validated practices one can do to increase ones happiness! Stay tuned!

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