Monthly Archives: March 2010

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places?

bluebell pathEver think if only you were richer, prettier, or thinner you’d be happier? Or if you could only find the right partner, you’d have a happy life? Or that when you find the right job, or the right career you’ll finally feel successful?

You’ve got plenty of company, because that’s what we all tend to think—the outside circumstances of life are what cause us to feel happier or sadder, satisfied or frustrated. That’s why we spend so much time, effort, and big bucks pursuing a better job, the right hairstyle and clothing, and the best weight-loss diets.

Scientific evidence is now confirming what the sages have said for eons–looking outside ourselves is the not the answer, because happiness lies within. When we look elsewhere, whether it’s with a new job, a luxury vacation, or a different hairstyle, we’re looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Whether we’re married or single, rich or poor, beautiful or not, matters very little when happiness is measured.  Our circumstances account for only a small fraction of our overall happiness, according to numerous studies. We can make more money, move to the city of our dreams, buy a big house or a BMW.  Even a combination of these goodies might only increase our happiness slightly, after the initial emotional high wears off.

Need more proof?  How about this?  The wealthiest Americans, those who make more than 10 million dollars a year, are only slightly happier than the workers they employ. And married people are only a little happier than singles—25 per cent of married people report being “very happy” compared to 21 per cent of singles who say the same thing.

Does this mean we’re just born happy or sad?  Yes, to some extent.

About 50 percent of our happiness comes from our personal raw material. Our genetics and early exposures gives us a set-point for happiness, which means we all have a natural happiness baseline to which we’ll return whether we’ve won the lottery or gone through a divorce. This set-point is something like our body weight set-point, which allows some of us to remain skinny without effort and others of us to gain weight effortlessly.

We have a place we’ll return to over and over, as yo-yo dieters can affirm.

It’s the same with happiness. Some of us have high set-points, giving us naturally sunny dispositions. Others of us weren’t endowed with the genetics to happily bounce back after a setback. We tend to settle into a baseline that can be substantially lower than our naturally cheery acquaintances.

But–and here’s the good news–a whopping 40 per cent of our happiness potential is unaccounted for by genetics and circumstances. This is very, very good news.


Because the other 40 per cent of our happiness can be influenced by our intentional activities.  By engaging in scientifically confirmed practices, we can raise our personal joy by a whopping 40 per cent.

By changing our thoughts and behaviors, we can be much, much happier. With effort and intention, we can literally transform our lives significantly for the better.

And happiness can bring us more than, well, just happiness. Happiness comes with a boatload of cool side effects, too, like better social relationships, including more satisfying marriages; more energy, flexibility, and creativity; more productivity, better leadership skills, and greater earning power at work; better physical health, stronger immune systems, greater longevity, and increased resilience during times of hardship.

It’s even been scientifically documented that happy people influence a great number of others in their sphere of social contact, helping their families, social relationships, co-workers, neighbors, and even the world at large become happy campers. So there are plenty of good reasons to be happier, if happiness itself isn’t enough incentive for you.

So you don’t have to win the lottery, lose 25 pounds, change your hairstyle, or ditch your unemployed boyfriend to be happier. The inner work we do is the big payoff.

And you might just wind up prettier, richer, and thinner since you’ll feel so much better.