Boost Your Happiness with Simple Arithmetic

set point happinessYou’re one of the happiest people I know.

It’s a wonder I didn’t hurt myself whipping my head around to see who she was talking to. Lucky for me, the speaker was a trusted colleague, one who seems to have been absent the day they handed out sarcasm.

The truth is, for a long time, I was pretty miserable.

My glass was half empty. On a good day.

I complained. A lot.

So much that my dad once said to my mom, “we know she’s OK; she’s still bitching.” Fully intending that I’d overhear.

Then I Got Happy

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it happened thanks to what I now call Happiness Math.

Math phobic? Don’t stress.

It’s a simple equation Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in The How of Happiness.

H = S + C + V

Happiness equals set point plus circumstances plus voluntary variables.

Even if you’re math-challenged, you can figure out that, to increase your happiness, all you have to do is boost your set point, your circumstances or your voluntary variables.

Whoa, there, happiness-seeker.

One variable is beyond your control.

Another only plays a small part in the equation.

Which leaves only one that you can change in order to achieve significant results.

S is for Set Point

The bad news: about 50% of your happiness level is accounted for by your genetically determined set point, the baseline to which you’re bound to return, even after a major triumph or equally major setback.

So whether it’s high, low or somewhere in between, you can legitimately claim to be “born this way,” but only for half of your happiness level.

A Victim of Circumstance, or Not

What about attributing your happiness level to your life circumstances – things like economic status, health, marital status, or birthplace?

They matter, but not very much: only for about 10% of your happiness.

People who make major big bucks – more than $10 million a year – are only slightly happier than their employees. Married people are happier than single folks, but not all that much. Even in studies of identical twins, income only accounts for 2% of differences in happiness, marital status only 1%.

That Leaves Your Behaviors and Thoughts

Let’s recap: your generically determined set point accounts for 50% of your happiness. Your life circumstances, 10%.

That leaves – you can do the math – 40% of your happiness attributable to voluntary variables, the behaviors and thoughts that you can change.

In Lyubomirsky’s words, “ . . the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup . . . and not in changing our circumstances . . . but in our daily intentional activities.”

I inserted the bold face type, because I think it’s that important.

There was a time, back in my half-empty days, when I might have argued that it wasn’t worth it, what with our only being able to change 40% of our happiness.

A Long Way from Zero

But now I realize that 40 is a long way from zero.

Which is why I’m all intentional about doing the things on this list of thinking and behavior patterns of the happiest people.

According to Lyubomirsky, the happiest people:

  • cultivate and enjoy relationships with family and friends
  • express gratitude
  • routinely lend a helping hand
  • practice optimism when imagining their futures
  • live in the present moment and savor life’s pleasures
  • exercise several times a week
  • are deeply committed to lifelong goals
  • are able to cope in the face of inevitable stresses and even tragedies.

In other words, the happiest people do something, well, many things, really, to change their voluntary variables, the 40% of the happiness equation that can be changed.

Happiness consists in activity. It is a running stream, not a stagnant pool. ~ John Mason Good

What can you change to increase your happy?

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