The happiness set-point is a theory of happiness based on the idea that we all have a baseline level of happiness that cannot change. The theory says, for example, that if you win the lottery and have an initial rise in your happiness, then you will inevitably return to your original happiness set-point. Similarly, if you have an acute trauma such as the death of a loved one, you will have a grief period where your happiness will be minimised, but then you will eventually return to your happiness ‘set-point.’
David Lykken & Auke Tellegen conducted a study published in 1996 to compare the happiness setpoints of twins from Minnesota. The similarities in the happiness of twins led to the conclusion that our base happiness level is determined 80% by our genetics and only 20% by our life circumstances.
Lykken famously said that trying to be happier was as futile as trying to be taller.
This is what we used to think about happiness.
Recent research, since 2010, has indicated that happiness is something that we create and generate in our minds. The German Socio-Economic Panel Survey (SOEP) provides the longest data series available on happiness. It conducted interviews every year from 1984 to 2008 with a very large national representative sample of people aged sixteen and over, who answered questions about their life satisfaction. It concluded that life goals, values, religion, church attendance, aligning actual with preferred working hours, social participation and a healthy lifestyle all contribute to increases in the happiness setpoint.
So there are things we can do to be happier and more optimistic. Here are three:
1. ‘Rich and satisfying relationships’ are the only external factors that will move your happiness level from ‘quite happy’ to ‘very happy.’ Our minds are only as robust as our social networks. So call your mum, have coffee with a friend and be a generous neighbour.
2. Keep a gratitude journal- notice when you are happy and everyday write down 5 things you are grateful for.
3. Consciously choose to be happy- smile at the grumpy bus driver or the uptight waitress. Don’t react to your circumstances, create them.
4. You need to understand your primary archetypes to know what is going to switch you on. For example, if you are a nurturer, you will be happy with a baby asleep in your arms.
If you are an inventor, you will be happy when you are progressing with a new idea.
If you are an athlete, you will be happy when you are training or competing.
If you are a writer, you will be happy when you are writing.
5. Eat healthily and exercise: care for yourself and maximise your happiness by keeping active and eating well.
6. The last tip is to go within. We all need to find a way to transcend the day to day details of life and feel uplifted. This offers perspective, but also allows us to become more conscious of our life patterns. You can find it in any form of spirituality, nature, art, music, or meditation. Make sure you commit to an inner practice at least once a day. You will see a considerable increase in your happiness.
Your happiness is up to you!