Happiness seems to be an elusive thing. But after more than 40 years of research, scientists are now able to attribute happiness to three major sources: genetics, events and values. Psychologists and economists have studied happiness for decades – they start with simply asking people how happy they are. Their findings give us insight into how we can improve our level of happiness – and even what happiness actually means. The following 6 scientific facts about happiness will help you understand it better.
Next time you’re feeling the blues, you can blame your parents for it. Researchers at the University of Minnesota tracked identical twins who were raised by different families from infancy. As identical genetic copies, these pairs of twins help researchers untangle the nature vs. nurture debate. What they discovered is that around 44-53% of happiness at any given time is inherited.
Researchers identified common genes resulting in personality traits that predispose people to happiness. If you’re lucky enough, your parents have given you an ‘affective reserve’ of happiness that you can rely on in stressful times. But the good news is that genetics only account for half of your well being. You can claim control over the remaining part of your happiness!
Happiness from one-off events is short-lived
You might think that getting your dream job, winning the lottery or receiving a big raise will permanently change your life for the better. While about 40% of your happiness depends on this kind of one-off events, this type of happiness is short-lived. These big events can sometimes take years to achieve, but the happiness derived from them disappears in just a few months. That’s why when trying to achieve long-time goals it’s more about the journey than the destination.
Money does not bring happiness
Well, it almost doesn’t bring happiness. Money is an indicator of happiness only up to a certain point. When it relieves poverty and financial pressures, money does have a significant impact on happiness. That is because it offers the ability to live comfortably – having enough to eat, affording a place to live, being able to go to the doctor, etc. But once people pass an average middle-class income, even big financial gains don’t increase happiness much. Also, people who give away money sustain greater levels of happiness over time than those who don’t.
However, it’s interesting to note that even when government aid supports personal finances, unemployment has disastrous effects on happiness, and appears to even increase the rates of divorce and suicide and the severity of disease.
Depends on your political colours
Political leanings actually affect your level of happiness. It might surprise some of you, but conservatives are happier than liberals. Who’s most unhappy? Liberal men, it turns out. Conservative women are the happiest: over 40% of them reported that they are very happy.
One social psychology theory proposes that conservatives often rationalize social injustice in order to explain the status quo, which might be why they are happier than liberals. However, studies have revealed that it’s more about conservatives’ predominant attitudes, worldview and capacity for positive adjustment. Conservatives express more personal control and feeling of responsibility, more optimism and self-worth, greater religiosity and moral clarity, a generalized belief in fairness and less tolerance of transgressions. All this accounts for the happiness gap between conservatives and liberals.
You can retrain your brain to be happy
“The problem is that the brain is like a single processor in a computer. It only has a finite amount of resources for experience in the world, which means that that person that walks into the room is using the majority of the resources to scan for the things which cause them to feel more negative, to make them feel more unhappy.”
Reprogramming the brain does not take a big effort either. Achor cites a study where pessimists were asked to write down three things they are grateful for every morning they came into work, for 21 days in a row. This helps those who are used to scan the world for the negative to change their patterns, and instead scan the world to look for things they are grateful for. As it turns out, after the 21 days the pattern gets retained in the brain. In fact, a 21-day gratitude exercise in adults with neuromuscular disease resulted in more optimistic ratings of one’s life, better sleep duration and quality, and a greater sense of connectedness to others (compared to a control group).
Gratefulness brings happiness
“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have”
Rabbi Hyman Schachtel
Jeff Larsen is a researcher at the Positive Psychology Center, focusing on the precursors of happiness. He set out to test Rabbi Schachtel’s quote by asking undergraduates whether they possessed each of 52 material items and the extent to which they wanted them. Both wanting what they had and having what they wanted accounted for unique variance in happiness, but when the subjects wanted what they had it actually mediated the positive effect of gratitude on happiness. Rabbi Schachtel’s quote is right on: it’s important to want and be grateful for what you have.
To recap, there’s a lot to be happy about when it comes to happiness. Even if your parents haven’t endowed you with happiness genes, you can still control 50% of your happiness level. If lacking inspiration about how to boost your mood, learn a thing or two from your conservative friends. Don’t rely on money to keep you happy and find pleasure in the work you’re doing, not in the goals you achieve. Teach yourself to look for the positive, and don’t forget to be thankful for everything you have. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?