When it comes to happiness, there are three main myths well-anchored in our society:
- Happiness is under our control.
- Our genes determine our level of happiness.
- Life circumstances influence our well-being.
None of these myths are entirely true, but each includes some element of truth. The good news is that you have room to maneuver your level of happiness.
The happiness formula
Numerous studies have been conducted to answer this question. The most well-known is from Sonja Lyubomirksy, author of « The How of Happiness ». She conducted a study on 2,000 identical twins (monozygotic), separated at birth, to understand the factors that determine our level of life satisfaction.
The study determined the following breakdown:
- 50% of our happiness level is genetic (our initial capital);
- 10% is based on life circumstances (external circumstances);
- 40% is our intentional activities (our actions and thoughts).
(Source: Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade)
If our personal levels of happiness are not equal, it is interesting to know that our genes only account for half.
For me, the biggest surprise was to discover that our life circumstances only account for 10% of our level of happiness. This means that our story (whether we’re married, widowed, divorced, with or without children, working or unemployed, had a happy or unhappy childhood), or our place of birth (living in a rich or poor country), only have a small impact on our level of happiness. For a lot of us, the starting point is here. If we are able to understand that the keys to happiness are not only based on external circumstances, we can start to create positive changes to increase our level of life satisfaction.
And the excellent news is that 40% is entirely in our control – that is a huge start!
What makes up the 40% under your control?
The 40% represents the way you think, feel and act daily. It includes our mindset and our daily habits: for example, complaining less, being more in the present moment, learning to savor what we have, seeing the glass half full, exercising, taking time for oneself, cultivating positive social relationships, engaging oneself in activities we are passionate about, avoiding social comparison, and moving forward on challenging goals.
We do daily things that increase or decrease our level of well-being. If life includes some setbacks, the key is to also ensure that we engage in those activities, thoughts, emotions and behaviors that increase our well-being.
What are the activities that promote happiness?
Where shall we start? What are these activities that we should favor and do more of? In her research, Sonja Lyubormisky has been able to identify and test twelve intentional activities that we can explore to increase our happiness. It is a good starting point. It does not mean we have to apply them all, but to choose one or two that might be a good fit for us. The challenge is more to intentionally think about integrating them in our often very (too?) busy daily life… and make the conscious effort to make sure our life also includes activities that increase our level of life satisfaction!
>> Read more about these 12 intentional activities here