The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point

PinExt The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point

smiling mother daughter thumb The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point Did you inherit your happiness or unhappiness from your parents?

Researchers have determined that up to 50% of our happiness level is genetic.  That is, we have a happiness set point or baseline that originated from one or both of our biological parents.  Half of your happiness level is preset!

Does this mean that if you had unhappy parents that you are doomed to a sad life?  Not in the least!  It just means that you might have to be more intentional about making yourself happier.  It is similar to the way that some people have to work a little harder to keep the weight off while others eat all they want and still remain skinny.

Why is our set point important and how do we know it exists?

If you’ve been following along the last few days, then the chart below will look familiar.  It depicts what scientists and researchers have determined to be the factors that affect our happiness.  Notice that our set point is the largest section of the pie!

happiness factors1 The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point

Anything factor that determines 50% of our overall happiness level needs to be understood if we want to live a happier life.

I’ve already written about how we are usually off base in knowing what truly makes us lastingly happy and a little about intentional happiness activities that help make us happier.  Today, we’ll explore how the happiness set point.

As I stated above, we inherit our baseline level of happiness from our biological parents.  How do researchers know this?  Well, most of the evidence comes from studies conducted with identical and fraternal twins.  I’ll let you check out the details in The How of Happiness- A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want which is the inspiration for these articles.  Suffice it to say, that scientists have gone to great lengths to verify the existence of the set point.

How does our set point affect our overall happiness?

The most important things to know about the set point is that it appears that we cannot change it and we tend to naturally gravitate back to it.  So, whether you experience circumstances that either boost or deflate your happiness, you will over time return to your average happiness level if everything else remains constant.

But just because your happiness set point cannot be changed doesn’t mean that your happiness level cannot be changed.
~ The How of Happiness

This is a critical point to understand.  The set point is just our natural happiness equilibrium point.  It is our genetic tendency, but it can be influenced.  It only accounts for 50% of our happiness level.  Yes, it is half, but we can dramatically affect our happiness through intentional activities as I discussed yesterday.

You can trump nature on this matter if you so choose.  It just takes consciously applied effort to boost and maintain your happiness above your set point.

What does this mean for me and my happiness?

First, understanding the set point should help you to understand your own behavior a little better.  You can determine your set point by periodically checking your happiness level using the Subjective Happiness Scale.  Your set point is sort of an average of multiple tests.  The average is around five.

I believe I tend to have a slightly below average happiness set point.  This helps me to understand why my moods seem to dip from time-to-time.  Knowing this relieves me of some of the guilt about it.  It also helps me to know that I need to recognize when these dips occur and intentionally do something about it

Knowing your set point will tell you how much effort you need to exert to feel happier.  If you already have a high set point, then you might not feel it is necessary to do anything to become happier.  However, if you have a lower set point, then you can start concentrating on the 40% of the pie where intentional happiness activities can make a huge difference!

Does the idea of a happiness set point make sense to you?  Where do you think your set point lies?

Photo by rolands.lakis

PinExt The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point

9 thoughts on “The Science of Happiness: Your Happiness Set Point

  1. The idea of the happiness set point makes sense, but it also makes me nervous. I’ve spent the majority of my life (okay, everything up until the last 6 months) being a pretty unhappy, self-destructive person. Does that mean that is my happiness set point and that whatever happiness I’ve recently discovered is temporary? Or is it possible to change the set point if you really, really want to? Hmm….

    Read Positively Present´s latest article – dip your toes into the moment

  2. This does make a lot of sense to me. It certainly goes a long way toward explaining why no matter how hard I try to intentionally be a happier person, I always end up sinking back to some level of happiness mediocrity.

    Read Helena´s latest article – Remembering My Grandmother

  3. I like it. Many of us are made to feel that it is entirely our fault for not being able to be happy much of the time. This really helps in that it alleviates some of the self blaming guilt associated with such thoughts.

    On the other side; while it helps lift the “my fault” burden off of the afflicted, it is still the 40% from intentional activity which shifts the whole thing. We need to consciously make efforts to increase the happiness of ourselves and others.

  4. @Positively – The book says that as far as scientists can tell, the set point is unchangeable. However, even if your set point is low, that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it. It just might take you a little more effort than it would someone else. You can override your genetics and please remember that the set point only accounts for 50% of your happiness level. You still have a lot you can do!

    @Helena – I know what you mean. The good news is that by applying the intentional happiness activities as described in the book, you can create a lasting happiness. We experience the peaks and valleys because we seek happiness in the wrong ways.

    @Sean – You totally get it! Focusing on the 40% is where we need to be. You can definitely make a lot of difference in your life with just a little conscious effort.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave such great comments!

  5. I’ve got a copy of the book now!

    I am trying to not read through it bit by bit, taking my time to enjoy it. I do love the employee discount for the bookstore, especially since i am only working there about 2 days per month!
    .-= Sean´s last blog ..How to Simply Write =-.

  6. @Sean – Glad you picked up a copy! I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts. Also, I like how you got it at a bargain!

  7. Yes, “just because your happiness set point cannot be changed, doesn’t mean that your happiness level cannot be changed.” As a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher, working in the field of personal development for over 20 years, I’ve seen people create happy lives in the face of impossible circumstances. With a commitment to working on and integrating your childhood difficulties you can create changes that last. Knowing your own system on the levels of body, emotion, mind and spirit does help you create a happier life. The commitment to intentionally taking good care of yourself helps you step into a mature relationship with your deeper self.

    Dr. Jennifer Howard

  8. Pingback: 5 Myths of Happiness that lead to Unfulfillment | Todd Glassberg

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