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!
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