Is Your Happiness Set in Stone?
Two new studies suggest that happiness is out of your control. Rather, they found that genes and age impact your general well-being more than daily attempts to be happy.
In one study of nearly 1,000 pairs of adult twins, researchers at the University of Edinburgh suggested that genes account for about 50 percent of the variation in people's levels of happiness. The underlying determinant was genetically caused personality traits, such as being sociable, active, stable, hardworking or conscientious.
When the people in the study were asked how happy they were, the identical twin pairs responded much more similarly than other twins, suggesting that happiness has a strong genetic component.
Another larger study found that people tend to fall into a larger, cross-cultural and global pattern of joy. Survey data from 2 million people in more than 70 countries showed that happiness typically follows a U-shaped curve. Happiness starts high, trends downward into middle-age, and then climbs back up among older people if they do not have severe health problems.
Time March 12, 2008
Psychological Science March 2008, 19 (3) , 205–210
Social Science & Medicine April 2008, Volume 66, Issue 8, Pages 1733-1749
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
There are a lot of researchers who say that your brain is hard-wired to reach a certain base level of happiness. Well, let me share a secret with you: YOU -- and not your genes, your family, your age, or your life’s circumstances -- are in control of your happiness.
It’s interesting to note, though, just how the first study above was interpreted. It found that your genes account for about 50 percent of the variation in people’s levels of happiness. Well, even if that were true, that means there’s still another 50 percent that’s up for grabs!
Regardless, just because you have a certain gene does not mean that your body will produce its product. For instance, just because you inherited “unhappy” personality traits from your mother or father, does not mean that you will be unhappy.
This is because the manufacture or expression of your genetic potential has a complex regulation system that is highly intertwined with your emotions. And, yes, you can control the expression of your genes by modifying your lifestyle and balancing your emotions.
So YOU are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your potential for happiness.
Once you realize this simple premise, it is actually quite liberating. You don’t have to feel bad because you’re getting older, or because your life isn’t going exactly as you had planned. You actually don’t have to feel bad for any reason at all, once you make your mind up to be happy.
In a sense, this allows you to give yourself permission to experience happiness in your day-to-day life.
How to “Decide” to be Happy
In all fairness, no one is happy all of the time. And that is just fine. Accepting that there will be times when you feel down is all part of being happy overall. But if you want to be one of those people who seem to be all smiles and optimism nearly all of the time, all it takes is your decision to do it.
I always recommend that you also let go of your limiting beliefs about happiness, and also your past emotional “baggage.” I love the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for this purpose, and really believe it can be a key player in your journey to finding your own inner happiness.
Finally, make an effort to find little things in your day to smile about. Darshan Goswami, M.S., PE, has also compiled a great list of 17 “happiness principles” that you can integrate into your own life right now.
1) Improve your relationships with friends and family: Smile when you greet them, do things for them, don't allow them to get angry with you.
2) Be an optimist: Optimism generates good feelings.
3) Develop a genuine smile and laugh a lot: Act happy -- It works. Smile into the mirror for a half hour without stopping. Smiling makes you happy and the more you smile the more happy you become. We all like people who smile. It also makes us more attractive.
4) Pray: Become religious or spiritual. If you want to be happy then ask God to make you happy. Prayer helps you accomplish things.
5) Be generous and share with others: Give more than you receive because being generous will make you happy.
6) Treat time as a friend: Don't watch the clock.
7) Exercise your mind: Keep yourself busy with some new project or ideas.
8) Work your body: Exercise regularly. Studies show that aerobic exercise is an antidote for mild depression and anxiety.
9) Have fun in life: Keep cool under pressure.
10) Pursue achievable goals.
11) Have high confidence in yourself.
12) Respect the disadvantaged.
13) Age gracefully.
14) Give compliments: Take every opportunity to be complimentary. Want to make someone like you? Every time you meet a person smile and give them a compliment.
15) Be honest: With honesty comes openness. People respect honest and open-minded people.
16) Keep an open mind: Most people seem to think that they know everything that they need to know. There's plenty of wisdom to go around.
17) Treat difficulties as challenges: Life's an adventure and every obstacle in life is one of its challenges. Treat life as a game. What fun would a game be if you could never lose?