The 40% Solution

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX


I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately on the science of happiness. I’m intrigued by the evidence that happiness leads to increased productivity and creativity. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when I feel better (physically, mentally, spiritually), I work better. I seem to get so much more done on beautiful, sunny days rather than gloomy ones when all I want to do is curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea.

One of the more interesting findings that I’ve come across is from research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky which finds that, contrary to what most of us believe, a change in our circumstances is not likely to make us happier. We all dream that winning the lottery, or falling in love, or losing weight, will be the magic pill to lifetime happiness. But, of course, it’s not so easy.

In fact, Lyubomirsky’s and others’ research has found that only about 10% of our happiness is attributable to life circumstances (good or bad). Roughly 50% of our “happiness level” is dependent on genetics. We all know people who were just born cheerful or gloomy (all those Eeyores around us!).

The good news is that that leaves about 40% of our happiness level under our control. There are things we can do to influence how happy we feel. Habits such as gratitude, being kind, committing to goals (and following through), spiritual practices and strategies for coping with stress, can all influence our mood.

Lyubomirsky lists twelve habits in her book, The How of Happiness, but I think there may be a few more. I tend to agree with my old friend Ben Franklin (I spent two years giving tours of his house in London), when he said,

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.

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