In her book The How of Happiness, how to get the life you want – Sonja Lyubomirsky is discussing 3 factors that play a role in our happiness:
- Genetics (or setpoint)
- Life circumstances
- Intentional activity
In the above pie-chart, we can see how much each one of these factors plays into our happiness. Yes, genetics is important but not as much as we would have thought, only 50%. It seems that we have a genetic set point for happiness; some people are glass full, others are glass empty, to say so.
Life circumstances, or external circumstances, are the ones we often tend to focus on the most: money, status, jobs, cars, beautiful houses, and other external things that we chase in the pursuit of happiness. If you were to win the lottery or have a car crash, you would think that this kind of things would have the most impact on your happiness. And here is the surprise, according to Lyubomirsky‘s study, life circumstances is the smallest component of our happiness. It seems like only about 10% of our actual happiness is affected by that.
More importantly, is that we have 40% left which is actually under our control. This is the Intentional Activity – our thoughts, actions, intentions, habits.
Ed Batista – executive coach- makes an important specification, regarding heritability and genetic effects on his blogpost Understanding “The Pie Chart” in The How of Happiness:
” genetics scholar and journalist Razib Khan provides a helpful explanation:
When someone tells you that height is 80% heritable, does that mean:
a) 80% of the reason you are the height you are is due to genes
b) 80% of the variation within the population on the trait of height is due to variation of the genes. The answer is of course b.”
A more recent study done by Brown and Rohrer suggests that the heritability of happiness is 70 to 80 percent.
We shouldn’t forget that we are unique individuals and how and where we find happiness is not going to apply to everyone in the same manner.
What I personally take from these studies is that: 1)we can create happiness by engaging in activities that fit our personality and interests, and 2) life circumstances like income or luxury car matters less than we might think when it comes to happiness.