Beyond 10% Happiness

The science of happiness is an interesting field of study as it shows us some of beliefs about life are just dead wrong.  For example, your level of happiness is determined many things but the major factors are 50% genetic set point, 40% how you do things and a mere 10% on your circumstances like how much you make, where you live, your social status and your health.  Yet ironically when you talk to people about being happy in North America the most common way they plan to get happier is: making more money and/or getting more status.

As a society there is a huge pressure to focus on that last 10%, to get a promotion and make more money which will make you happy for a little while, but the in the long run it is a piss poor way to get happy.  Yet it is so easy to get sucked into that point of view.  Everyone you talk to wants to earn more money, and all the advertising you see points out all the things you can buy to bring more status to your life…the new house, the nice car, or the better cell phone.  Even if you are aware that it is only 10% of your happiness it is still easy to fall back into focusing on that last 10%.  So how do you move on?

Well the sorry fact that your genetic set point isn’t something you can change, so 50% of your happiness was decided when you were born.  No refunds on that.  Yet that other 40% on how you do things is a huge driver on happiness that we tend to pass over in our day to day life when in fact that is where we can get the most bang for our effort on happiness.

Yet that last 40% is personal, what works for me won’t work for you (at least exactly) so researchers are forced to provide some vague points on what you should focus on like:

  • Spend time with family and friends.  My favorite ways to do this is have people over for supper or even just a coffee.  Or if things are rushed I’ll just have lunch with a friend during the week.
  • Challenge yourself.  Everyone is familiar with hitting the flow state when you are working on something.  It’s that point where you aren’t aware of your surroundings and you are totally focused on a task…at which you realize two hours just went by in a blink of an eye.  I personally get into this a fair bit via my day job working with data analysis and writing at home so I try to do both in a week.
  • Help Others.  Contributing to something bigger than you can be a great way to be happy.  I personally spend my time helping my kids with school work and volunteering at our school.
  • Be Grateful. Something as simple as writing down what you are grateful for once a week can also help you to be more happy.  I recently started a gratitude journal that I’m writing in once a week to remind myself how utterly great my life is most of the time.
  • Get Active.  Honestly this helps and it doesn’t have to be much work.  A daily walk or taking the stairs instead of the elevator helps me even during my busy weeks.

In the end, there is a fair bit you can do to have a happier life.  The great news is when you get past that 10% of circumstance you can have a good impact by changing your daily habits and not even spending a dime (if all your money is going to saving for your early retirement 😉 ).


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