Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Influences Our Happiness The Most?

In this article of Psychology Today, the author - Sonja Lyubomirsky, raises the question of influences our level of happiness. Is it genetics or the circumstances in our lives (health, success, etc.)?

Lyubomirsky examines her two friends, Seth and Michael. Although both have successful jobs, loving families, and earn approximately the same about of salaries, Michael is happier than the chronically unhappy and regularly irritable Seth.

Studies have shown that success, health, and physical attractiveness have very little to do with a person's overall happiness. For instance, Ed Diener's study showed that Americans who earn more than $10 million annually report levels of personal happiness only slightly more than the people who work for them. This shows that even if Seth had slightly fewer 'privileges' in life than Michael, it should not have anything to do with his unhappier disposition in life.

On the genetics side, studies with identical and fraternal twins showed that each person is born with a certain 'happiness set point' - a standard or touchstone in which a person is always going to return to, despite major misfortunes or accomplishments. The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight. Some people are born with great metabolism while others have to work extra-hard to keep off the weight. Therefore, the author claims Michael might have a higher set point for happiness or greater metabolism for burning off unhappiness than Seth. However, Seth is not set for life to be unhappy. This just means Seth has to work a little harder to maintain a higher level than happiness while Michael can also do the same to be even happier than he is now.

But going back to Ed Diener's study: "those earning more than $10 million annually – report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the people who work for them." 'Slightly,' but that is still more. I am sure people with lots to spend are generally happier than poorer individuals who have to worry about paying their mortgages. However, we have also heard countless stories of millionaires and billionaires jumping to their own deaths. So this article led me to think of the saying "we determine our own happiness." How happy or unhappy we are all depend on our attitudes. It is not the riches, success, and amount of material goods that determine our happiness. For me, as long as we have good health, meals to eat, and a home to shelter ourselves, we should always be appreciative. Whenever you start envying the rich, you should not forget that there are millions of homeless beggars and millions without even food to stay alive.

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