Basic Happiness Research

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Now, more and more universities are devoting research to resiliency and happiness under the umbrella of positive psychology. Positive psychology investigates what makes life worth living and tells us how to build a buffer against troubled times.

Positive psychology surfaced in the 1990s, as the brainchild of Martin Seligman, a past president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was aware that even though psychology had success at rescuing people from a variety of mental illnesses, we didn’t have sound tools for helping people thrive and flourish. He intended to correct this imbalance when he brought together, under the umbrella term, positive psychology, scientists whose work investigates what makes life worth living.

What is Happiness? Happiness is what we feel when we’re satisfied with life. It’s a positive emotional state. Happiness is also a way of life that depends on a positive perspective. Fortunately, we each own our happiness. No one else is responsible for our sense of well-being. We can increase our level of satisfaction with our lives and relationships by building our happiness.

There are three factors that determine happiness. First, some scientists conclude there’s a genetically predetermined set point that accounts for at least 50% of our ability to feel happiness. The basic temperament and personality traits we’re born with maintain this so called set point in our relative happiness.

Second, life circumstances account for about 10 to 15% of our happiness. These circumstances are relatively stable factors, like where we live, illness, life events, income, marital status, and race. If we change our life circumstances, adaptation usually kicks in and we revert to our happiness set point.

The third factor in the determination of happiness, the last 35 to 40%, is intentional activity we can choose. Intentional activities can include behavioral activities like smiling, yoga, meditation, and cognitive activities like reframing, counting our blessings, and personal goals. Increasing these intentional activities can help us live in the upper range of our set point for happiness.

We now know there are specific qualities of happiness that can be intentionally learned. Qualities like gratitude and optimism have been proven to build happiness. This is not to say that it’s easy to develop new tools to build these qualities, but the rewards are worth the effort. Happiness tools can change your life. We also know that variety is important when changing habits and increasing happiness, so you want to incorporate as many intentional changes as are reasonable for you. These changes are discussed in the articles What Can I Do to be Happier? and Three Paths to Happiness.

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Copyright 2011, Jacque Ristau

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