Unless you are truly spectacular (in which case, can I have your number?), you’re likely hanging on to some unfulfilled dreams.
Perhaps you’re single, want to lose 10 pounds or are stuck in a dead-end job. Maybe you want to move or find a hobby, or just wish the neighbor’s cat would die and stop waking you up at 3 a.m. Whatever your experience, no doubt you can think of several ways to improve your life.
Guess what? They probably won’t help as much as you think.
Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness,” one of the first books to take a scientific gander at the whats and whys of joy, is based on the idea that true happiness comes not from without, but from within. More specifically, three separate factors determine your propensity toward satisfaction.
Perhaps surprisingly, genetics and natural inclination comprise a full 50 percent of your happiness quotient. This is your baseline, and dictates whether you’re naturally sunny or inherently morose. (Or, as Gretchen Rubin likes to say, a Tigger or an Eeyore.)
Even more startling is the fact that your life situation comprises only 10 percent. You could therefore find the perfect mate, lose the weight, get a new job and kill the cat without affecting your overall satisfaction level by more than, at most, a tenth.
The missing 40 percent is accounted for by intentional exercises. These include cultivating gratitude and optimism, practicing kindness, pursuing our spiritual lives and avoiding social comparisons, among other things. In other words, your grandmother was right: you affect your overall happiness most significantly by looking on the bright side of life.
I know. Lame.
Luckily, much of what Lyubomirsky advises is straightforward, if not always easy: spending time with friends, developing effective coping mechanisms for stress, forgiving readily and engaging in the present. Moreover, she’s careful to point out that even very happy people have their rough patches, which is reassuring to those of us who hit life’s speed bumps more often than we’d like.
Not sure where to start? I recommend picking up the book. In it you’ll find numerous quizzes, worksheets and suggestions to set you down the right path on your happiness quest. Bon voyage.