Happiness – How Much Is In Your Control?

Happiness – How Much Is In Your Control?

Recently, I attended the International Coaching Federation’s annual global conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  One of the presentations I was privileged to attend was given by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California, Riverside on happiness.  The session entitled “The How, What, and Why of Happiness,” explored many aspects of happiness that have been learned through the 20 years of study that Dr. Lyubomirsky has devoted to this subject.  Her findings, and those of her fellow researchers, will benefit many of you in terms of living a happier and better quality life.

While Dr. Lyubomirsky made clear from the start that happiness can only be measured by asking people if they are happy and to rate themselves on a happiness scale, there are also further studies that can be done that can indicate what being happy translates into for those who indicate they are happy.  Over 225 studies on the benefits of happiness have concluded:

•    The higher you rate your level of happiness the more productive and creative you are at work.
•    Those who profess to be happy are more likely to help others become creative.

In addition happy people have been proven to generate the following physical health characteristics:

•    They have a lower incidence of stroke 6 years after they have been measured in the happiness study.
•    If they have Coronary Heart Disease they’re more likely to survive up to 11 years later the happier they are.
•    They’re less likely to be out of work on disability.
•    Less likely to be involved in a car accident.
•    Less likely to die from all causes up to 28 years later from when they took part in the happiness study.

One of the questions that researchers who study happiness wanted to know was “Is It Possible to Become Happier?”  A follow up question to this first one is “If it is Possible to Increase One’s Happiness, Is It Possible to sustain that Increase?”

After many years of studies, the research turned up these findings.  50% of one’s happiness level is set genetically from birth.  One’s life circumstances help to make up an additional 10% of one’s happiness level.  However, the remaining 40% of your happiness level is tied to your thoughts.  The happier and more positive you view situations which are a part of your life, the higher your happiness level.  The continued research into these findings also found that happier people tend to compare themselves to others a lot less than unhappy people.

So how does one help to improve their level of happiness with the 40% of the equation that is in their control?   Three separate studies determine that happier people were more likely to:

•    Count one’s blessings in their life.
•    Look to commit acts of kindness on behalf of others.
•    Learn to show gratitude and be thankful for those things that make their life better to live.

All of the studies did involve the use of gratitude journals.  A gratitude journal is a place to actually write down and record those things in your life for which you are grateful.  The researchers did find that those who kept journals were likely to be far happier than those who did not.  However, they also learned those who updated their journal once a week, as opposed to daily tended to be happier.  Conducting the journaling on too frequent a basis led to resentment against the journal and having to come up with items which to include in it.

While Dr. Lyubormirsky indicated researchers will continue to do continued studies on happiness, it is clear that we as individuals can improve our level of happiness.  Again, that which we can control is tied directly to our thoughts and emotions, our willingness to do for others and taking the time to reflect periodically on those things in our life which provide us a sense of gratitude.