The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness was first mentioned in the United States Declaration of Independence 241 years ago. Today the pursuit continues, evidenced in the row after row of self-help books in bookstores and the sale of millions of these books. The big questions are, is the inability to be happy inherited? Do your circumstances define your happiness? Can we pursue and achieve happiness? Experts have been studying this concept and challenging each other for many years. In 1996, professors presented evidence, through their studies of twins and adoptions, that the ability to inherit happiness or well-being may be as high as 80%. The study reveals that happiness can be sustained short term but tends to go back to the inherited personality for the long term. So, if you inherit an unhappy disposition, is that it? Are you unhappy for the rest of your life? No, you can actively affect your happiness! A new study believes there are compelling reasons to be optimistic about your future. The study reveals four ways to achieve optimism.

The first path to happiness is practicing virtues such as gratitude, forgiveness, and thoughtful self-reflection. Changing your focus can produce long-term happiness.

Second, avoiding social comparisons and self-evaluation in your life. Once again changing your focus off your self-produced concepts and placing it elsewhere (we will address this later).

The third reason for optimism is that older people tend to be happier than younger people. Older people report higher satisfaction with life and lower negative attitudes. Greater happiness can be achieved over time, not just by a few people but perhaps by a majority of people. Older people learn how to structure their lives and pursue goals that maximize positive emotions, confirming that people can learn to increase their well-being.

The last reason why genes are not necessarily your destiny is that the unwanted effects can be minimized by active efforts to steer away from situations that keep you from being happy and healthy or by avoiding being enticed towards disruptive behaviors. The focus off yourself can be directed to intentional activities. For example, an extrovert may benefit most from an activity that brings them into regular contact with people, or a nurturing person may benefit from an activity that affords him opportunities to take care of others. Furthermore, kind behaviors may help satisfy a basic human need for a connection. The seekers of happiness might be advised to live a life of gratitude, forgiveness and not to compare yourself to others. Search for activities to be a part of and expect to see long-term changes in well-being.

Author: Lyubomirsky, S, University of California, Riverside Sheldon, K M, University of Missouri-Columbia Schkade, D, University of California, San Diego.