For some reason we tend to view optimistic people as being happier than their pessimistic counterparts.
However, both are capable of being happy. They just have different ideas on what constitutes happiness.
Regardless of you psychological leanings, there is significant research indicating that happiness may be partly genetic.
Yes there is such a thing as Happiness Research
Is happiness genetic? Well, to start, let’s look at the findings of Martin Seligman author of Authentic Happiness, and past president of the American Psychological Association. In his book he reveals some interesting findings.
According to Seligman’s’ research, happy people are healthier, live longer and do more good for their families, businesses, communities and ultimately the world.
The only question is how do these happy people find happiness? The answer is pretty easy, but it may not be what you think.
There is a “universal survey” that has been used in all research on happiness. It’s called the Satisfaction with Life Scale, and it originated in 1985 by Ed Diener, who was the author of “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.” This Satisfaction with life scale is a simple 5 question list used to assess overall happiness.
Using these questions, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist named, Daniel Kahneman, devised a poll and worked with Gallop Inc. to take a 155 nation poll called “the Global Well-Being Poll.”
Out of the 155 nations examined it was found that people experience above average levels of positivism and are in a good mood over 80 percent of time. This even accounted for those who were undergoing unfortunate circumstance in the last year.
This list also included those who had been robbed or assaulted, and even those undergoing hunger and homelessness.
So how to you maintain a sunny disposition when you’re hungry or homeless?
The answer lies in what is called the “set-point” theory of happiness. This basically means we have a set range of happiness that we naturally return to, even after negative events. It’s basically our genetic tendency to return to an emotional set point in our lives to help us keep balanced and basically stable.
Twins don’t just look alike
This set-point theory was bolstered in the landmark 1996 study of 4,000 sets of identical twins called, The Minnesota Twin Family Study. The study found that each set of twins had a very similar level of happiness across their entire lives, whether they were raised together or not.
It seems that it was the strong genetic component that caused them to have similar states of emotional well-being. The study eventually revealed that 44 to 52 percent of our happiness is inherited. Other studies show similar findings, and experts seem to agree on about the 50% range.
Another study by Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh, who were working with researchers at Queensland Institute, found that happiness is partly determined by personality traits, and that both personality and happiness are largely hereditary.
Using a framework which psychologists use to rate personalities, called the Five-Factor Model, the researchers found that people who do not have excessive worry, and who are sociable and conscientious tend to be happier.
This study was published in the March issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science , and suggested that this personality mix can act as a buffer when bad things happen.
To me its pretty logical, because its hard to be happy if you’re always worried, unsociable and indifferent.
So does all this mean that happiness is hard-wired and we have no say in the matter? No, thankfully it does not. But it might show why some seem to be happier, more consistently, than others. However, the good news is I could find no research that shows our happiness is totally genetic nor even a majority genetic.
If the above findings are true, that still leaves a 48% – 56% of our happiness that’s dependent on how we respond to the environment around us. This means we all have the capability of finding happiness regardless of our situations. Just look at the findings of the Global Well Being Poll that revealed that people gravitate back to happiness even when their hungry and homeless.
Regardless of our genetic disposition tendencies, we have the choice to find contentment and happiness regardless of our past, present or future condition.
There is no excuse to walk around grumpy, discontent and in a sour mood all the time. Even though we are genetically predisposed one way or the other, we humans all have the ability to choose to be happy (see our article on 5 steps to happiness)
Like my friends grandma used to tell us “there’s more to this world than you boys. Stop blaming everything else, take responsibility, and get on with your life. Stop looking for happiness, just be happy.”
If you find yourself navigating towards unhappiness, I found its hard to be unhappy if you foster becoming more thankful and grateful for everyday things. You know things like food, a good nights sleep, friends, family, cloths, shelter etc.
Being happy is most often just about making the most of our life day by day. Sometimes it’s as simple as deciding to focus on the good and positive things in our lives. This often allows us to see that the negative things are really no big deal in the overall scheme of things.
Yes, I do believe we can choose to be happy. Regardless of genetics, environment, upbringing or other influence, happiness is really just a state of being at a given point in time… But more on this later.