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The Best 40 Percent of Happiness

States of mind

What do lottery jackpot winners and people who have been paralyzed in an accident have in common? Major life changes. These two groups were the focus of a 1978 study on happiness and how it’s affected by our situation in life, including our ups and downs. In years since then it has contributed to a lot of other studies, including Adaptation and the Set-Point Model of Subjective Well-Being: Does Happiness Change After Major Life Events? by Richard E. Lucas in 2007, which argues that our happiness has a level–different levels for different people–to which we naturally tend to return (even after things like winning the lottery or having a spinal cord injury).

Different researchers conclude slightly different levels for the importance of genetics, conditions, and attitude in happiness, but as a good example, in their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks, authors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler give these percentages:

50% genetic,
40% attitude, and
10% situational

In other words, if your life goes amazingly well and you’re the luckiest person on the planet, you’ll probably be only about 10% happier than someone just like you who has the worst luck on the planet. However, if you cultivate habits of finding happiness in your situation regardless of whether or not things go your way, you can make a major difference in how happy you are.  This is probably why the Dalai Lama is such a happy-looking guy (just take a look at him! And that’s not just for the cameras: our faces begin to show our emotions in wrinkles as we get older–ever notice the difference in appearance between a happy 80-year-old’s face and a grim 80-year-old’s face?–and His Holiness the Dalai Lama has the face of a guy who has been doing a lot of smiling). Buddhist teachings promote letting go of desire, and as Ben Franklin once observed, “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll touch on some of the reasons happiness works the way it does, and what we can take away from that to become happier ourselves.

Lottery photo by jackace

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