As I posted earlier this week, Liz and I invested 3 days at the recent Happiness And Its Causes conference in Melbourne, and the title question to this post was just one of the many themes that I’d like to share with you.
It’s a great question, but only when we clearly define happiness as being more than just an emotional response like Joy or a physical response like laughter.
When I studied for my Master Degree in Professional Ethics over a decade ago now, and researched the work of Aristotle, I had no idea how profound Aristotle’s view on what he referred to as Eudaimonia (loosely translated from its Greek origin as happiness or flourishing) would have on my view of what it means to live a ‘good life’. My interpretative summation of a very broad theoretical (and practical) work by Aristotle is that Eudaimonia is achieved when we pursue our personal best in our character, thought, action and results.
This is why Intentionomics refers to living a happy, flourishing and prosperous life – the notion is that happiness is not enough for a fulfilling life, we need to flourish in our character, thought and action which will lead to us living a more prosperous (not just financially prosperous) life.
So back to the question of is your happiness held captive by your genes and environment?
From the science of applied positive psychology we now know that each of us are born with what Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky refers to as a ‘Set Point’ of happiness or positivity, and that it can amount to somewhere up to 50% of our total sense of subjective well-being. So the good or bad news, depending on where your Set Point falls on the positivity/negativity scale, is that this is your starting point.
Now if you happen to be a bit more pessimistic than your neighbours (and you’re probably going to be thinking “oh… here we go again… those optimists trying to tell us how to live our lives”), the reason you will want to learn how to take more control of what is in your control when it comes to your overall sense of well-being is that science validates people with higher senses of well-being are healthier, live longer, have better and longer lasting relationships, are more curious and creative, are more resilient, and enjoy their personal and business life more.
So if that’s got you thinking, you might be wondering if your positivity Set Point equates to 50% of your overall sense of well-being, what impacts the remaining 50%?
I’m glad you asked.
While traditional wisdom suggests we are greatly impacted by our environment (our life situation, family, finances, etc.), scientific studies now suggest that our environment or situational influences account for only about 10% of our overall sense of well-being.
Why? Because as humans we simply get used to our environment. Research undertaken by Lyubomirsky and others in applied positive psychology validates that while positive or negative environmental or situational (physical or emotional) events will increase or decrease our overall sense of well-being, we will, over time, return to our Set Point.
So by this it does sound like we might be held captive by our Genes, but not so much by our Environment.
But here’s the really good news.
On-going research from various leaders in the field of applied positive psychology including Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, Ed Diener, and Todd Kashdan just to name a few, has proven that when we teach ourselves to invest our time and money in what I will refer to as ‘well-being directed experiences’, we take intentional and proactive control of around 40% of our overall sense of well-being.
What type of experiences?
While this is not an exhaustive list, a good place to start would be in experiences that add to our sense of meaning; in experiences with family, friends and colleagues that build trust relationships; in experiences that help us to flourish, learn and grow; in experiences that help us contribute to something other than ourselves; in experiences that help us to feel an increased sense of pride and success.
So here’s the question to ask yourself, and if you’re in any way like me, you’ll find the answers are not always easy to take action on (old habits are truly ingrained and take some courage and effort to shift)…
Is what I am about to do aligned with my personal values and more likely to promote a long-term sense of well-being, or just a short-term boost to my emotional or physical state?
Let me finish with some tough examples (certainly they’ve been tough for me, and I don’t always win over my habits):
- Amount of time watching television
- What you’re about to eat
- What you’re about to drink
- What you’re about to spend your money on
- Amount of time on social media
- Who you’re about to spend some time with
- How mindfully you’re invested during work meetings
- How mindfully you’re invested in discussions with work colleagues or clients
… and I’m sure you can add to the list.
This is not about being ‘Perfect’ – if you need to get over that I recommend you read Brene Brown’s wonderful book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about intentionally choosing to make wise decisions about what will create the best outcome for you in terms of living a more happy, flourishing and prosperous life.
And that is what the intentionomics blueprint of 9 inescapable truths for a prosperous life is designed to do. Working through each of the inescapable truths will help you choose to maximise the 40% control you have over living an even more happy, flourishing and prosperous life.