According to research, your happiness is 50 percent genetic, 10 percent situational and 40 percent intentional activity.
Yes, half of your happiness is just in your genetics—talk about the genetic lottery. Can I buy a Powerball ticket for that sucker? And 40 percent of it is within your control; it’s your behavior, and that makes sense. It’s the 10 percent “situational” part, however, that I find hard to believe.
“Only about 10 percent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations—that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc.,” writes psychology professor and bestselling author Sonja Lyubormirsky in her 2008 book, The How of Happiness.
I think most of us erroneously ascribe far more happiness to many of the aforementioned situations, even though I’m sure we can all think of a miserable rich person and a happy poor one.
In fact, Lyubomirsky quotes a study that says money accounts for less than two percent of happiness, and marriage less than one percent. It seems intuitive that happiness, then, is mostly cultivated elsewhere: in those genetics and in “the 40 percent solution,” as Lyubormirsky almost titled her book.
Let’s look at this with regards to men, who are socialized to be providers. It’s hard to be a man today and not live the message that making money and succeeding in your career will make you happy, or at least take you a long way towards happiness. I’m not saying that a kickass career that makes you good money does nothing, but “stuff”—from Lamborghinis to young babes—are temporary pleasures that don’t budge lasting happiness.
Think about it: Two percent is nothing. Too many of us give our lives to our jobs and they only make us two percent happier at best, and that’s only if you have a lucrative job that you enjoy. Fuck that. And don’t forget that, even if you accumulate the dream of high social status, an education, a job, a wife and all the situational advantages and privileges possible, it will still only encapsulate 10 percent of your happiness—at best.
Now, I’m a doctor. My whole life was spent in school to build up to a career that, to be frank, I assumed would make me happy. I actually love what I do—it’s very satisfying to help people and be challenged, but I can also admit that my baseline happiness has been very minimally affected by my career and the benefits of it.
If you really want to be genuinely happy, then you are not going to do it by focusing on your career alone. We can’t spend so much time worrying about that 10 percent; it’s time to shift focus. The biggest bang for your buck is that 40 percent behavior category—the stuff that can actually raise your sense of peace and life satisfaction for the long haul.
So what the hell it this 40 percent about? Behaviors like sleep and exercise (big hitters for me). Fostering social relationships, pursuing meaningful goals and practicing gratitude, prayer or meditation also boost our moods. Simply put: Making these things habits makes us happier.
Well, that’s not terribly hard to grasp, but it is easier said than done. Letting go of the decades of socialization and drinking the Kool-Aid that money makes you happier is no easy feat. It’s even harder to change your job and turn around your life if that’s what you need to do. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
So answer this question, and proceed accordingly: Do you want to be happy or rich?
Photo: Getty Images/AleksandarNakic