The Happiness Set Point

by F.

From the excellent BPS Research Digest Blog:

One of the biggest questions being tackled in the subjective well-being/happiness literature is whether we can achieve sustainable change to our happiness level, or whether we can only achieve momentary departures from our baseline disposition. The answer to this question has been different (yes, no, maybe) depending on the angles and variables employed by each researcher in attempting to answer it.

But last year

a team of U.S. researchers developed a comprehensive model of sustainable happiness change that integrated the major lines of the subjective well-being literature. The result was a theory which proposed that up to 50 per cent of one’s happiness was rooted in a genetically determined set-point, 10 per cent was related to circumstantial factors (nation of residence, demographics, culture, income, etc), and the remaining 40 per cent was determined by intentional activities such as pursuing goals, looking at things optimistically, and being physically active. The keys to sustainable happiness change rest in these activities…

In other words:

changing circumstances and engaging in happiness related activities both offer a boost to one’s happiness, but that people habituate to circumstantial changes whereas continuing the activities sustained increases in happiness, subjective well-being, and psychological well-being.

Even if the results were that only 5% of your happiness was rooted in intentional activities, the answer would be the same, I think: you should do what you can do. Is this result right? Seems plausible.

Cite: Sheldon, K.M. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: change your actions not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55-86.