An interesting personal phenomena is the happier I have become, the more I understand what makes me happy. Living for years with a somewhat disgruntled attitude while searching for happiness never brought me closer to being happy. Only deep personal growth and an altered view of life allowed me to find it.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have tracked identical twins who were separated as infants and raised by separate families. As genetic carbon copies brought up in different environments, these twins are a social scientist’s dream, helping us disentangle nature from nurture. These researchers found that we inherit a surprising proportion of our happiness at any given moment — around 48 percent.
If about half of our happiness is hard-wired in our genes, what about the other half? It’s tempting to assume that one-time events — like getting a dream job or an Ivy League acceptance letter — will permanently bring the happiness we seek. And studies suggest that isolated events do control a big fraction of our happiness — up to 40 percent at any given time.
But while one-off events do govern a fair amount of our happiness, each event’s impact proves remarkably short-lived. People assume that major changes like moving to California or getting a big raise will make them permanently better off. They won’t. Huge goals may take years of hard work to meet, and the striving itself may be worthwhile, but the happiness they create dissipates after just a few months. So don’t bet your well-being on big one-off events. The big brass ring is not the secret to lasting happiness.
That leaves just about 12 percent. That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way. The first three are fairly uncontroversial. Empirical evidence that faith, family and friendships increase happiness and meaning is hardly shocking. Few dying patients regret over-investing in rich family lives, community ties and spiritual journeys.
Work, though, seems less intuitive. Popular culture insists our jobs are drudgery, and one survey recently made headlines by reporting that fewer than a third of American workers felt engaged; that is praised, encouraged, cared for and several other gauges seemingly aimed at measuring how transcendently fulfilled one is at work.
More than 50 percent of Americans say they are “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their work. This rises to over 80 percent when we include “fairly satisfied.” This shouldn’t shock us. Vocation is central to the American ideal, the root of the aphorism that we “live to work” while others “work to live.” When Frederick Douglass rhapsodized about “patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put,” he struck the bedrock of our culture and character. From an article by Arthur C. Brooks http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/opinion/sunday/a-formula-for-happiness.html?_r=0
With great gratitude I can say, “I’m happy”. While there are purely joyous moments now, I don’t exist in a constantly blissful bubble. Instead, I simply choose not to have “bad days” any more. Difficult ones certainly, but never a “bad one”. Any day alive is a “good day”. The best lives ever lived contained “a great deal of joy and happiness with a lot of heartache and grief mixed in”. Coming to see the wisdom of that statement and living it has been life changing.
The difference between a Good day and a Bad day
has less to do with the circumstances
than the power we have over our thoughts.