Have you ever done everything in your power to achieve happiness, and still find yourself feeling unfulfilled? Like when you get the job you wanted with salary you wanted, but you still felt like you deserved more money, or the workplace was not what you expected. Maybe you eat healthy and exercise, but you still don’t feel better, or simply remain unhappy with your appearance? Perhaps you finally purchase your dream home, but you feel more isolated, lonely, and stressed than before being a homeowner? Sometimes it feels like nothing we want, or work to get is ever enough, it never provides the long-term satisfaction we hoped for. Sometimes the things we strive to own, or dreams we work to achieve just aren’t enough to make us “happy”. As it turns out, scientists who have studied “happiness” have found that there’s more to a state of overall contentment than attaining goals, buying things, or lifestyle choices.
For one, it was found genetics play a role. By studying groups of twins, it was discovered that 50% of our happiness levels are pre-determined by our genes— what the scientists defined as our “genetic set point”. Additionally, only 10% of happiness comes from our individual circumstances- job, health, financial state, lifestyle and so forth. This leaves the additional 40% unaccounted for. Ultimately, this was measured as our intentional behavior, such as, our hobbies, relationships with family, friends and romantic ones, as well. So, if we think about these findings, perhaps we should consider that we shouldn’t solely rely on our work and attaining financial success to make us “happy”. The idea that, “once I get that job, house, car, or take that vacation, I will finally have it all” can potentially deter a path to reaching overall satisfaction in life. According to these findings, it seems that it’s not necessarily what we do, but how we do it. Our job, health and financial standing only account for a small percentage of what makes us happy meaning it’s not necessarily the circumstances in our life. We most certainly have control over the choices we make and how we choose to live our life.
I’m not here to say that from this information I suddenly know how to achieve the ultimate happiness, I’m just saying the people who are considered experts and took the time to study came to some interesting conclusions. I still set goals and find that achieving them are crucial to not only happiness, but fulfillment in my life. I do think, however, if we take these findings into consideration it can help us in those times of self-doubt. Sometimes our happiness, or contentment maybe has nothing to do with what we have done, or failed to do, but may be pre-determined by genetics. In this case, its possible self-love and acceptance can keep us motivated to finding what it is that makes us, and keeps us happy. Also, by keeping this in mind, we can better understand, support and accept others for who they are.
Not to say we should use the “genetic set-point” theory as an excuse and brush off being shitty towards people because it’s just “who we are”. We should still take responsibility for our choices and how those choices impact those around us. More than anything, I look at these findings as an opportunity for empowerment. We can take steps, or make choices to manage our behavior and better understand our own emotions. Maybe, trying new things and keeping life exciting, or meeting new people and breaking out of the routine makes you happy. Or maybe stability and alone time is good for you. Personally, I need a little bit of both. I’m an extroverted introvert of sorts.
Additionally, the Spice Girls seemed to have it right when they sang “people of the world spice up your life, every boy and every girl, spice up your life”. (Yes, I quoted the Spice Girls and for good reason.) Some studies suggest that dopamine, a chemical in our brains that is tied to pleasure and happiness begins to slowly decrease from our teenage years and on. So it’s important to seek out experiences that release dopamine, such as exercise. Additionally, it’s even better if we change up our routine. So maybe if you’re a runner, try running on a different path every so often. OR take a run like Pheobe Buffay in one of my favorite Friend’s moments. If you don’t know that episode, lucky for you I attached the clip below for your inspiration! Based on this, expressing the childlike desires within us, like playfulness and excitement will release dopamine. So really you don’t have to abuse substances to set the chemicals in your brain off. Just get a natural high on life and find joy in trying something new. The best part is, you can be creative and not have to spend a dime! Who doesn’t like free stuff?
Realistically, happiness is a complicated emotion that seems so simple, but life isn’t like that. As we grow and circumstances change, especially those beyond our control, it’s just not possible to be happy all the time, every moment of every day. Obviously, not everyone’s circumstances will make feeling happy as easy as it may sound. However, if we understand that we have the power to take control, even if that means asking for help, we can turn our failures into successes and our self-doubt into confidence. We’re alive. We’re breathing. That’s a lot to be happy about.