You may have wondered about whether or not it is truly possible to increase your level of happiness, and if it is, how do you go about doing this? Research has demonstrated that approximately half of your happiness is genetically determined and each person has a set range to which they will ultimately return no matter what occurs in their lives. However, the good news is that inherited personality traits are changeable and a major portion of a person’s happiness is determined by factors that are under voluntary control.
Therefore, if a person makes a conscious effort to be happy they have the power to live in the upper portion of their set range. This provides us with a great deal of hope for being able raise our level of happiness and suggests that it is worthwhile exploring and pursuing methods for increasing happiness. In fact, Positive Psychology researchers have demonstrated that after engaging in a Happiness Building Exercise 94% of participants had a decrease in depression (some greater than a 50% reduction) and 92% increased their happiness.
Most of us have some notions about what we believe are the essential components of being happy. There has been a great deal of research done in this area, some of which you may have anticipated, but some of which may surprise you. First, it is important to understand that you will not experience more positive emotions in your life by simply experiencing less negative emotions. Even if you experience negative emotion you can still have positive feelings in your life and vice versa. Therefore, the goal of Positive Living is not simply to remove negative from your life but to actually increase the amount of positive emotions that you experience.
Research has demonstrated that that the most important component for achieving happiness is achieving a sense of connection with others. People tend to feel happier when they’re with other people, across almost all situations. Therefore, many of the Positive Living activities are designed to increase your ability to develop closer, more effective and more satisfying relationships. Along these lines, research has also indicated that people who are married tend to be happier. It is unclear whether or not happy people tend to seek out marriage or if marriage causes people to be happier, but it seems apparent that if you are married that you are more likely to report higher levels of happiness.
Of course, a key element of being able to derive happiness from life is the perspective one assumes. In other words, life most often tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we seek out positive then we are more likely to experience positive and if we seek negative it is more likely that this will be present in our lives. Our perspective of our wants, needs and expectations are typically shaped by the social structure around us. For example, if people in your neighborhood live in million dollar homes then you are more likely to feel inferior if your house is worth half a million dollars. In terms of money, research suggests that it has very little impact on happiness. The richest Americans tend to be only slightly happier than the average person in this country. Apparently, only a requisite amount of money that allows a person to be able to tend to their basic needs is required for happiness, but the pursuit of money as a goal in of itself does not lead to happiness.
Some other key aspects of life that people generally think are related to happiness are health, age, education, climate, race, gender and religion. Despite the common perception that youth produces happiness, life satisfaction as a whole goes up with age. As people get older they tend to have a smaller range of emotion and therefore experience less highs and lows. Another surprising finding is that physical health has very little correlation with happiness. What is most important in terms of health is our perception of and ability to cope with our physical condition, rather than our actual level of health. Women tend to experience both positive and negative emotions more strongly than men, but on average the genders do not differ greatly. One very consistent finding is that religious people demonstrate more satisfaction with life than non-religious people, most likely due to the fact that it provides people with greater meaning and purpose for existence. Interestingly, factors that are commonly believed to be related to happiness, such as education, climate and race do not appear to have a significant impact on positive emotion.