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The Secret to Happiness

The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness, YOU HAVE TO CATCH IT YOURSELF.
— BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

What makes a person happy? Is it money? Is it friends and family? Is it a successful career? 

The study of happiness and what makes people happy has been increasingly popular topic since the 1990's when the positive psychology movement started. Book after book has been written about how to find happiness in your life. A few years ago I watched the documentary 'Happy' and several things stuck with me. So, I decided to rewatch it this weekend and share what I learned. 

Scientists have studied people from around the world to figure out what makes a person happy. Here is what they found: 

50% of our happiness is determined by our genes. This is called our genetic set point. Basically, when bad things happen you will be less happy for a while, and when good things happen you will be more happy for a while, but then you will return to your genetic set point.

10% of our happiness is determined by the circumstances we were born into, and are out of our control.

The remaining 40% of what makes us happy is our intentional behavior, these are the things that we do on a regular basis that can make us happier.

Here are the things in our control that will make us happier:

  1. FLOW. Flow is an activity (usually physical) where your mind is so completely focused on the present moment that you loose yourself and you tend to forget your problems. Athletes call this being in 'the zone.' Some people feel flow when exercising, some when performing, some when working. The more flow in your life, the more happiness in your life.

  2. Close family or friends. All of the happiest people interviewed had a strong community of friends and/or family. In Denmark, one of the happiest counties in the world, they have communal living. Here, twenty to thirty people live in a small community and they all  share responsibilities, such as cooking and cleaning. They all eat together and socialize with each other. The community is made up of all ages from children to elderly, and they all look out for each other. 
  3. Religion or Spirituality. When people feel connected to something greater than themselves, they tend to be happier. However, when religion sets people up against each other, and teaches that one is greater than the other, then the effect is opposite and people are less happy.
  4. Compassion and acts of kindness towards others are the most effective ways to increase your happiness set point. 

One thing that didn't have an effect on happiness was money. As long as you have enough money to meet your basic needs, then money really won't buy happiness. When you look at people making $5,000 compared to people making $50,000 there was a drastic difference in their happiness. But when you compare people making $50,000 to people making $500,000 the difference was minimal. 

So get out there, spend time with friends and family, create a community, find your flow, and be kind to one another! Check out the documentary if you would like to learn more.