Is Happiness Genetically Determined?
Updated: Apr 23
It’s hard for me not to be happy right now. I’m standing at the threshold of spring, surrounded by the sights and sounds of beautiful, new life. Cherry blossoms and magnolias are bursting through their buds, daffodils are dazzling me with their yellow flair, and I can hear the crisp crack of the wood bat as it connects with a fast pitch in the baseball field just past the woods in my backyard. The cold chill of winter is retreating and life is good.
It’s the same every year. I’m energized and positive and things that would drain me in the dead of winter don’t look so daunting anymore. I feel like Mother Nature has a huge influence on my happiness, as do many outside factors, from major life events to the general minutiae of everyday life. But I often wonder how much control I have over my own joy and contentment. Can I will myself to be happy, even at times when I feel less than zero? Is it possible to control your own happiness?
Let me first say that, while I have come to believe that a certain level of control exists for some, I do not think that this is a universal truth. Mental illness and clinical depression are conditions that affect millions and can bring about intense and overwhelming emotions that can significantly challenge one’s ability to maintain a sense of well-being. For many, there is not a way to exert control over happiness.
Some research suggests that we have a happiness level that can rise and fall, but eventually it resets to our genetically-determined baseline. From that baseline, we have a certain level of control over what psychologists call “intentional activities.” This is what really fascinates me. These intentional activities – the things that we do and think everyday – are our best chances to increase our happiness.
So what do we do to get happy? The possibilities are endless! My advice is to find what works for you…try everything and see what sticks. Whether it is helping others, practicing gratitude, being more mindful, appreciating some little things like the beauty of a flower or the infectious giggle of a neighbor’s kid running on the lawn. Focusing on your physical and mental health, pursuing happiness instead of success, meditating, or simply giving yourself permission to be happy, chances are there’s something that you can consciously do to up your happiness quotient. And, using my new math skills:
More happy people = A more peaceful world ->Everybody wins!