Happiness: The Feeling We Strive For Everyday

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Written by Kimberly Elmore

In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year later the lottery winners were no happier than the people who hadn’t won.

Happy. It’s the feeling we all strive to achieve in life. Songs are written about it, movies depict it, and greeting cards inspire it. Is there really a magical formula that not only makes each of us happy, but also sustains our happiness?

The reality is that nobody is always happy, but some people certainly seem to be more fulfilled than others. Studies on what makes people happy revealed that happiness doesn’t have much to do with material goods or high achievements. Happiness seems to stem from your outlook on life and the quality of your relationships with the people around you.

In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year later the lottery winners were no happier than the people who hadn’t won. They referred to this as hedonic adaptation, which suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness.   No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is only temporary and we tend to rebound to our baseline level.

Hedonic adaptation helps explain why even certain major life changes–such as income, marriage, and physical health–have little affect over overall happiness. Some studies have suggested that your baseline level of happiness may be determined at birth. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that can be attributed in part to genetics, but it’s also largely influenced by how you think.


Levels of happiness seem to fit with the “what goes up must come down” idea. For instance, buying a new car would make most people feel happy, but that happiness is temporary–once that new car smell goes away, so does your inflated happiness.

Psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon and David A. Schkade put the existing findings on happiness together into a simple pie chart to outline what determines happiness. Their pie chart reflected what components explain a person’s happiness: half the pie (or 50 percent) is genetics, the smallest slice (about 10 percent) is circumstances, and the remaining slice (about 40 percent) represented “intentional activity” or the mental and behavioral strategies a person uses to counteract their downward pull to being less happy.

Lyubomirsky studied happiness levels with the hopes of finding out how people can stay above their baseline happiness level. In theory, it is possible to improve your happiness level and maintain it much like regular diet and exercise can keep a person’s weight below their genetically inclined weight. Many studies are considered correlational, which means they are unable to determine what came first: the happiness or what it was linked to. For example it is hard to discover whether individuals with strong social ties are more content in their lives than loners: did the friendships make them happier or are happy people more likely to seek and attract friends?

Lyubomirsky and Sheldon received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate lasting happiness and how it works. Some findings were that: variety matters–participants told to change up their good deeds ended up happier than those forced into a kindness rut; timing is important–while conventional wisdom suggests keeping a daily gratitude journal, it was revealed that those who had been assigned to do that ended up less happy than those who had to count their blessings only once a week; and if sitting down to imagine your best possible self felt contrived, participants were less likely to do it.

Who knew happiness was so well researched? Perhaps the key to discovering the “happiness factor” may be realizing that happiness is not based only on the good or bad circumstances of people’s lives, but more so on people’s attitudes towards their circumstances, as well as the effort they put into maintaining a level of happiness higher than their baseline.

This is great food for thought since happiness is what eludes many and captivates others. Our attitude is what seems to be the main player in the “happiness factor.” Perhaps if we all treated our emotional health like a training session at the gym–pushing ourselves beyond expectations–we’d all be much happier than we could have ever imagined (and have great abs too!)
Info in this article from www.scientificamerican.com

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?

That I will never be a size 2 or 5’ (Ha!). We all come in different shapes and sizes and I try not to get caught up in the body image issues that stem from the (air brushed) women who are on the cover of magazines. I think what’s most important is to be healthy and comfortable in one’s skin.

What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?

What I appreciate in my life is my friends. I’m very lucky that I have a close network of friends who have become family.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?

At my job, my position has changed drastically from when I first started, which I credit largely to being self motivated (as well as to the professional opportunities my boss and other colleagues have provided to me). Professionally, my goal is to continue to learn and build my leadership skills.

What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?

I use a lot of detail when I talk, some of it is often not necessary to what I’m talking about. J

How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

I love my…smile.

About the author

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Kimberly Elmore

Identity writer Kimberly Elmore is currently employed by Delta Dental of New Jersey in the corporate communications department as the community relations coordinator. She serves as one of our top and longest contributors.

Kimberly has been a huge part of Identity's success since the beginning of 2006. During Kimberly's college years she served as the arts & entertainment editor of her college newspaper and interned in the public relations department at the March of Dimes.