It''s one of the great paradoxes of life that we all want to be happy, yet so few of us seem to know exactly where happiness comes from. Happiness itself can be defined in a number of different ways, it may have all kinds of components, it may be a life''s work, or even no work at all, but we are, most of us, in pursuit of this elusive goal.
Psychology experts have good and bad news about our search for happiness. The bad news is that we have essentially no control over 50% of our happiness levels. Happiness, like a number of of our other attributes is partially set by our genes. While these do interact to a certain extent with the environment, on a day-to-day basis this 50% can be considered immovable.
What about the other 50%? This is the start of the good news (almost).
First there are the overall circumstances of our lives, our ''demographics''. This includes things like how much money we have, our education level, whether we live in rich or poor countries, how old we are, whether we are married or not and whether we are religious.
All of these factors have some relationship to happiness. For example, higher levels of education are linked to more happiness, as is higher age and even being married (I know, I know!).
These are all factors which, generally speaking, are difficult to change. Granted, it is easier to get married than it is to become younger, but they are both still relatively long-term circumstantial factors.
While circumstantial factors do matter, the surprise is how small a contribution they make to our happiness. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) estimate it at only 10%. This is completely dwarfed by the genetic contribution to happiness.
So if we can''t change our genes and we can''t, broadly speaking, change our life circumstances, what on earth can we change?
The only thing that is left is what we actually do every day. What Sheldon and Lyubomirsky refer to as ''intentional activity''. They see the activities we take part in as moving our happiness levels within the set range determined by our genetics and our life circumstances.
But which activities to choose, and how should we carry out these activities? Answering this question is all about understanding how quickly humans adapt to new and exciting experiences.
The first time we try something stimulating that we find enjoyable, it is likely to increase our happiness levels considerably. Whether it''s that first parachute jump, the first kiss with our partner or just a new and exciting book we''re reading. New experiences tickle our pleasure centres and we feel good.
Unfortunately when presented with that very same stimulus again and again we soon become used to it. This is what psychology experts have called ''hedonic adaptation''. The amount of pleasure we can get from the same experience tails off with repeated exposure. The first chocolate tastes a damn sight better than the last.
Posted by: Jerry Source