What Makes Us Happy in Life

While reading a book the other day, I learned about a fascinating statistic about what makes us happy in life.

I learned we can only control 50% of our happiness, which means the other 50% of our happiness is out of our control. 

I find this very hard to believe!

This theory is presented by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and is called the “happiness set point,” in her book, The How of Happiness.  In this book, she suggests that:

  • 50% of happiness is genetically predetermined
  • 10% is due to life circumstances
  • 40% percent is the result of your own personal outlook

If this is true (or partly true), then what can be done to improve your happiness since we have limited control over our genetics?

Before we tackle what our options are in changing this, we first need to understand what is a “Set Point” and how does it control our lives. 

I will also cover in this article what can you do about these hereditary traits and what can you do to improve your happiness in just a few simple steps.

Lets get started.

The Set Point for Happiness

A set point is a theory that states everyone has a genetically determined range.  This range includes but not limited to:

  • Body weight
  • Body temperature
  • General Health
  • Personal Happiness

This article will focus on your personal happiness, but I will follow it up with other posts to talk about body weight, temperature, and wellness.

The set point for happiness is psychological term that describes our general level of happiness.

Each of us has a different set point—some have a high set point, meaning we are mostly happy; some of have a low set point, meaning we are mostly unhappy; while most fall somewhere in between.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, 50% of our set point for happiness is based on our genetics and conditioning.

While we may have emotional ups and downs throughout our lives, but these are temporary, and you will always return to your set point.

This means no matter what life throws at us, over time, our happiness bounces back to the same set point.

This has been proven many times over and is considered a very solid theory, but…..

Since I believe anything is possible, lets look at several ways we can improve our happiness set point and overcome this hereditary disposition.

What Makes Us Happy in Life

We need to understand a few things about happiness. 

Happiness can only be felt in the present moment so technically things that happened in the past or might happen in the future should have no effect on our current happiness. 

We all have the ability to over come our past and future states and enjoy the moment. 

I have compiled a list of about 10 things you can do to be happier right now.  I promise you if you do these things regularly, you will be able to change your happiness set point and become a happier person.

Pursuing Altruistic Goals

Research shows the best way to be happier today is to help someone else.  Helping others helps yourself.

There is a ton of research showing that people who volunteer often tend to report much higher levels of happiness.

But if you are not ready to join the peace corps, no worries, because even smaller acts of selflessness can have a positive effect on how you feel.

Get started by performing little acts of kindness

Did the person in the car in front of you ever buy you a cup of coffee while in line at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks?  Why not do the same think the next time you are in the drive through?  Actually, why not make it a weekly thing?

To get the biggest happiness boost, try to do several acts of kindness together.  There is a multiplying effect when you group together your acts of kindness.

Maintain Great Relationships

Good relationships make us happier and healthier!  This is the key finding of a 75 year research study and presented in a Ted Talk that I linked below.

Social connections are really good for us.  Connections with friends and family makes us happier, healthier, and makes us live longer.  The opposite is also true for people who are socially isolated.

Its not just the number of connections.  It is the quality of those relationships that is required for a happier and healthier life.

Good relationships also protect our brains.  Memories are maintained better when quality relationships are part of their lives.

Research found that happiness is a “collective phenomenon,” with people’s happiness dependent on the happiness of those with whom they connect deeply and regularly with.

So to improve your happiness factor in this critical area, then all we need to do is interact more and deeply with friends and family.

Call a friend, join a club, go outside and meet someone new.  There are countless ways to interact with someone new.  If you can do these things at least once a week, over time, you will have a group of friends that you can socialize and develop meaningful relations that you can hopefully keep your whole life.

Feel Gratitude for Your Life

Everyone has something in their life to be grateful for but we don’t seem to take the time to recognize that.

Why is that?  Because we are too focus on the past or future to really be grateful of the present.  This is very simple to solve.

Take a few minutes now and focus on all the things you are grateful for, and focus on it for a few minutes.  Wish the same success you have achieved in your life to someone else.

Are you grateful for good health, loving family, loving relationships, or a passionate career?  If you can take a few minutes to write down all the things you are grateful for in a journal, you will start to feel the happiness almost immediately. 

If you review your journal from time to time, you will recharge your happiness with every read.

Spending time feeling grateful is scientifically proven to increase happiness and decrease negative feelings, stress, depression, and anxiety. 

This is such an easy thing to do and have such a great impact on your happiness set point that you should take a few minutes every day and find time to be grateful for everything and everyone you have in your life.


Mediation is simply the best antidepressant drug on the market.

There are several studies that have shown mediation is a fantastic method to reduce anxiety, stress, worry,  fear, and can even lower your blood pressure.

Studies have shown that meditation can lower the amount of cortisol in the body, otherwise known as the stress hormone.  By naturally and safely reducing your stress, you are free to experience much happier and productive thoughts.

There is a great book called “10% happier book” by  Dan Harris.  In this book, Dan writes about his way to control his anxiety by meditation and how it has improved his life.  Dan’s very funny and informative way of taking us along his meditation journey is a book not to be missed.

If you can find a few minutes to meditate everyday and release all those extra thoughts weighing you  down, you can feel an instant release of stress and make your present moment much more happy and productive.


Being mindful means being more fully aware of what is around you now.  When we are mindful, we are just thinking about the present and disregard everything past and future.

With mindfulness, we can take a moment to slow down and enjoy the present without judgment or fear.  This is the key to mindfulness.

It’s about learning to observe all this but not getting caught up in thinking or worrying about it.

Mindfulness has been shown to help us be healthier, less affected by stress, more relaxed, more creative, more open to learning, sleep better, improve our relationships with others and feel happier and more satisfied with our lives. 

It also improves our productivity and focus and produces more deep work.

Move, Exercise, Get Fit, and Release Some Endorphins

What Makes us Happy in Life

Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.

Does this mean you need to take up running?  Sure, but many other activities will work too.

Dr. Fordyce found that happy people are extremely active people. They were always doing something and always on the go. They pack a lot more into their day than most other people do in several days.

In contrast, unhappy people waste a large amount of their time and never get much done. Their lives seem to be relatively inactive, habitual, and boring.

If you want to experience more of life, then get off that sofa, do something, and dramatically improve your happiness.

Dress Better to Feel Better

Casual wear may be comfortable, but it’s also the dress-code of the depressed, say British scientists.

If you want to change your mode in 5 minutes, walk over to your closet and put on some clothes that really make you look good.

Knowing you are looking your best also makes you feel your best.

Research shows that your mood is affected by the cloths you wear.  To get the boost of happiness, wear bright happy colors.  Patterns also work to improve your happiness too.

Last year I went on a massive wardrobe replenish project and got rid of everything in my closet and replaced it with fresh, properly fitting items. 

Everything in my minimalistic closet is something I love to wear and I can easily improve my mood with anything I pull out and wear for the day.  I actually enjoy deciding what to wear each day.

To take it to the next level, read my article about 10 tips to improve your style.

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This is more than a simple suggestion. It’s backed by science.

Smiling is not only additive to the people you meet, it also activates neural brain circuits associated with well-being and happiness. It feels good to smile, especially when you do it regularly.

Real or fake smiles can help improve your mood.

That’s because our brains are hardwired to associate the activation of the face’s “smile muscles” with actual happiness.

When you smile, your brain physiology will change and you’ll automatically feel better, say researchers at DePauw University.

So practice your smile and make it a point of doing it with every person you meet today.  Pretty soon it will become natural and you will automatically increase your happiness with every encounter.

Spend More Time Outside in Nature

The benefits of getting outside and walking in nature have long been documented as easy and convenient ways to increase happiness.

We already talked about how exercise releases endorphins in your brain that elevate mood and make you feel better.

Walking in nature also highlights other aspects of happy living such as a greater appreciation of natural, fresh air, and a break from the normal routine.

In a recent study, people were asked to think about a painful experience before heading out on an long walk. By the time they returned their spirits had improved. The walk reduced their painful thoughts and made them happier people.

The idea is that nature is so beautiful and peaceful, you lose any negative thoughts.  The more time you get to experience the basics of nature, like beautiful flowers and wildlife moving about, you’ll forget about your problems and become more mindful of your surroundings.

The best part about trying this on your own. You’ll get the same benefits to your happiness whether you head out for a hike in the woods or a walk around your neighborhood.

So plan to take a few walks during the week and turn it into a habit.  Take a friend with you.  Pretty soon you will really enjoy your walks and it will become a cornerstone in your happiness redevelopment project.

Focus on what you can Control

This one is simple.  Turn off the News!

You cannot control all the bad information you are being flooded with everyday and its just decreasing your happiness by a pretty large percentage.

It is very difficult to accept that you cannot control all the things in your life.  Most if not all the things you hear about in the news are things you cannot control.  So its best to avoid it.

I’m not saying to go live under a rock but limit your information overload to maybe 5 minutes a day.  Get a news briefing and then move on.

This can also be extended well beyond the news.

People tend to worry a lot about so many things out of their control including things way in the future.  You cannot control the future, only the present.  Stay mindful of the present and enjoy your now and the future will take care of itself.

Ted Talks on Happiness

If you would like to learn more about ways to improve your happiness, I recommend this list of Ted Talks about the topic.


Some believe that what makes us happy in life is mostly hereditary, and the modern set point theory provides a lot of science to back that theory.

Long-term happiness is rooted in internal circumstances, not external ones.  If boosting your set point for happiness interests you, then doing so is an inside job. This is empowering because it puts your happiness in your control.

I think there is little doubt that some people are just naturally happy people but that doesn’t mean you are not able to change your “set point” if you follow the steps in this article.

A person’s natural set point is very much like a river with a natural flow of the water moving along its path.  Engineers have for years designed ways to change the flow of rivers and there is no reason why we cannot do the same with happiness.

I have always been a naturally happy and optimistic person and I think everyone reading this article can be too.  Take one day at a time, make an effort to find happiness in your life, and soon it will come naturally.

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