How Much of Your Happiness Can You Control?

So we’ve learned that everything we do is for the sake of happiness and that this site is aimed at maximizing happiness for you, my lovely readers. That’s all well and good, but how much can our thoughts and actions actually boost our happiness?

The answer is: more than they have been but less than you might think.

First, 50% of your happiness is determined by your genes. Either you’re born with it or you aren’t. Sorry.

This has been determined, interestingly, by a series of studies done on twins. The studies included measuring happiness levels in identical and fraternal twins. It also included happiness in twins raised together and twins separated at birth. Please check this site if you’re interested in the details for some of the studies, but for our purposes here it is enough to know that 50% of our happiness is based on our genetic set point.

Next, 10% is determined by your life circumstances. This number is really really low considering how much effort most people devote to this area. This 10% includes whether you are married or single, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, and employed or not, as well as whether you live in sunny California or polite, but cold Minnesota.

All of this combines to form 10% of our happiness. So if you have been thinking that you’ll be happy when you finally find that special someone or finally land that dream job, you probably need to rethink your approach to seeking happiness.

Additionally, any change in happiness caused by a single event in this category is temporary (thanks to an effect called hedonic adaptation that we will discuss in more depth in future articles). Some studies (like this one) have found that life events, either positive or negative, only affect your happiness for three months before their effects completely dissipate.

So 50% of happiness is genetic and 10% is determined by circumstances. That leaves us with 40% to play with. And it turns out that this 40% can be improved with normal day-to-day activities. As such, this is where we should be focusing the bulk of our energy when trying to be happier.

We will spend a lot of future articles exploring different ways to work on this 40%, but I want to give you a sneak peak of some things that can help, mostly because I feel bad that I have already given you a happiness article with no action steps that you can take and don’t want to do so again.

We’ll be exploring all of these (and plenty more) in depth right here on this blog, but if you’d like to get a jump start on living a happier life, google a little bit of research on the following:

  • Spending time with friends
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Practicing optimism
  • Sleeping!
  • Setting goals
  • Achieving Flow


There is no one size fits all option for increasing happiness, but all of the above have been proven to help in some manner. Pick one or two to try, see whether you like them, and then try something else.

If you’d like to jump ahead and learn as much as you can, I would highly recommend starting with The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. I have read many many books on happiness (What? Isn’t that what normal people do?) and I have found Lyubomirsky’s book to be the best book for getting both the broad overview and specific details.

I hope that this piques your interest before we dive into some nitty gritty next week. In the meantime, feel free to add any other activities that you find contribute to your happiness to the comments below.

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