Male walking with a smile

How much of our personal happiness is within our control? As it turns out, it may be more than you might think.

For some time, the scientific community has been aware of a happiness set point that determines how consistently happy we generally are. You can think of it as your happiness equilibrium: sometimes you might surpass it, other times you might dip below, but you’ll eventually return to it.

That point was once thought to be unchangeable, but new research suggests that we have more influence over it than previously believed. With a little conscious effort, we can nudge our happiness baseline upward.

The Happy Factor(s)

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Recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology are helping to demystify the mechanics of happiness. In particular, studies comparing the happiness levels between identical twins concluded these levels are influenced by three factors:

  1. Genetics and upbringing
  2. Thoughts and actions
  3. Current situation

Genetics and upbringing together have a sizable influence on our happiness. That slice of the happiness pie—about 50%—is largely out of our control. Surprisingly, studies show that situational circumstances such as occupation, marital status and income, only account for 10% of a person’s overall happiness. That leaves a substantial 40% of happiness that’s under the influence of our thoughts, actions, and outlook.

Make the Most of Your 40%

The day we can dramatically change our genetics is likely far off, and the day we can change our upbringing is long gone. But with 40% of our overall happiness levels to play with, there’s a lot that we can do to boost our mood in the here and now. Here are a few ideas:

Engage Your Growth Mind Research shows that when you are able to view experiences—even setbacks, challenges, or things that didn’t hit your goals—as learning or growth opportunities, it can improve your mood. A Growth Mindset also helps build positive neural pathways, which may work to nudge up your happiness equilibrium over time.

Practice Gratitude: When negative thoughts threaten our state of happiness, we can offset them by practicing gratitude exercises. That involves thinking about the things in your life you’re grateful for, and maybe reaching out to those people who matter most and telling them “Thank you.” You might be surprised at how much of an impact this has on your happiness—and theirs. You can dive deeper into gratitude practices with our A Grateful Mind newsletter.

Meet Negativity with Mindfulness: If the mind is like a sky, then we can think of negative thoughts like dark, passing storm clouds. By engaging mindfulness, we can allow those negative thoughts to pass on through rather than stick around. The more we practice mindfulness strategies like non-judgmentally observing our thoughts & emotions or focusing on our breath or task at hand, the better we’ll get at identifying and letting the storm clouds pass by.

Foster Friendships and Relationships: Friendships and relationships are essential to happiness, and quite probably overall wellbeing. One study found that people over 70 with strong networks of friends lived longer than those who didn’t have them (or “didn’t have strong friendships”). Dedicate time and attention to your relationships, and you’ll build a lasting network for sharing and amplifying the happy times and support during the not so happy times.