Pursuit of Happiness
Modern research helps us in our pursuit of happiness. By studying identical twins, researchers have determined approximately about 50% of the variation in our happiness levels is determined by our genes makeup. This is called a genetic set point / range. This is the range of happiness we return after really good or bad things happen (our default operating zone). By studying data from different people in different places, other research shows that a stunningly small 10% of our happiness originates in our circumstance. This includes things like where we live, our job, health, social status, income and savings. When I think of how much effort/focus we all put into improving these circumstance, it is no wonder we get frustrated by the failure of these things to improve our overall happiness.
- That leaves about 40% of our happiness in unaccounted for. Research hasn’t been able to identify a specific (data validated) source for about 40% of the overall happiness people experience. Theories indicate the remaining 40% source of happiness as intentional activity.
We all get this (at some level). We know repetitive events have a mind numbing effect on us. We also know we feel alive and vibrant when things get shaken up a little. Good examples are a attending a surprise party, visiting a new club/restaurant in town, and going on a vacation. Sadly, these things don’t happen often enough. So, what can we do on a daily basis to improve our level of happiness? Start by spending less time and effort trying to change circumstance. Don’t get me wrong here. There is a relationship between our circumstances and our ability intentionally behave as we wish.
We must have the means to pursue happiness….or, must we?
At the age of 16, I worked at a restaurant on an island. The owner paid small amounts of cash took advantage of cheep seasonal labor. Employees were housed in a tin roofed shed sectioned off into small rooms with plywood walls and no windows. Life’s needs (shower & toilet) were met across the street at pool in the harbor. Workdays were 12 hours long and there was only 1 day off a week. These were the happiest times of my youth.
I experienced a similar lack of means during the last two major American – Persian Gulf wars. I felt a sustained sense of overall happiness while working endlessly, eating sparsely, sleeping on a cot, and living in a tent months at at time.
With the biggest target for improving our happiness being the area of intentional behavior, we need a strategy to add intent to our daily routines. Also every strategy depends on tactics.
A Pursuit of Happiness Strategy
Build opportunities for ourselves to act intentionally into each and every day by having a list of ready behavioral tactics on hand and in mind. The following list contains my tactics for the month of October. Here, it is an example only. You’re welcome to use it as your own or to build your own list, just be safe.
- Try not to adapt to the natural flow of things
- When you go places (walking, driving, hike, or by any means) take a different path
- When you go places change the means of transpiration from the norm
- Skateboard instead of walking
- Work from home today
- Work from the beach today
- Work from a boat today
- Walk instead of jogging
- Bike instead of driving
- Choose different brands/types of foods (white instead of wheat bread)
- Shave at night instead of in morning
- Sit outside to read instead of inside
- Listen to what you hear outside at night
- Skip on the way to the store with the kids instead of walking
- Sing while you work.
- Dye your hair a different color.
- Change your clothing style
- Grow/shave your beard
- Wear/stop wearing necklaces (other jewelry)
You may be thinking this is silly. After all, I didn’t give any reason why this would work. I didn’t explain why intentional behaviors like those above would make anyone happy. Well, it comes down to chemistry. One of the biggest chemical players in what we experience as happiness is a chemical called dopamine. It gets released when our neurons transmit signals to each other. One of the best ways to get those neurons firing off transmissions is to do something new or different. Yup, it really is that simple. Don’t believe me? Add surfing, skydiving, hang-gliding, and/or public speaking to your list of intentional behaviors. Seriously, do it and sally hello to my little friend dopamine. Start small and enjoy the ride!
Pursuit of Happiness Challenge
Make a list ways you can intentionally vary what you do and how you behave. Pull a minimum of three items from this list each day and act on them as differently as possible each time. Do this for a week/month and then add a comment telling us all how this worked for you.
- Written by Seth Haigh