Interests

The Rumor: Happiness is genetic, so if you're born unhappy, you're pretty much screwed

When it comes to being happy, some people are literally born that way: Statistics show that 50 percent of what makes a person happy is genetic. Yes, that's right: Your general level of happiness is predisposed from the moment you’re born. And that's all well and good -- if you're one of those people who came into this world with a built-in propensity for gladness. But what if you got the short end of the genetic joy stick? Are you doomed to a life of misery (or at least meh-ness)?

The Verdict: Even if you're genetically predisposed to unhappiness, you can still be happy

Attention, natural-born sourpusses: When it comes to finding happiness for yourself, you have about 40 percent of the equation to work with. Turns out, while 50 percent of happiness is genetic, another 10 percent is based on life circumstances (things like jobs, health and income). So even if you got the mean gene and are sick, broke and unemployed, it's still possible for you to be happy. You just have to make the decision to adopt new behaviors and thought patterns that facilitate joy -- then act on that decision regularly.

Here are some key factors to consider:

All of this is not to say that anyone can be happy, because people who fixate on what's bad... can't. “Focus on what's going right, because what we focus on grows,” explains Kate Hanley, mind-body coach and author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Strategies for Serenity. “That means no more complaining, blaming or worrying -- those are all placing your attention on what's wrong. Instead, keep a list of wins or celebrations; any little thing you're happy about goes on it -- and big things too, of course! It's really not about putting blinders on or being Pollyanna. It's about training your mind to pay attention to the good stuff and not take it for granted. It's like changing your diet by focusing on eating more whole foods -- the food you add will naturally crowd out the junk.”

The fact is, "happy" can mean different things to different people. “I think happiness is overrated,” says Tai Sheridan, Ph.D., Zen priest and author of Secrets of True Happiness. “Many of us think we are entitled to be happy, or that happiness is a goal to achieve, which means we set ourselves up for being disappointed with our lives when we aren’t happy. A really happy person might not even think about it; they just have a sense of contentment with their life, and live in a very balanced way. I think it is helpful to think about living a balanced life more than a happy one. Happiness is an outcome of living a kind, loving and beneficial life.”

And that's a happy thought.


About our partners' commitment to health >