Lyubomirsky and her colleagues analyzed studies on identical twins and other research and came to the conclusion that happiness is 50% genetic, 40% intentional and 10% circumstantial. "Half of your predisposition toward happiness you can't change," she says. "It's in your genes. Your circumstances -- where you live, your health, your work, your marriage -- can be tough to change. But most people are surprised that circumstances don't account for as much of their happiness as they think."
Life circumstances don't result in sustained happiness, she said, because we adapt. That new car, promotion or house feels great at first. Then we get used to it. An old but often-cited study found lottery winners were no happier than control groups after a year. That doesn't mean that getting out of a bad job or a terrible marriage won't give your happiness a boost. But sustaining that good feeling requires something else: deliberate control of how you act and think. That's the 40% intentional part that Lyubomirsky and others are most interested in.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 12, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Book authors: An article on happiness in Monday's Health section, along with a list of books and a sidebar on a formula for obtaining a positive outlook, identified Dan Baker as the author of "What Happy Women Know." He is actually a co-author, along with Cathy Greenberg. Ina Yalof contributed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, September 15, 2008 Home Edition Health Part F Page 7 Features Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Book authors: A Sept. 8 article on happiness, along with a list of books and a sidebar on a formula for obtaining a positive outlook, identified Dan Baker as the author of "What Happy Women Know." He is actually the co-author, along with Cathy Greenberg. Ina Yalof contributed.
In her research, Lyubomirsky led controlled studies to determine what behaviors positively affect happiness, and has come up with at least 12 strategies that measurably increase levels. For instance, one strategy she's tested is the practice of gratitude. In her gratitude study, she had a group of 57 subjects express gratitude once a week in a journal. A second group of 58 expressed gratitude in a journal three times a week. And a control group of 32 did nothing. At the end of six weeks, she retested all three groups and found a significant increase in happiness in the first one. (The participants who journaled three times a week showed less change, perhaps because the exercise didn't feel as fresh, she theorized.)
She and other researchers also recommend practicing forgiveness, savoring positive moments and becoming more involved in your church, synagogue or religious organization. "Not every strategy fits everyone," she says. "People need to try a few to find which ones work."
Although Lyubomirsky likes to let people define happiness for themselves, clinically, she describes it as "a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good."
Seligman, who has written several books on the subject, including the bestselling "Authentic Happiness," says it's the pursuit of engaging and meaningful activities. By engaging, he means being in a state of flow or "at one with the music." You get so absorbed in what you're doing that you lose track of time. But one person's flow is another person's torture. What puts you in a state of flow is usually an activity that uses your strengths and talents. It's even better when it's part of your work.
"Meaningful" would be using what you're best at to serve others or to participate in a cause that's bigger than yourself. (To find out what you're good at, or your strengths, Seligman offers a free survey on his website, www.authentichappiness.org.)
"Your purpose doesn't have to be giant," says Dan Baker, a psychologist who founded the life enhancement program at Canyon Ranch in Tucson and is the author of "What Happy Women Know." "If you're 17, your purpose can be getting into the college of your choice. When you're a parent, it can be getting your kids off to school safely and prepared for each day. You don't have to adopt a Romanian orphan or build a church in Chile."
What happiness isn't, Diener adds, is getting everything right in your life. "A man might think, 'If I get the right education, the right job and the right wife, I'll be happy.' But that's not how it works. For instance, once basic needs are met, the effects of income on happiness get smaller and smaller. That's because happiness lies in the way you live and look at the world.
"If you have no goal other than your personal happiness, you'll never achieve it. If you want to be happy, pursue something else vigorously and happiness will catch up with you."
Although happiness is largely up to the individual, new research shows that what's going on around you -- specifically how much personal freedom you have -- also plays a role.
In a paper published in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, lead researcher Ronald Inglehart, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, refuted the long-held belief that happiness among societies is constant. His research concluded that significant and enduring changes in happiness can occur not only for individuals, but also for entire societies.