The key to happiness

The key to happiness

Psychology Today – Nigel Barber

Some of us are a lot more optimistic than others. There is no sugar-coating the fact that some people have happy genes and others do not. Geneticists estimate that genes are responsible for about 50 percent of the differences in how happy people say they are.

Genes make happiness fairly stable across the lifespan. A happy child often grows into a happy adult.

Still, happy genes have their limits. People can be, and are, crushed by traumatic experiences such as serving on the front lines in a war, or being the victim of violent crimes. Post-traumatic stress has many of the features of clinical depression, including intrusive unpleasant thoughts, agitation, and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

Everyone experiences some trauma in their lives, of course, but it does not rise to the severity of being involved in battle, or getting violently raped, to cite two common causes of post-traumatic stress.

Apart from such extreme events, what happens in our lives can be surprisingly unimportant to how happy we are. People often wish aloud that they could win the lottery and quit their jobs. Would that make them happy? Not surprisingly, lottery winners experience a bump up in their level of happiness. Yet it is temporary and evaporates during the first year or two. Over time, we also recover from bad news like the loss of a job.

The notion that we tend to bounce up from setbacks and down from exceptionally good news is called the set point theory of happiness. The idea is that we remain about the same level of happiness regardless of what happens to us in much the same way that a room stays at the same temperature thanks to the thermostat setting.

Is there something that can happen to us that makes us generally happier over a long period of our lives? Here is where evolutionary psychology comes in.

To read more about happiness and evolutionary psychology – click here