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Hunting for Happiness

Tzivi Zuckerman

What’s the secret to living a more content, joyful life? Researchers, psychologists, and other happiness hunters have been trying to figure that out. Here are some of the strategies they turned up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Around the globe, happiness is at the top of nearly everyone’s wish list. This state of mind — defined as a subjective feeling of positive wellbeing, joy, and contentment; a sense that life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile — is so sought after that America’s forefathers included “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, right up there with the inalienable rights to “life” and “liberty.” Not that most people need convincing, but happiness offers many fringe benefits, too. Research shows that happy people (as compared to their less-content friends) are more energetic, cooperative, and better-liked by others. They’re more likely to have satisfying marriages and be productive in their jobs. They’re more resilient, are better leaders, and even earn more money. To top it off, they have stronger immune systems and are physically healthier.
With a track record like that, it’s easy to understand why the pursuit of happiness has practically become an industry, with studies and self-help books hitting the press regularly. Here’s a quick peek at what these happiness hunters have discovered:

Pieces of Pie

Most of us have moments of contentment here and there, but how can you transform yourself into an overall happier person? Researchers have been trying to determine the precise formula that leads to strong and sustained feelings of happiness. In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor and research psychologist at the University of California–Riverside, offers just such a “happiness recipe,” including ingredients and directions.
Think of a pizza pie cut into ten slices. Half of those slices — 50 percent of your happiness quotient — is predetermined by your unique genetic makeup. You can tell a lot about your own “happiness DNA” by looking around at your relatives. Are they the type of people who smile incessantly, or are they known as brooders?
The most revealing research on the genetics of happiness pulled data from the Minnesota Twins Registry, which contained personal information from more than 8,000 pairs of twins born in Minnesota. This registry was used to conduct the Happiness Twins Study, which showed that the happiness level of one identical twin, “Jane,” was a better indicator of the happiness level of her twin, “Ellen,” than any other factor in “Ellen’s” life. This was true whether the twins were raised together — or separated at birth. Since identical twins share 100 percent of their genetic makeup, these studies offer compelling support for the idea that our happiness tendencies are largely inborn. If your happiness “set point” is low, are you doomed to lifelong misery? Let’s take a look at the other half of the pie.

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