The Happiness Formula

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This is the practical part of this series on happiness. It’s quite long, and not necessary to read through it all. The only essential part is “The Happiness Formula” – after that feel free to bookmark or skim, if you prefer not to read the whole thing. This article is different to the other “how to be happier” articles I found on the internet. The other stuff seemed to be more inspirational and uplifting rather than practical. I found advice like ‘smile more’, ‘be myself’, and ‘get a cat’. This article differs because it’s not just 10 pieces of advice I made up as I went along. It’s a review of different methods that have been tested scientifically. They’re tested in the same way drugs are: measure happiness before, give the intervention, and measure happiness after. You’re not supposed to do everything at once! This is just a resource of ideas for you to try. If you want to be thorough, you can measure your happiness with a scale, try something out for a week or two, then measure again. You can find many scales here (Authentic Happiness Inventory is probably the best one to use; the site is free but requires registration). The Happiness Formula What your instincts tell you about how to be happier is probably wrong. Most people try to change their happiness by changing their circumstances. The logic is, by changing their life situation to one they are happier with – more money, better house, different gender, whatever – they’ll become happier because they like the new situation more. This idea is basically misguided, although true to an extent. The happiness you experience comes from three sources; your genetics, your life circumstances, and your intentional activities, split like this:

So the ‘happiness formula’ is this:
Happiness = Genetic Set Point + Life Circumstances + Intentional Activities We’re stuck with our own set of genes for life, so no luck there. Our life circumstances are only slightly relevant. This includes where you live, your gender, health, money, marital status, and so on. We can change all of these, but they only take up 10% of the happiness pie. Ten percent is not insignificant, but the most logical place to take action is ‘intentional activities’ – anything you deliberately think or do. (1) This might seem backwards, but it makes sense when you add in the concept of adaptation – many things give us a boost in happiness, but we adapt to them over time, and the happiness wears off. Circumstances are more long-standing. Intentional activities are short-term: no time to adapt. So take marriage. Marriage is long-term, and seems to make most people happier for a few years, before they adapt to it. But expressing gratitude to each other, having those awful picnic things where you feed each other food (yuck!), talking about all the other disgustingly romantic things you did together; these things boost happiness, but as they are episodic there’s no adaptation to them. You just have to keep doing different activities. The following are ideas all fit into the intentional activities slice of the pie. 1) Expand your Social Network Social relationships are a bit of an exception to the above rule, because they’re something we don’t adapt to. If you have close relationships in your life, you’ve got a regular source of happiness (unless they are bad relationships, of course). It’s possible to live alone in this world – if you could get a job with no human contact, and afford a house and food you’d be able to survive. But ten thousand years or so ago, you’d be dead without relationships. No one in your tribe would help you out and you’d have no allies if some cave-criminal decided to steal your lunch. For that reason, we have a brain system that ‘rewards’ us with happiness if we make a new friend or even just have an interesting conversation with someone. Aha, you might say, I know a person who really likes their own company more than other people! Yes there are some people like that, but a group of mischievous...
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