Do the same things make everyone happy?

Sonja Lyubomirsky: There are many faces of happiness. The face of happiness may be someone who is intensely curious and enthusiastic about learning; it may be someone who is engrossed in plans for his next five years; it may be someone who can distinguish between the things that matter and the things that don't; it may be someone who looks forward each night to reading to her child. Some happy people may look outwardly cheerful or transparently serene, and others are simply busy. In other words, we all have the potential to be happy, each in our own way.

Ed Diener: Some things about happiness are universal. If everyone hates you, nobody respects you or supports you, that makes you unhappy, no matter who you are. But other things are unique. They depend on your personality. For example, I love analyzing data. Most people don't. They'd rather read a book, see a movie, or gossip. The evidence is strong that social relationships are now a basic need. The other things we talk about in terms of happiness are a little more abstract, like making progress toward your goals and values, and having purpose and meaning.

Do we have any control over our happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky: On average, 50 percent of individual differences in happiness is influenced by our genetic makeup, 10 percent is influenced by our life circumstances, and 40 percent is influenced by how we think and act every day. Research has shown that each of us is born with a kind of happiness "set point," a natural predisposition for happiness that we carry throughout our lives. But that doesn't mean your happiness level cannot be changed. We can rise above our happiness set points, just as we can rise above our set points for weight or cholesterol. Genuinely happy people do not just sit around being content. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. We can also learn from others. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Published with permission of the National Geographic Society from the book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Copyright© 2010 Dan Buettner. Available wherever books are sold.


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