Want To Be Happier? Keep Working At It

People will often talk about their weight being a “set point”. The notion is that we each have a specific weight and body composition that is predetermined by our genetic code. The idea has some merits because there are people who have a very difficult time increasing their body weight and have even more difficulty keeping gained weight on. The opposite is also true, there are individuals who are very active and eat a clear diet but who have difficulty keeping body fat off. The only thing that works for these people is to stick with what they are doing (exercise and purposeful dieting). Over time, months to years, they will usually find that maintaining the body composition changes becomes easier as the body adapts to being a lower or higher weight. Humans can, in essence, move their set point if they put sustained effort towards that goal. This makes sense because the body is always going to try to maintain stasis. It doesn’t care what the physical state is, it’s just going to try and keep it.

The same applies to emotional states. Marina Krakovsky’s article The Science of Lasting Happiness reveals that sustained effort can alter your emotional set point – this shouldn’t be surprising given that emotions are regulated by chemicals and are, as such, actually physical states. In fact, the amount of influence you have over your emotional states is very large:

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and another psychologist, David A. Schkade of the University of California, San Diego, put the existing findings together into a simple pie chart showing what determines happiness. Half the pie is the genetic set point. The smallest slice is circumstances, which explain only about 10 percent of people’s differences in happiness. So what is the remaining 40 percent? “Because nobody had put it together before, that’s unexplained,” Lyubomirsky says. But she believes that when you take away genes and circumstances, what is left besides error must be “intentional activity,” mental and behavioral strategies to counteract adaptation’s downward pull.

40% is enormous. This opens the door for a lot of improvement. It may take a little work and sustained effort but in the long run you can be happier because of it.