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The Happiness Pie: How Your Happiness is Divided

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

In my blog and on my podcast, we talk about happiness and all the ways you can improve your happiness. Today, however, we are going to discuss how our happiness is broken into three different segments, like three slices of a pie: genetics, circumstances, and intentional activity.

I learned this concept from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s How to Happiness book. Now, keep in mind that this book was published in 2007, and since then they have revised some of their ideas due to more research. I talked about that news briefly in episode 350 of Everyday Happiness, but all the information here is based on that update.

The Happiness Pie: How Your Happiness is Divided

First Slice: Happiness Genetics

Did you know that there is a “set range” to happiness? There is, and this pre-determined aspect dramatically affects your happiness. How does it work?

Growing research completed with identical and fraternal twins suggests that each person is born with a particular happiness range that comes genetically from our biological parents. Of course, there is an average happiness baseline where most people tend to sit naturally. That also means that some people are genetically less happy or more happy than others as well.

In addition, this range is what our happiness levels will return to even after crises and joys due to hedonic adaptation, which many of you have heard about in previous episodes. Depending on that crisis or joy, you may sit lower or higher in that range, but you are still somewhere within your genetically described limits.

The easiest way to think about the happiness range for me is by comparing it to people’s weight. Some people are just naturally skinny, while others may have to battle their weight their entire lives to maintain a healthy figure. Our bodies have a comfy weight it likes to sit at, whether that is 120 to 130 pounds or 170 to 190 pounds, and anything above or below that number takes substantial effort.

The same applies to happiness. Your happiness “weight” likes to sit at a particular spot. To go above and below that range relies on other factors, and to consistently stay above that range (i.e., to be happier) takes significant effort. It’s certainly possible, but challenging!

Second Slice: Circumstances

The second slice to the happiness pie is your circumstances. This slice takes into account your current circumstances, whether you are rich or poor, healthy or ill, beautiful or ugly, successful or jobless, married or divorced, the list goes on and on.

What I find astonishing is how little your current circumstances affect your overall happiness. Having all of the luck and riches in the world won’t make you much happier. On the plus side, that also means that negative situations like becoming ill, losing a job, getting divorced, or crashing your car have little impact on your long-term happiness.

Let’s say you do have a happy circumstance change. The happiness it does give you is short-lived because hedonic adaptation will send you right back to that happiness range we discussed earlier. That is…unless you take active action to prevent hedonic adaptation.

As a part of their update, Lyubomirsky notes that the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention (HAP) model demonstrates that you can continue to interact with a new life changes past its normal influence. To do this, you must actively act in one of two ways. First, you can continue having positive experiences with the change to feed that happiness fire, such as hosting dinner parties at a new home. Second, you can appreciate what you have instead of quickly moving on to dream of the next big thing. For example, you could actively think about all the awesome features of your new car, rather than wishing for the newest model.

What’s so incredible about this is that you can influence how big this slice of your happiness pie is simply with the HAP model.

So, what about the last slice of the pie? That last slice of the pie is your choice for intentional activities. This is the part of the pie that we have the most control over as our daily choices in what we do and how we think to determine our happiness levels.

Third Slice: Intentional Activity

In How of Happiness and her update, Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that the intentional activity portion of the pie is the part we have the most control over. How we choose to act and think determines our happiness outcomes. We have the never-ending potential to improve our happiness or send it down the gutter.

We talk about numerous ways to improve happiness in this podcast, but I want to share a critical point Sonja mentioned in her update. That point was that happiness methods must cater to the individual and be varied. Let’s break that down.

First, we each have unique methods for achieving happiness. What works for one person, won’t always work for the next. It is vital that we find those happiness improvement techniques that work for us, and it may take a while to figure out what those are so don’t give up!

Second, happiness techniques must vary. We can’t use the same practice over and over again because it will lose its effectiveness. We must have an arsenal of techniques that work for us that we can bounce between. Maybe one day it is writing gratitude letters and the next it is meditating.

The whole point I am trying to make with this blog about the happiness pie is that while we may have no control over our genetics, we, fortunately, do have the ability to control and influence a large part of our happiness.

It is how we choose to embrace and practice the parts of our life within our control that matter. We have the power to control our mind and spirit in how we react and adjust to life. We can choose to pursue happiness. I hope that you will continue to join me on this journey of utilizing happiness. It is inside you; you just have to tap into it.

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