Increasing Happiness is a Matter of Intention

Aaron Lieberman |

For many years, the prevailing theory was that individuals have a genetically
determined happiness set point.

In other words, scientists believed that each person could temporarily experience more
happiness (depending on circumstances, relationships, and life events), but would then
slide back to his or her "pre-programmed" set point. In fact, less than two decades ago,
one researcher was quoted as saying, "It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as
trying to be taller."

However, current research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that people can
become happier and the change can be long-term. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.
(University of California) wrote:

My colleagues and I believe that sustainable increases in happiness are possible
through the execution of intentional cognitive, motivational, and behavioral
activities that are feasible to deploy, but require daily and concerted effort and

Lyubomirsky received a grant from the National Institute of Health to identify specific
ways individuals can sustain higher levels of happiness. Her pioneering research
revealed that our genetic set point accounts for only 50 percent of the happiness we
experience while a mere 10 percent can be attributed to life circumstances and

That means a full 40 percent of our capacity for happiness lies within our power to
change. For Lyubomirsky (and for the rest of us), this is heartening news! Scientific
evidence confirms that we can maximize our happiness by managing what we do and
how we think. She explains:

If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit
around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new
understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and

In her book, The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky provides an engaging review of her
research, and outlines the strategies she identified as being the most effective in
increasing long-term happiness:

1. Expressing gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one "counts one's

2. Practicing optimism (i.e., visualizing the best possible future for oneself)


3. Engaging in positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking
about one's happiest life events)

4. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness)

“In sum,” Lyubomirsky wrote, “our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect
on how happy we are, over and above effects of our set points and the circumstances
in which we find ourselves."


Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, NP