There seem to be some people who are always happy while others have a bleaker outlook on life. We ask ourselves “Why is that?”.

For decades psychologists have only focused on mental disorders and how to better the lives of people affected. This is now changing. In the last decade or so a new movement, Positive Psychology, was born. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the “forefathers” and an integral part of this new branch of psychology research.

Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center

In his book Authentic Happiness Seligman talks about a Happiness Formula. He says Happiness is the sum of your Set range of happiness, the Circumstances of your life and factors under your Voluntary control.

H = S + C + V

He argues the set range of happiness of each person is genetically determined and makes up about 50%. This is based on twin studies, which I believe are referred to in the book. The circumstance in your life only make up about 10%, meaning whether you have that Ferrari or the bigger house or the yacht does only matter to a degree of 10% to your happiness.

That is, as long as basic human needs are covered of course. I’m sure you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Obviously, if you need money to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head, that percentage would probably be higher than 10%.  As soon as your basic needs are covered though, research suggests everything else matters only 10% with regards to one’s happiness. There are studies where lottery winners were interviewed, right after the win and at certain time intervals. Perceived happiness pretty much leveled back to what it was before, after the initial rush of course.

What makes all this really interesting though is not just the fact, that life’s circumstances only matter 10%, but the cool thing is that as per this formula about 40% are under our voluntary control! I find that fascinating! Now, one can argue how Seligman came up with the percentages. His arguments are based on research studies though and even if it were less than 40%: the fact, that anything is in our voluntary control with regards to how happy we are, is quite a promising statement.

Why does it matter to be happy you may ask… Well, research suggests, that happy people are more successful. Happier people are typically in a loving relationship and have more social connections. Though there is no research investigating the causal effect here yet… (are you happy, because you have many social connections or do you have them, because you are happy…??), I think striving for more happiness is good for the individual as well as for his or her surroundings, as happiness spreads among social networks.

Here is what Dr. Martin Seligman has to say about this:

” We’ve learned in 10 years that happy people are more productive at work, learn more in school, get promoted more, are more creative and are liked more. ” – Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D