Research studies have proven that 50% of our “happiness quotient” is actually hereditary (Time, January 17, 2005). That is, we are genetically hard-wired for a certain level of happiness: are we naturally rather easy-going, or do we tend to be high-strung? Are we naturally rather optimistic about life, or do we tend to look on the dark side? These factors contribute to our perception of our life satisfaction.
We can win the lottery or be diagnosed with a devastating disease, and within a few months, we are as happy (or as sad) as we were before. In fact, it turns out we are particularly bad at predicting what will make us happy: I would be happy if only I had a new house! Or a new car! Or, if I were younger and smarter!
Or, not. As it turns out, people who were laid off work, survived a natural disaster, or who have a permanent physical handicap are just as happy as everyone else. Sometimes more so.
So, what does this mean? If you’re a glass half empty person, it means you are sunk.
But for Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and other “positive psychologists” (and those of you whose glass is half full), it means you’ve got 50% to work with! In fact, research shows that children, faith, and friendships (not money, youth or IQ) do indeed make us more happy. Dr. Seligman found that we can increase our happiness by being thankful, performing acts of kindness, and taking the time each day to write down three things that went well. But there is something he recommends that results in the greatest—and most lasting—boost to our joy: the “gratitude visit,” in which we write a note expressing our gratitude to someone who helped us, and then visit that person and read the letter.
This reminds of Saint Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all” (Philippians 4: 4-5).
What do you like to do, to lift your spirits?