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What is the key to happiness? Money? Relationships? Good genes?
As happiness researchers have found out, the answer may be that none of these alone really matters.
Researchers in the field of positive psychology have identified the factors that do seem to matter, and the answers will surprise you.
Psychologists studying happiness have identified what they call "the happiness formula" :
In other words, the level of happiness that you experience (H) is equal to your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities that you do (V).
Let's break these factors down:
- (S) Set point: Largely determined by your genes, there's not much you can do to change this. The key idea is that everyone has a happiness set point that is, surprisingly, affected very little by external conditions, such as how much money you have in the bank or how big your house is.
- (C) Conditions: External conditions refers to factors that we can manipulate to enhance our well-being. Happiness researches have identified several conditions that seem to matter:
- And, finally, (V) voluntary activities. These include engaging more often in activities that are matched to your abilities, what the Hungarian-born cofounder of positive psychology, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, calls "flow." Another pioneer in positive psychology, Martin Seligman, makes a distinction between pleasures, temporary but fleeting delights, and gratifications, activitie that engage your strengths and lead to flow. Choose to engage in pleasures intermittently (a glass of wine, chocolate), but focus on identifying and engaging in your gratifications, your signature strengths, every day. To find your strengths, visit www.authentichappiness.org.
Happiness, then, really is within our reach, as long as we know which conditions to aim for and which activities to engage in more often.
Still chasing after that perfect job or that bigger house?
Maybe it's time to focus instead on your Cs and Vs.