The Science of Happiness
Although genetics help determine your sense of well being, life choices and goals play an important part as well.
The secret to manipulating the 40 percent of happiness that is within your control lies in other, nonmaterial areas. There
are several frequently cited and easy ways to tip the happiness scales in your favor: One, repeat behaviors that have made
you happy in the past, such as going on a ski trip with friends or taking the scenic route home from the grocery store. Two,
immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing. (This is a state psychologists refer to as flow—you get caught up in something that feels bigger than yourself while staying present in the moment.) And, three, do something
that serves a larger purpose, whether it’s a job you find meaningful or volunteer work in the community. “Doing good can make
you feel good,” says Schwartz.
Gretchen Rubin is living proof that you can boost your happiness levels. One rainy afternoon a few years ago, she realized
that though she had a good life and was fairly happy, she knew she could feel better and appreciate life more. So she decided
to dedicate the next year to making herself happy—and to write about it in what became a best seller, The Happiness Project (Harper, $26, amazon.com). In January, she cleared her cluttered closets. The RealSimple.com blogger then tackled nagging tasks, like going to a dermatologist
for a skin check. In June, she vowed to focus on friends. She willed herself to meet three new people in every new situation,
and she used a computer program to remember friends’ birthdays. By the year’s end, she truly felt happier.
Rubin couldn’t alter her genetic predisposition for happiness; none of us can. But she did ratchet up her levels of happiness
by changing her everyday behaviors. And while these tweaks may seem inconsequential at the time you’re doing them, they can
make a lasting and meaningful impact on your well-being. If that’s not reason enough to smile, what is?
Leslie Pepper is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health.