One statistic that’s pretty constant across countries, cultures, classes, and centuries is that 99% of people want to be happy (yes, there are some people who prefer to be miserable).
But the vast majority of that 99% are looking for happiness in the wrong places.
Ask them what they think would make them happy and most will reply: more money, more friends, more success, more health, more fame, more beauty, more muscles, etc.
Scientists of happiness, (yes, there are such beings) have discovered that improvements in life circumstances or situations only accounts for about 10% of our happiness. In other words, for all the effort people are putting into becoming more wealthy, healthy, popular, muscular, etc., the emotional return on the investment is miniscule. These positive events do create happiness, but it’s minimal and brief.
These scientists (often called positive psychologists) have also found that each of us has a baseline happiness that is difficult to change. Just like we all have a baseline weight that we tend to return to regardless of our efforts at dieting or muscle-building, so our parents have bequeathed us a happiness set point in our genes that we tend to return to no matter how many setbacks or triumphs we experience. Research has indicated that our genes explain about 50% of our happiness or lack of it.
Now if you can count, you’re beginning to get worried. If happiness is 10% life circumstances plus 50% genes, that leaves only 40% to work with.
The good news is that that is still a relatively large number. No, it’s not 90%, but neither is it 5%. There’s still quite a lot of potential, a lot that’s in our power to change, in this 40%. And what makes up that 40%?
Scientists tell us that’s our daily actions and attitudes – what we do and how we think. In The How of Happiness Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky argues:
Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances (i.e., seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues, which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities .
All helpful analysis up to this point, nothing that Christians need disagree with. Where we may begin to differ is in the actual thoughts and actions that scientists say make people happy. But even there, as we’ll see tomorrow, there are some quite surprising overlaps.