How to be happy – 11. Focus on what you can do to be happier

Lesson: Some people are born happier than others

Is happiness genetic? Partly, yes. Twin studies suggest that genes could explain 38% (1) to 44-52% (2) of happiness variance. Other researchers think these figures leave out important considerations, and that perhaps 25% of our potential for happiness may be related to genes (3). That means your happiness level is at best partly inherited, with the greater balance due to other factors.

Some researchers propose a genetically-specified happiness set-point – a baseline level to which you continually revert through life’s ups and downs (2; 4), and there’s evidence that this does happen (4). The idea is that your personality colors experiences as they happen, and hedonic adaptation restores happiness levels following major life events (5).

There’s also evidence that genes link to happiness via personality (6). Individual differences in both happiness and personality have a moderate-to-strong genetic component, emerge early, and stay stable through life (7).

Happiness strategy: Focus on what you can do to be happier

If you’re thinking of using this lesson to defend being less happy than you’d like – think again! Genes don’t account for everything about happiness – if they did, heritability would be close to 100% (as it is for height) – and it’s nowhere near that. There’s a great deal of happiness that genes don’t explain.

So if you’re one of those born-happy people, enjoy it! But realize it’s still up to you to make happiness a conscious choice for the times when being happy doesn’t come naturally.

And if you weren’t born with glad genes, take heart. You might be starting from a different happiness place, and perhaps there’s not much you can do about that. But there is a lot you can do about where you go from there. By choosing to be happy and applying these happiness strategies, you can take charge of the many aspects of happiness that you do have control over – and there are plenty. Why stay where you are when you can use your mind to get somewhere better?

Now, getting back to personality – how does it affect happiness? Is there a happy personality? You know what – there is! Find out next time if you have it.

Research sources:

(5) Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: Emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1),

(7) Diener, E., & Lucas, R. (1999). Personality and subjective well-being. In N. Schwarz, D. Kahneman & E. Diener (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 213-229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

(6) DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 197-229.

(4) Headey, B., & Wearing, A. (1989). Personality, life events, and subjective well-being: Toward a dynamic equilibrium model. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 57(4), 731-739.

(2) Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3), 186-189.

(3) Ricard, M. (2007). Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill. London: Atlantic Books.

(1) Stubbe, J. H., Posthuma, D., Boomsma, D. I., & De Geus, E. J. C. (2005). Heritability of life satisfaction in adults: a twin-family study. Psychological Medicine, 35(11), 1581-1588.

How to be happy:
101 practical strategies drawn from positive psychology.

This post is part of a series covering simple, practical, research-inspired, happiness strategies you can use in your own life. For more information about the series, check out the 101 Happiness Strategies main page.

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