How to be happy – 14. Concentrate on intentional factors

image Lesson: A happiness model

Although positive psychology and well-being research have flourished, there’s no  agreed-upon theory of happiness. But a model has been suggested, quite recently in fact, and it’s based on 3 factors (1).

1. Circumstances and demographics
– like health, finances and marital status

2. Personality and genes 
– the ‘innate’ aspects of a person

3. Intentional factors 
– deliberate actions like pursuing a goal

These 3 factors vary in how much, and for how long, they can change a person’s level of happiness. The first 2 will probably sound familiar by now:

1. Circumstances and demographics

Overall circumstances at a given time make a pretty small contribution to happiness – as we saw in Happiness Strategy 8: Make happiness an inside job and Happiness Strategy 10: Don’t keep up with the Joneses.

And changing these circumstances leads at best to a short-term boost, because people quickly adjust to new conditions, as we saw in Happiness Strategy 9: Get off the hedonic treadmill.

According to the model, circumstances and demographics contribute about 10% of the variance in happiness, in statistical terms.

2. Personality and genes 

Unlike the small effect of conditions, genes and personality make a big difference to happiness levels, as we saw in Happiness Strategy 11: Focus on what you can do to be happier and Happiness Strategy 12: Make peace with your personality. It may be that people have a happiness set-point around which they fluctuate with circumstances.

According to the model personality and genes contribute about 50% of the variance in happiness.

Our conscious behavior can explain some of the happiness-personality link, as we saw in Strategy 13: Act like you’re an extravert – even if you aren’t.

Which leads nicely to the third part of the model.

3. Intentional factors 

We’re left with about 40% for the last factor in the happiness model – the actions or behaviors people engage in deliberately. They might be:

  • Cognitive – like counting your blessings
  • Behavioral – like exercising regularly
  • Volitional – like striving for a goal.

Although intentional factors aren’t automatic, they can become a habit over time (1).

Happiness strategy: Concentrate on intentional factors

Looking at the factors in this model of happiness, it’s clear where our happiness-raising efforts will have the most benefit. Circumstances contribute little, changed circumstances bring short-term gains at best, and genes offer limited opportunity for tweaking. Rather, it’s the intentional component of the model that makes a large contribution to happiness as well as offering a way to sustainable happiness change.

  • What kinds of intentional actions can we use to raise our happiness levels?
  • Is there research evidence that they work?
  • And if they work, will we stay happier for life, or will we have to keep doing them?

Upcoming strategies will cover these and many other questions about intentional factors as a way to raise your own happiness. Stay tuned!

Research sources:

(1) Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.

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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