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July 7, 2020

40% Happier! What is happiness and how can we be happier?

We all want to be happier. If we ask ourselves why do we do the things that we do — if we go deep enough with our “why’s” we would arrive to the same conclusion. We want to be happier!

But, have we ever asked ourselves, what does happiness mean?

Believe it or not there is actually a science on happiness.

It’s called Positive Psychology!

You may have heard of the term before, but if you haven’t,

Positive Psychology is the study about the “good life”. Its emphasis on happiness, positivity, well-being, human potential, meaning, and qualities that are linked with happiness (like gratitude, awe, beauty, kindness, mindfulness, forgiveness, altruism, and contribution).

It asks the questions,

What is happiness?

How can it be scientifically measured?

How can we be happier?

I came across this area when I was in my final year studying at the University of Toronto in 2013. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Positive Psychology was a game changer in the field of psychology. It’s one of the newest fields of psychology, being born in 1998 when Martin Seligmann became the President of the American Psychological Association and chose the theme for his term: Positive Psychology.

This field strays from previous areas of psychology like psychoanalysis and behaviourism which typically focused on “mental illness”, emphasizing on maladaptive behaviours and negative thinking.

As opposed to focusing on the negatives and trying to “fix” the negatives, Positive Psychology believes that there is goodness and potential within each and everyone of us; IT focuses on how can we promote, cultivate, and experience well-being, rather than focusing all our efforts on “fixing” illness and maladaptive behaviours.

It teaches us that happiness can be practiced, cultivated, nourished, and created!

Of course some people are naturally happier because of their genetic makeup and their personality and disposition. Also, social circumstances, financial situations, and other social factors affect happiness. However, happiness will rise with increasing financial income up to a certain point (approx. $70, ooo USD annual individual income) and then plateau — how much money you have matters until a certain cut off then doesn’t add to our quality of life.

In Positive Psychology there is a 50 – 10 – 40 Rule:

50% of happiness is determined by your genes.

10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live.

40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations.

Science shows that about 40% of our happiness is within our control!

Imagine, experience happiness 40% of the time more frequently!

It’ll be different depending on your happiness baseline, but let’s examine this in a hypothetical situation for us to examine what 40% happier looks like:

Suzy is your average 30-something year old gal. She would rate her overall happiness in her life as a solid five-out-of-ten. On a daily basis she feels that she experiences positive emotions 50% of the time.

There’s about 16 hours of awake time every day. If she currently experiences about 8 hours of positive emotions like happiness, joy, wonder, excitement, creativity, playfulness, etc. a 40% increase translates to an increase of 3.2 hours of happiness per day!

Times that with 365 days a year…that’s an extra 1168 hours of happiness every year!

If Suzy lives out her life to the average Canadian life expectancy for females (84.3 years) that totals to about 50ish years so 40% happier means approximately 20 more years worth of happiness! ?

This is a simplified view on what 40% happier looks like. Of course happiness cannot always be measured and viewed as a quantity. I think of it as more subjective and qualitative.

The past 7 years I have been practicing happiness and exploring what the good life means to me. I have been exploring it through traveling and connecting with different cultures and people; journaling: going inwards and understanding my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and psyche; practicing mindfulness and meditation — being present, aware, and experiencing life without judgement; and practicing forgiveness, acceptance, and gratitude through daily actions, journal exercises, and in meditation.


50% of happiness is determined by your genes.

10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live.

40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations.

Now, I would love to hear from you:

What does happiness mean to you?

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