Happiness: Modifying Our Set Point 

To what extent is our happiness genetically set or affected by our life situation, events, thoughts and behaviours? Can our happiness “set-point” be modified by specific actions and exercises? Dr. Ken Nowack, author of ConsultingTools StressScan and expert on the topic of lifestyle coaching, answers these questions.  

Our own research using a personal stress and health assessment called StressScan suggested a “profile” of employees who were very likely to describe him/her as least happy with work and life. These individuals reported low levels of work and life satisfaction (psychological well-being), poor eating habits (eating/nutrition) and very self-critical (negative appraisal). We wondered if happiness and life meaning could actually be modified given that research suggests that ones overall happiness level seems to be at least partially genetically predetermined (50%), partly based on specific events/situations (10%) and can be strongly influenced by what we do each day (40%).

Scientific research until recently supported the idea that what we do each day did not have much impact on our unchangeable and biological “set point” for happiness. This older view suggested that happiness was pre-determined genetically and perhaps influenced by our upbringing but always returning to a “set point” and varying only slightly. It also explained why those who are diagnosed with a chronic illness return to about the same level of happiness they enjoyed before they became ill. 

To understand life satisfaction completely though, it is helpful to review some of the components that go into most peoples experience of happiness. One of the most important influences on happiness is social support (availability, utility and satisfaction with ones support network). People who score high on life satisfaction tend to report higher levels of supportive family, friends, and co-workers compared to those who are lonely or alone and are more likely to be dissatisfied. Loss of a close support member may cause much distress and require a period of adjustment creating lower life satisfaction and happiness.

A second factor is being involved in meaningful and engaging work, hobbies or activities. When a person has passion for what they are doing (paid or unpaid) and feels it is meaningful to them, they tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction. So identifying one’s strengths and passions and attempting to doing more of what you truly enjoy is a way to increase your core happiness.

There is not one key to life satisfaction but rather a recipe that includes a number of specific ingredients including some of the following activities that you can practice and employ each day: 

  • Sleep: Get adequate rest/sleep as lack of it has been shown to influence fatigue and moods
  • Exercise: Make time for physical activity as those who frequently exercise report lower depression and higher psychological well-being
  • Forgiveness: Forgive others who have hurt you in the past
  • Emotional Expression: The goal is to feel good as opposed to just “feeling good” all the time. Expressing one’s emotions, particularly through writing, can have strong immune protective effects
  • Social Support: Engage with others and avoid those who are “toxic” in your life
  • Daily Affirmations: Reflecting on your blessings each day seems to be associated with increased well-being and happiness
  • Identifying and Using Signature Strengths: Identifying and leveraging what you do well and how to maximize the application of your unique “strengths” will allow you to be more engaged and satisfied
  • Avoiding Negative Self-Talk: Monitor your own self-talk and work to dispute those things you say that are irrational, absolute, self-critical and/or overly perfectionist

To learn more about StressScan, click here.



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