When I was in my twenties, I wrote a happiness list. I remember clearly writing the list and believing once I attained those things, I would feel content and free to enjoy life.
I'm embarrassed to tell you everything I put on the list. It seems so materialistic to me now. But let's just say it included a particular type of car, a certain sized house, the decor to fill the rooms of the house, and other stuff I believed reflected success and happiness.
As time went on, I was able to check off many of the items on my list. For a short while, the attainment of one of these items brought me happiness. But over time, the shine and sparkle wore off, and I grew bored and restless again. I kept repeating this pattern, moving the bar of happiness farther and farther out in hopes that some "thing" or success would fulfill my longing.
Maybe you can relate to this. Maybe you've been in a situation where you thought, "Once I get married, then life really begins." "Once I get a promotion, then I'll feel happy." "Once I make $100,000, then I've made it and can enjoy life."
So here's what happens: either you attain or achieve your desire and find, as I did, that happiness is fleeting. Or you are thwarted in reaching your goal and plunge into deeper unhappiness and longing. Life becomes a pattern of long stretches of boredom, restlessness, frustration, stress, and unhappiness, followed by short bursts of elation that quickly fade away.
One of the most common search terms for readers who land on my blog is "Why am I so unhappy?" When I search Google for the phrase "how to be happy," I get 596,000,000 results. Every single person on the planet wants to know the answer. How can we be happy on a day-to-day basis? How can we sustain happiness, even when the circumstances of our lives don't turn out exactly as we hoped?
Happiness researcher and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, has spent years studying what makes people happy -- not just happy for a few days or weeks, but generally happy most of the time. She details her research results in her book, The How of Happiness. If you view happiness as a pie, half of the pie (50 percent) is genetic. That's our happiness set point, and some of us are born with more optimistic personalities than others.
About 10 percent of the pie, just a sliver, relates to our life circumstances -- like income, marriage, material things, etc. The rest of the pie, 40 percent, is in our control, and that's a large enough slice of happiness pie to make a substantial difference in our life satisfaction. Dr. Lyubomirsky identified specific activities we can practice in order to take advantage of that 40 percent, and these activities don't have anything to do with making more money, accumulating things, or impressing other people.