From the first year of my Special Education studies, I had this debate with Gal. Gal, who has a degree in Biology and Computer Science, thought that people’s behavior was all genetic and I, as an educator, believed it was all taught and could be changed. For years, we had those discussions. Over time, I learned there are many things that are mostly hereditary and Gal learned that even they can be changed with education.
When I talk to people about happiness, I hear many reasons for why people are not happy. In fact, unhappy people are so common in our society that I am afraid they might take over. So much so that I dedicate myself to making sure they do not by increasing happiness in the world.
People who go with Biology do not think there is a choice. Our happiness is genetic and therefore predetermined.
People who go with Education want to believe they have a choice. Happiness can be learned and practiced.
So what do you think? Is happiness in your genes or is it a leaned attitude?
Sonia Lyubomirsky, a professor of Psychology at the University of California, who has been conducting scientific research on happiness for the last 18 years, believes that:
- 50% of happiness is determined by genetics, such as temper, tendencies and health
- 10% of happiness is based on one’s life circumstances, such as income, health, marital status and religious affiliation
- 40% of happiness is based on intentional activities, such as goals, habits, attitudes, behavior and thoughts
Although professor Lyubomirsky considers the circumstances “relatively static”, I strongly believe that our circumstances can be changes, certainly ones such as income and marital status, through our actions. Therefore, I consider them more on the side of “intentional activities” than on the side of genetics.
And I say, look at the bright side (that is if you have the right genes…) and notice that being able to change 50% is a lot (of course, if your genes are more towards the dark side of life, you are probably thinking now that not being able to change 50% is also a lot and you would be equally right).
Again – Catch 22: one has to be happy to be happy…
Let’s say the professor is right and we are even – 50% of happiness is genetic and 50% can be changed – where do you think you have more power? In the area that is pre-determined by your ancestors or in the area that can be influenced by what you do today?
Choose the right 50%
I decided long ago, after many years of feeling helpless, to focus on the things I could change. Physically, I have had many challenges. Over time, I have proved (mainly to myself) that even they could be overcome with strong beliefs and determination. I have gone through loss, stress, immigration and more and proved (again, mainly to myself) that it is possible to come out strong and determined.
You see, until the age of 16, my genes were very poor. As far as I was concerned, I was doomed, because I focused on what I could not change. After I turned 16, it seemed like my genes improved tremendously, because I started doing so much better by focusing on what I could change.
Whether you believe in genes or in education, you can be happier by changing the only things you can change – your attitude, your thoughts, your beliefs, your habits and your behavior. In this 50% lies the key to happiness. This is the 50% you can change.
Parenting creates a real dilemma between the two happiness philosophies, because you give your kids their genes and you give them their attitude. No matter how you look at it, your kids’ happiness is in your hands, so use it wisely, because your kids’ happiness also contributes to your own!
To find out how happy you are, take the Be Happy in LIFE Happiness Assessment. You will be asked for your name and email address, but the assessment is free.
Every 3 months for the following year, you will get a reminder to assess your happiness again and check if you have improved from your previous assessment, together with some suggestions.
Until then, focus on the 50% you can change!