Do You Know What Makes You Happy? Genes, Circumstances or Choices?

If you answered genes you are absolutely right. If you answered circumstances you are absolutely right. And if you answered choices you are absolutely right. However, they aren't all created equal! 

I have never met a person in my personal life, my coaching practice or my yoga classes that didn't want to be happy or happier, and yet many of us make choices every day that contribute to our misery. 

Why? These are some of the anti-choice traps I find myself and others falling in to.

  1. We don't make choices based on our value system (what matter most to us)
  2. Disguised as "choices" we run on auto-pilot and take habitual actions rather than make conscious decisions.
  3. We lack clarity and aren't sure what choice to make in a circumstance. 
  4. Many of us find ourselves looking for happiness in the wrong places...again and again

To back up for a moment lets look at these 3 aspects of our happiness: genes, circumstances and choices. There is vast literature and extensive research on the science of happiness; as well as a meta-analysis on that literature to demonstrate the correlations between our choices, genes and circumstances with our overall wellbeing or life satisfaction.  

It turns out, as some of you guessed, our genes do matter!  We each have a "set point" of happiness. However, it isn't necessarily "fixed".  It can be challenged and adjusted. We have learned through science what the wisdom traditions (like yoga) have demonstrated for centuries. Study after study shows that the expression of genes is greatly influenced by our behavior, choices and attitude. Altering our set point will require participation on our part and an honest look at our own tendencies and behaviors. 

Circumstances do influence our happiness, and yet, not as much as many of us have believed. Assuming we have food, shelter, security and love (basic human needs met), our circumstances only account for on average about 10% of our overall life satisfaction.

Here, I want to acknowledge and affirm that our past circumstances do in fact influence us. The way we were raised matters. Were we nurtured or ignored? Were we given too much or too little? These things all matter. We can't pretend they don't. And yet again, we must each start from where we are and acknowledge and validate our own circumstances while learning to make life-affirming decisions

Choices or intentional daily activities make up a whopping 40% of our overall wellbeing and joy! WOW. Put that together with the findings that our choices influence our "set point" and potentially our conscious decisions equate to 90% of our wellbeing. What hope that brings... and responsibility. 

Here are three questions you can ask yourself to make choices that are true to YOU:

  1. What matters most to you in this situation or circumstance that is presenting itself?  In other words, putting aside others' wrongs, opinions or influence how would you respond based on how you want to feel and what you can peacefully live with?
  2. Can you name at least two people in your life that inspires you to be the best you can be? We become what we continuously do and who we spend time with?  So make good choices in your company? And for that matter, be good company!
  3. Is your response coming from habitual behavior and old beliefs, or is it really true for you today? Examine your decisions. Keep them fresh and based on who you want to be. Put your happiness first!  

Don't compare yourself to others. As the ancient eastern teachings suggest, start where you are and grow from there. 

In summary, for all of us our happiness will spike with triumphs and dip with set backs. And yet, after our basic needs are met all the external stuff has a much smaller influence on lasting happiness or misery than does our outlook or where we place our attention in our daily lives.  Move mindfully through your day. Examine compassionately how your choices are co-creating the life you are living.