This I Believe

Shanna - San Francisco, California
Entered on May 12, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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When I think of things that make me happy, I feel this surge of energy; this inexplicable feeling that I wish I could get when I was doing the dishes, scrubbing the toilet, or writing a paper for class…

This past semester, I spent three hours every week talking about happiness. Here’s what I’ve learned: 1) Genetics control a large portion of our happiness; 2) Happiness, like everything else, requires work; and 3) Happiness is not a location to which you can go. After an entire semester, happiness doesn’t seem to make me very “happy” anymore. Indeed, it makes me less happy.

That genetics accounts for around 50% of our individual level of happiness is rather unsettling. This means that no matter what, we only have a flip-of-a-coin chance at really being happy. Research indicates that this genetic set-point is not indicative of our happiness, but genetics are a hard thing to disrupt. This just means that those not genetically predisposed to happiness have some work to do.

Work. It’s what most of us do to be able to do what we want to do. If happiness requires work, is it really what we want? Research in the field of positive psychology suggests that one cannot change their set-point level of happiness without a huge amount of work. Happiness interventions have shown that it is possible, through effortful behavior modification, to increase one’s happiness. Though not much research has been done longitudinally on happiness interventions, I cannot imagine increased happiness remains. It’s like that New Years goal of losing 20 pounds – we work for a couple weeks, but then give it up because it’s too much “work”.

According to Facebook, I have travelled to 22% of the world. It’s something I love to do and wish I could afford to do more often. I always feel really happy experiencing new faces and new places. What I’ve learned, though, is that happiness itself it not a place to go to, but a way of travel. The field of positive psychology and people at large should focus on traveling through life with a happy demeanor rather than attaining happiness. Instead of raising our happiness level, what if we were just to reframe experiences in a more positive way? By looking at life through a rose-colored lense, we can choose to see the best in every experience, rather than having tunnel-vision to find the goal of happiness.

No matter what the research suggests, or in light of it, happiness is just that really great, inexplicable feeling we all experience at some point. We all strive for it and, when we find it, we know we’re happy. Adapting a quote from the move The Beach, “I still believe in [happiness], and now at least I know that it’s not some thing you can look for, because it’s not where you go, it how you feel for a moment in life, and when you find that moment, it lasts forever”. This is what I believe.