What determines our happiness quotient? Depends on whom you ask. Some researchers believe that genetic factors determine our set point and that a malfunction with the gene for serotonin output (aka the feel-good hormone) makes it harder for some people to see the sunny side of things, in general, and may even be directly linked with clinical depression.
Meanwhile, other docs argue that there’s still not enough evidence to prove a direct link between genes and happiness (or mood) and/or depression. They argue that stressful life events (raising children, job loss, divorce, death of a loved one), and how equipped we are to handle them, are better predictors of happiness.
Factors that we can control, including our social circles and how we choose to spend our free time, are instrumental in how we get through the tougher times, as well as our day-to-day level of happiness, says Christopher Peterson, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan. “Living a meaningful life, one that involves purpose and doing good — when those things are in place, then we begin to feel this emotion that people define as happiness,” says Dan Baker, PhD, author of "What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better."
The good news, he says, is that we can train ourselves to be happier (yes, even in the midst of a recession, unemployment and reduced retirement funds!). Just like most things in life, it starts with taking a few small steps toward that change.
Each morning before you get out of bed, do two things:
1. Focus on something that you’re going to do that day that holds meaning for you and think about how you will do that. Let’s say you want to weed your garden. Even if you can devote only 15 minutes to it today, think about how that will help the garden look better and allow it to thrive.
2. Next, be appreciative of something and hold that thought for 20 seconds. (Do it again before lunch and at night before sleep.) “Even in difficult times, we can find something to appreciate,” says Dr. Baker. Be sure to build up your inventory, and don’t overlook something as simple as being appreciative for your cozy slippers or the soothing sound of rain tapping on the window.
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