If you’re happy and you know it…

Clap your hands! Exactly what moviegoers did after viewing “Happy” at the Loft Cinema yesterday. Even though it can get mushy, I’m glad — even happy — that psychologists are studying the ever-popular emotion.

Here’s what I found out: Fifty percent of being happy is based on genetics; 10 percent is based on circumstances, which includes financial status, job, relationship.

And here’s the biggie: Forty percent of what makes us happy is up for grabs/intentional activities, our life choices.

I’ve often wondered why some people who’ve had rough childhoods turn out to be happy, confident, involved grown-ups, while others go down the tubes?

The kind word, the caring teacher, the influential book can make a huge difference.

A University of Illinois psychologist who appeared in “Happy” said he’s studied happiness for 25 years. When he first started, his colleagues chided him for pursuing such a “flaky” subject. They’d been studying depression all those years. (Dan pointed out that’s the medical model, look for what’s wrong).

It’s so cool that current neuroscience research can show how our brains respond to exercise or to cooperating with others or feeling connected to friends and family, all components of happiness, say the psychologists.

We can decide to become happier, read books like — and take on — “The Happiness Project.” (Gretchen Rubin is a Yale Law School grad who spent a year focusing on what made her happy). I haven’t read “Stumbling Upon Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert, but I like the title.

Did I stumble upon happiness? I made choices like moving away from ice and snow to sunny Tucson, leaving the stress of teaching. But I’m also post-menopausal and don’t have the same bouts of anxiety. I was lucky enough to meet Dan. If my grown-up children are doing well all is right with the world (although it’s clearly not).

Driving home from work today I was listening to NPR. Commentator Andrei Codrescu said, “It’s been a year like a ride in hell’s Disney World.”

Are we in for “impending doom?” I don’t know. Researchers have found that having a purpose in the world is also a component of happiness. I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to do what I can — and not take myself too seriously. I’m happy.

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5 Responses to If you’re happy and you know it…

  1. marianne bernsen says:

    honest and interesting. Your writing has so much energy. I like that.

  2. sheilawill says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Miriam! I’m glad you like this post. Am thinking ahead to Richard Power’s “Generosity” and the possibility of a happiness gene.

  3. Kasia says:

    Funny, I do feel like clapping after reading your blog. Thanks for the perspective… and for including the link to the Happiness Project, which looks like a great site to hang around in for awhile.

  4. sheilawill says:

    Thanks Kasia! Yes, Gretchen Rubin really dove in in a substantive way, not “flakey” at all!

  5. sheilawill says:

    “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
    — Guillaume Appollnaire

    *Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox – eight free tools to help you track your own happiness project. And you can post your updates to Facebook, if you choose.

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