Stress blog

On the path to finding happiness

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. July 18, 2008

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    www.nami.org
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

There is real merit in disengaging from our environment if at all possible; taking a few days respite away from the stress of the places in which we live and work to nurture a new perspective.

On a recent trip to visit family, we had a marvelous experience of a leisurely several hours in a small bookstore nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. What a gift!

OK, I will admit it. I went to the health and wellness section and was skimming books on happiness — an elusive goal that all humans seek. Let me share a quick overview of a textbook from California based on years of solid research among "happy people."

The studies focused on identical twins that were separated at birth. Obviously, this is a natural experiment and here was the take-home message after approximately 600 pages:

  • About 50 percent of our happiness is genetically determined. We have a "happiness set point" from 0 to 10 which is driven by our DNA, our genetic endowment from our parents. Whether we win or lose the lottery, whether we get married or divorced, whether we have fame and fortune, or embarrassment and ridicule, we will eventually return to that set point.

However, there were two startling findings.

  • About 40 percent of our happiness is directly determined by how we relate to setbacks, a recurrent theme in our blog. It is not the setbacks that kill us; it is how we relate to them.
  • Only 10 percent of our happiness according to this particular textbook is directly related to the environment. Whether we drove a $100,000 car or a $350 car, whether we lived in a condo off of Central Park in New York City or in a shack in an urban ghetto, or whether we made a lot of money or little money, these environmental factors had virtually nothing to do with our happiness.

So, a message that I took from a wonderful afternoon in a bookstore was real simple:

Our attitude determines our happiness (no big surprise), and where we live and what we do contribute very little to our happiness.

For those "happy people" out there in cyberland, please share with us seekers of happiness one or two tips, tactics or perspectives that we can use as we seek the elusive goal of the happy camper.

With

Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

39 Comments Posted

Jul. 18, 2008