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Is happiness fixed from birth?

Researchers have just published findings which are being interpreted to mean that happiness is fixed. What they say is that the study supports the idea that we are either born happy or unhappy; and that there is nothing we can do about it. However, the claim that happiness is fixed is flawed, and a closer look at the findings from this study could in fact support the opposite conclusion: happiness levels are not entirely fixed. This is because the researchers leave a portion of happiness unexplained.

The researchers, at the University of Edinburgh, studied 1,000 families with twins, and found that 30-60 % of happiness can be attributed to genetic influence.  This finding has been misconstrued as meaning that happiness levels cannot be increased.  What people are not made aware of is that there is still 40 ? 70% left unexplained. The researchers do say that we still have some control over our happiness levels. Achieving valued goals or participating in meaningful relationships will affect happiness.

Extensive international research into the causes of happiness supports the finding: that a portion of happiness can be explained by genes.  However, recent research by Lyubomirsky et al, goes further to explain the remaining 40-70% of what causes happiness. 

The Lyubomirsky study confirmed that around 50% of happiness is down to genes.  She also revealed that around 10% was down to circumstances in people?s lives.  What she found was that external circumstances don?t matter much for happiness.  For example, lottery winners soon come back to around their initial level of happiness. 

The remaining portion, 40%, Lyubomirsky found was down to the choices people make: what they do and how they think.

What does this mean? Well, there is a small portion of happiness which is changeable.  Further evidence supports the assertion that happiness can be fostered.  This is backed up by studies which have looked at happiness enhancing strategies.  So, the finding that happiness is fixed is not an accurate reflection of this complex picture.  People can improve their happiness levels and research supports this. Of course, it is unlikely that you will get a gloomy pessimist becoming a cheery optimist.  Instead, people can increase their happiness a small amount but still make a difference to many important things in life such as success, health and well-being.

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