Is it Possible to Become Happier?

While studying at UC Berkeley, I came across a list of “top courses to take” and made it a priority to add at least one to my schedule per semester. The one I was looking forward to the most was “Human Happiness” offered by Professor Dacher Keltner, the founder of the Greater Good Science Center and a world-renowned expert on human emotion. Even though it took 3 weeks of being on the waitlist, I was happy to finally be admitted to the class.

One of the first pieces of literature we focused on was “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Sonja started the book by asking a simple question: “Is it possible for human beings to become happier?” She goes on to explain that several factors determine our happiness; you start with a set point of happiness that determines approximately 50% of your happiness level. This setpoint is the genetically determined baseline for our happiness that we are bound to return to. What this means is that not only are some people predisposed to being happier than others in life, these same individuals will also revert to their baseline happiness even after major setbacks or tragedies in life.

What’s surprising is that Sonja correlates only 10% of our happiness to life’s circumstances. Indeed, components such as income and marital status that a lot of people think are tied very intimately to our overall happiness level have very limited bearing on it.

The most important takeaway from the book for me was that the remaining 40% of our happiness is tied to intentional activity. That means that we have control over how happy we feel depending on how we think about situations and what we choose to do in our daily lives. The way I like to think about these findings is that while it has predetermined components attached to it, at the end of the day, happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happier. We can choose the job that satisfies us to our core rather than the higher-paying job that we will dread commuting to every day. We can choose to add daily workouts or meditation breaks to our schedule to feel more refreshed before or after our workdays. When evaluating a stressful situation, we can choose to approach it from a more positive perspective or shift our focus. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who give us good vibes rather than drain our energy.

We need to choose to be happier, and not just because being happy feels good. Happier people are not only more sociable, cooperative, and productive, they are also more resilient in the face of hardship and even have stronger immune systems. Having this in mind, why don’t you set yourself a brand new challenge: create a list of things that give you joy and happiness and find ways to integrate them into your schedule in a concrete manner. A great way to do this is through productivity and habit-tracking apps like Insumo! We just launched our app, so go ahead and download it now!

I am an alumnus of UC Berkeley with a BA in Psychology and minors in Human Rights and Theater. I specialize in the creation of news content.