Recap of a TV documentary on a scientific approach to measuring individual or collective happiness.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Who hasn't come across this question in their lives at least one time? Well, today I had the pleasure to find that there are actually people, who are investigating this from a scientific approach - would you believe? :D Anyway, I came across this TV documentary (sorry - in German only) which reported some of Robert Biswas-Diener's work and findings. Bottomline - and one I'm not all that surprised to learn: 50% of each of our individual happiness is determined by our genetic code. In other words: If your parents or grandparents were happy, there's a 50% chance you're gonna be a happy person, too. But how do we define happiness in the first place?
Well, as far as I recall the documentary, it's basicaly the idea of feeling good about yourself and your experiences for most of the time. Of course, no one can be happy ALL the time - but according to the findings, you're well off at a 5:1 ratio, meaning: If you experience something "bad", you need five more "good" experiences to make up for them - apparently from our (human) tendency to attribute more significance and longevity to negative experiences than positive ones.
As far as I could follow, this helped us to identify ever more efficient ways of survival and to set us apart from the rest of the bunch in prehistoric times. Once our predecessors found such ways, that information got "written" onto the genom, so succeeding offsprings would already be born with that information. The same applies to our talent of being happy. So - what might appear like a "doomed to personal fate" approach is in essence captured by the meaning of that introductory expression: It's up to each of us, what we make of it.
But what happens with the remaining 50% and how can we "use" them to feel happier? It may help to keep this equation in mind: Only 10% of our happiness is ruled by circumstances, e.g. income, derivation, place (like country or culture). The remaining 40% are governed by intentional activity. In other words: Do we spend our time doing things that make us happy? Remember, e.g. material wealth accounts for only 10% of the answer to that question (said scientists found that only as little as an annual income of 13,000 Euros or ca. 19,000 $ per person is enough to cover for essentials). To be more precise: Poor people can be happy - and most of them actually are according to the vast body of data Biswas-Diener keeps collecting, like e.g. people living in Groenland - with six months of darkness, short summers, freezing temperatures most of the year - those guys are perfectly happy! One of the reasons being that they just "think" themselves happy, enjoy what they have and don't worry about what they don't have or what may come.
Before closing I should add that the entire broadcast was hosted by a narrator, who described herself as being a largely negative person, whose greatest dream it was to fly to the moon. And after having presented all data and findings, the documentary closes: It is never too late to fly to the moon. I think, my personal happiness may have benefitted from today's mountain vista at lake Woerthsee. Hope, yours does, too ;-)