The Happiness Lottery

Recently I had a discussion with someone who felt strongly that people are inherently happy or miserable, and there’s very little you can do to change that.

In the lottery of life, some people are just born with all lucky numbers – an optimistic mindset, a likeable personality, the emotional intelligence to deal with tough situations. The other poor unfortunates, those born awkward, fragile, pessimistic, have the least assets in facing this turbulent world and the least ability to enjoy the pleasures of life.

And it’s true, that there’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that we have an innate predisposition towards seeing the glass half empty or half full.

There’s also a lot of research supporting the idea of a baseline level of happiness – that emotional events can cause boosts or drops in our levels of happiness, but we all return to a pre-existing set-point before long.

However, as always in psychology (something which caused me no end of frustration in college as I chased after definitive answers), happiness is another study in the nature vs. nurture debate. With a healthy dose of free will thrown into the mix.

Happiness isn’t a lottery. In a lottery, you either win or you don’t win. Personality traits and perceptual biases aren’t nearly so deterministic.

Whatever percentage of our well being can be attributed to our genetic code, we know it’s not 100%.

Which gives mankind something to work with.

That’s why I was so pleased to see the UK government officially kick off their happiness research programme last week. The survey is designed to measure psychological and environmental wellbeing in society. Ultimately, the aim is to develop a happiness index as a key performance indicator beyond GDP. As economic progress isn’t and shouldn’t be the most important measure of a successful society.

And closer to home, our digital agency Saint have just created this lovely project, which seeks to understand the mood of the agency on a daily basis. Their hope is to explore the dynamics associated with good and bad days, so that we can use this information to create the most positive workplace across Saint and RKCR.

All this research matters. Because increasingly, the type of happiness research I’ve spoken about before on this blog, suggests that the factors which are associated with a happier life, are behaviours which can be adopted by everyone.

Being happy, far from being a lottery result, may turn out to be a life skill.  Similar to any other skill, from tennis to chess to piano, there will be some people who find it easier to learn. But everyone can work at it. And in the future, it’s my hope that we see happiness skills taught in our homes, schools and workplaces, with the time and effort they deserve.

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