Where Do You Stack Up on the Happiness Scale?

Your happiness is, to a high degree, within your control—this is one of the greatest psychological discoveries of the past few decades. Researchers in the field of positive psychology (the science of human flourishing) report that 50 percent of your happiness level is determined by genetics, only 10 percent is based on your circumstances, and a significant 40 percent is based on your habits. By reflecting upon your habits in action, and even more importantly, your habits in thought, you can identify the areas of your life that can help you become happier on every level.

So how can you become happier? Ask yourself the following five questions, which can give insight into the practices of the happiest people in America.

1. Are You Grateful?

Positive psychologists agree that gratitude can strongly contribute to happiness. People who are consistently grateful can experience more optimism, better health, fulfilling experiences, and stronger relationships.

While you can experience benefits from thinking grateful thoughts, the benefits can actually be amplified through external expression. You can express your grateful thoughts in many ways, including verbally appreciating your experiences or writing them down in a gratitude journal. 

Gratitude can strongly contribute to happiness

2. Do You Set Goals?

Psychology Today reports that setting and pursuing goals can make you happier and provide more meaning in your life. Setting goals helps turn dreams into reality, as goals bring about focus, determination, and pride. The subsequent act of then pursuing the goals and making progress on them adds a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and overall greater life satisfaction. But be sure to write your goals down: A study at Harvard Business School discovered that the three percent of their MBA graduates who wrote clear goals down earned, on average, 10 times more 10 years later than the other 97 percent who either didn’t have goals or didn’t write them down.

Set a new goal

3. Are You an Optimist?

Having an optimistic outlook not only increases your happiness level, but also improves your health, your relationships, and your overall well-being. People who look at the bright side of life are able to more easily savor the happy times and are more resilient in the difficult ones.

What is the easiest way to become more optimistic? Practice more gratitude. Focus on what you do have, rather than what is missing. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have the things you might take for granted. Trust that the universe has your back, and that everything that happens is necessary in your life’s story.

Albert Einstein quote

4. Do You Know Your Strengths and How to Use Them?

According to Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, a strength is a psychological characteristic that can be tracked over time and across different situations. Have you spent any time considering your strengths? Utilizing character strengths has been linked to increased happiness across many areas of life—so understanding what you are good at is more important than you may have previously realized. By first acknowledging your strengths (either by self-reflection, by taking the Strengths Finders Test, or by taking the VIA survey), and then using them in new and unique ways, Seligman says you can improve your quality of life and overall life satisfaction.

The happiest people also have certain strengths in common: enthusiasm, hope, love, gratitude, and curiosity. If these strengths don’t currently reside among your top characteristics, you can try to incorporate them into your day-to-day life for a proven happiness booster.

Marylin Vos Savant quote

5. Do You Meditate?

Happy people make an effort to be present in the moment rather than focus on the past or the future. Participating in habits like yoga and meditation help you stay connected to the present, and incorporating this into daily routine can create greater inner peace, calm, and perspective. Not currently a meditator? Happiness researcher Shawn Achor reports that meditating for as little as two minutes a day for 21 days can improve your overall happiness.

Paramahansa Yogananda quote

The Next Step: Take a Happiness Survey

Interested in finding out more about your happiness level? There are several happiness surveys that can give you more specific insights into your happiness set-point, here are a few:

Once you receive your results, practice putting your newfound knowledge to use. Know that you can get even happier than you are today (be optimistic), try meditating for a few minutes a day, clarify your goals, be grateful for the process, and utilize your strengths to intentionally raise yourself up the happiness scale. 


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About the Author

Karson McGinley

Yoga Teacher, Life Coach, and Joy Seeker
Karson McGinley is the founder of Happy-U ( H olistic A pproach to P ositive P sychology & Y oga) and the co-owner (along with her husband) of Happy-U Namasté Yoga Center in San Diego, CA. A teacher for over a decade, Karson works to bridge the gap between the ancient wisdom of yoga and the modern science of happiness through her yoga classes, workshops, and Happy-U’s Teacher Training program. Karson’s classes are inspired by what goes on in the modern day life of a joy-seeker, using the power of music, laughter, and storytelling to take her students on a journey within. Drawing upon her...Read more