Have you ever heard of the proverb, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Would it surprise you that this simple proverb, often found on fridge magnets, encouraging optimism is the actual formula to success? Because it is!
In the twentieth century, psychological studies were mostly focused on pathology, victimology, and mental illness while mental health was an area neglected by many psychologists. The outcome was quite fascinating. Psychologists excelled in recognizing the amount of psychological stress and anxiety patients were having, but they were incapable of helping patients with methods to improve their mental health, or in other words, how to be and stay happy.
Then came Martin Seligman, a man of determination on a conquest to find the positive elements of human living. His research forged a new branch of psychology, called Positive Psychology, which was the basis of his book about happiness called Authentic Happiness.
In his book, he lays out his new found formula to happiness:
H (enduring level of happiness) = S (your set point) + C (conditions) + V (voluntary choices). Let’s look at how each factor affects one’s level of happiness.
H: Enduring level of happiness It is important to distinguish momentary happiness from enduring happiness or lasting happiness. While small events of joy can easily increase the level of momentary happiness, it does not escalate the level of one’s enduring happiness. Increased frequency of momentary happiness can boost the level of enduring happiness, but momentary happiness cannot define nor raise enduring happiness in its entirety.
S: Set point Unfortunately, about 50 percent of your happiness, your set point, is out of your control. Your set point is heavily defined by your genes and how you are genetically wired to deal with events. To make it simple, your set point is the balance point where all of your cells and mind always try to gravitate back toward. Because of this set point, people with a higher set point tend to be happier on a daily basis while others with lower set points tend to have a comparable difficulty in staying happy on a daily basis.
C: Conditions As straight as it sounds, your physical conditions and your environment all tie up together to form this category. The condition of your health, where you live, your salary, and your religion all fall into the category of conditions. Even though your conditions are liable to change, it is quite difficult and expensive to do so; thankfully, your conditions affect only about 10 percent of your enduring happiness.
V: Voluntary choices The best controllable factor of happiness is voluntary control which accounts for about 40 percent of your happiness. How your voluntary way of thoughts and actions make you feel about the past, the present, and the future are your voluntary choices. To improve your happiness using voluntary choices, Seligman encourages us to determine carefully what thoughts and choices to empower the control of our feelings to. Empowering positive thoughts and healthy choices to control our feelings of the past, present, and future can and will increase our level of happiness throughout our lives.
So how does this all fall together? Your enduring level of happiness is determined by the combination of factors including your set point, conditions, and voluntary choices. While your set point and conditions are quite uncontrollable, your voluntary choices are, as defined, choices that you are capable of making; therefore, it is critical to utilize our voluntary choices to create blissful lives. Everyone has their place in the world, and everyone has their own unique stories. Some may have received lemons or hardships in their lives, some may have not. These are conditions that were given to us and are impractical to alter; however, what we can do is manage our voluntary choices. Instead of whining about how sour the lemons in our lives are, people who strive for happiness must wield that lemon to make lemonade, to find optimism in disadvantageous states and conditions: the formula to happiness.