The formula for happiness

More and more, I have come to appreciate my “happiness” genes!
I was 18 years old when my last grandparent died, but I remember Anna Nafziger Moser well.
She always had a smile on her face. She was very good at coping with hardship, and always laughed instead of crying.
In fact, she could laugh at anything.
When the young boys of her upstate village stole her buggy on Hallowe’en, she laughed, knowing they would bring it back. And when we went shopping in nearby Watertown, she ordered her favorite drink, a “Coksi-Pepsi,” and that was always worth a laugh.
I never knew my Gingerich grandparents, but I know my 50-some cousins. And they are the “laughingest” crowd I’ve ever met.
Not because they have had no adversity, but especially because of adversity.
Our cousin reunions are full of practical jokes and lots of laughter. We laugh about my brother, Jim Gingerich, and my cousin, Jim Gingerich, always trying to figure out who is “the real Jim Gingerich.”
We laugh at anything—just for the fun of laughing.
So if happiness is genetic, then I have “happiness” genes.
Interestingly, Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” says present-day researchers believe happiness is at least partially genetically determined.
Lyubomirsky, who is an award-winning University of California researcher, says that other research, as well as hers, suggests the heritability of happiness may be as much as a whopping 50 percent.
So if you have inherited happiness genes, give thanks. But don’t give up just because you grew up in a family that always saw the dark side of things.
In “The How of Happiness,” Lyubomirsky has a pie graph of happiness. Of course, the biggest piece of pie is the 50 percent from your genes and the home you grew up in.
So says Lyubomirsky, “We are dealing with a stacked deck to some extent . . . but 50 percent is a long way from 100 percent, and that leaves ample room for improvement.”
The other two slices of the pie are 10 percent and 40 percent.
If you feel that you’re mostly unhappy because of the situation you find yourself in, think again. Lyubomirsky reports that, unless you are in abject poverty, only 10 percent of your happiness comes from your circumstances.
The other 40 percent is up to you. Lyubomirsky labels it “intentional activity.” In other words, the activities you do to make yourself happier.
She suggests 12 intentional strategies to induce happiness. Focus on one or two at a time. Choose the activities that fit your personality and your needs at this time, and you may be amazed at the results.
Some of the happiness strategies Lyubomirsky recommends are expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, practising acts of kindness, nurturing social relationships, learning to forgive (yourself and other people), and savoring life’s joys.
Whatever your genetic makeup, you can strive for more happiness. And always remember that happiness is not a selfish goal. Because when you’re happy, you make other people happy.
So why not begin today taking charge of your 40 percent of the “formula.” Start with the strategy of your choice and let happiness grow!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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