RSS Feeds

The formula for happiness: 48:40:12

Tuesday - 12/17/2013, 10:19am  ET

Controlling your happiness

Arthur Brooks, president, The American Enterprise Institute


WASHINGTON - The pursuit of happiness, both as individuals and as a culture, is a never-ending quest that can all-too-often result in frustration and disappointment. But social scientists have nailed down the formula of bliss.

In his Sunday editorial in The New York Times, Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, explains happiness stems from three sources: genetics, events and values.

While half of one's happiness is genetic, Brooks explains 40 percent of happiness can be attributed to events in one's life and 12 percent boils down to circumstances, well within one's control.

"That should give you power," Brooks tells WTOP.

"Everybody's got these cheerful co-workers who are very annoying, and you think they must have some sort of secret potion. ‘What are they drinking, man?' But the truth is, half of your happiness is genetic. And understanding that only about 12 percent of your happiness is under your control … you really can control it."

What are these circumstances one can control to achieve 12 percent of total happiness? Brooks says there are four: faith, family, friends and work.

"Don't waste your time on money, don't waste your time on these things, spend your time on faith, family, friends and work, making sure that your work serves others and creates value. And if you do those four things, you're going to get the maximum amount of happiness," he says.

While a promotion at work, a new house and even a chocolate sundae bring joy, Brooks says the resulting state of euphoria is fleeting -- a temporary feeling.

"People will work for years, just to make a boatload of dough and buy that dream house, and six months later, they're back to their old bummed-out ways," Brooks says.

So while 40 percent of happiness is attributed to events in one's life -- such as that new house, or a professional accomplishment -- the happiness experienced from these milestones is short-lived.

Because of this, Brooks says in his article not to "bet your well-being on big one-off events." Instead, investing energy in faith, family and friends is a better investment for long-term happiness.

"It's important to understand that your frame-of-mind is critical," he says.

"Knowledge is absolute power on this one. It's so important. Every time I write about (happiness), it reminds me of the things that I am doing wrong, and it makes me a better dad."

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.