Social scientists continue to identify factors that influence how happy an individual is during his or her life. The results are interesting and, more importantly, give us some concrete steps we can take to increase our own happiness.

For many years, the set-point theory dominated the happiness psychology field. Set-point theory proposes that we all have a baseline level of happiness, which is based primarily in genetics and does not significantly change. After we experience major life events, positive or negative, we eventually return to our baseline.

Then, long-term studies produced the u-shaped happiness pattern, which shows that happiness starts high in early adulthood, then gradually declines until it bottoms out at around age 45. After 45, it begins to increase again. However, despite this consistent pattern, it appears that Americans have become steadily less happy overall over the past century.

The latest published research tracked overall life satisfaction in a large sample of adults. The study followed participants for 25 years (1984 to 2008), measuring satisfaction at different points in time. The scientists who conducted this study believed there was more to happiness than a genetically predetermined set point, and, in fact, found that several specific life goals and personal choices can cause substantial and permanent changes in life satisfaction.

So what choices can you make to boost your overall happiness?

Chose your partner carefully. Individuals married to stable partners are happier.

Prioritize. Your chosen life goals and priorities, and, to a lesser extent, your partner's, are important drivers of happiness. Those who consistently prioritize family and altruistic goals over career and material success enjoy greater life satisfaction.

Exercise regularly. Studies show that regular exercise boosts both your energy and your mood.

Find the right job. Working more or less than we'd like makes us significantly less satisfied. Being underemployed can make us just as unhappy as working too much.

Use a process to evaluate choices and make decisions. For example, Dave Carpenter, founder of the website Quantum Leap Strategies, suggests you ask yourself three questions when faced with a choice.

  • Will it bring me peace?
  • Will it add to my energy?
  • Will it advance my life purpose?

In addition to these other suggestions, Carpenter recommends you surround yourself with successful, positive people, tame your ego, participate in activities that bring you peace, learn to let go, and avoid drama. He also encourages us to have a life purpose based on service to others.


Headey, Bruce, Muffels, Ruud, and Wagner, Gert G. "Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Web. 4 October 2010.

Fujita, Frank and Diener, Ed. "Life Satisfaction Set Point: Stability and Change." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88(1) (2005): 158-164. Web.

Lucas, Richard E. and Donnellan, M. Brent. "How Stable is Happiness? Using the STARTS Model to Estimate the Stability of Life Satisfaction." Journal of Research in Personality 41(5) (2007): 1091-1098.

Gelman, Andrew. "Happiness over the life course." Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science. Blog posting. Web. 29 June 2007.

Carpenter, Dave. "Making Good Choices." Quantum Leap Strategies. Web.