Researchers Found 40% of Happiness Depends on This

The reason most people believe they can’t be happy or have joy is because they think they can’t change their circumstances. And so, they spend most of their time reacting to their uncontrollable circumstances.

They would be right about one thing. For the most part, they can’t change their circumstances. Unexpected setbacks and uncontrollable circumstances are part of the human experience. 

But their circumstances don’t have to doom them to unhappiness forever.

Studies reveal that only 10% of our overall happiness is affected by our circumstances. 

The same study reveals that 50% of our overall happiness is affected by our genes. But people place too much emphasis on how their genes affect their happiness. They don’t place enough emphasis on the 40% that determines how those genes get expressed.

40% of our overall happiness depends on our thoughts and actions.

We are not at the mercy of our circumstances. Our circumstances are at the mercy of our thinking.

But how do we control our thoughts and actions about our circumstances? How do we exercise control over our thinking and actions so we don’t fall victim to our circumstances?

The answer lies in planning positivity.

When you expect a setback or a stressful circumstance to occur, you can be proactive about it and plan your positivity.

We spend too much time reacting to negativity when we should be spending more time planning for positivity. Here’s what that looks like.

3 Core Components to Planning Positivity

Psychologist Walter Mischel is known for his marshmallow tests studying the self-control of children. But in another study, he learned how we can stay focused on a goal when distraction comes. His experiment involved Mr. Clown Box. 

The children were given a boring task—to fit pegs into a board. However, if they successfully completed this task, they would be able to play with fun toys. 

There was only one problem . . . Mr. Clown Box would interrupt them with flashing lights, sounds, and talking. Before they started on the board, they were warned that Mr. Clown Box would try and interrupt them.

In this study, Walter Mischel discovered some core components that can help us stay focused on a goal when our circumstances try to work against us.

1. Good self-talk. 

The kids who stay focused on the task were the ones who practiced good self-talk. They practiced their speech before, and were able to coach themselves to stick to their plan.

2. A specific plan.

The kids who ignored the onslaught of Mr. Clown Box were the ones who had specific plans for what to do when he tried to interrupt them. Researchers call these plans implementation intentions.

3. An enticing reward.

Every kid wanted to stay focused on the task because the reward of playing with the fun toys was exciting enough. They had a reward in mind to keep them focused.1

Another note: the kids who had a specific plan and good self-talk still gave a little attention to Mr. Clown Box. They were not impervious to their circumstances. But these kids also returned to the task more quickly than they would have if they did not have a plan or good self-talk. 

When we have a circumstance we expect to be difficult ahead, we can arm ourselves with good self-talk, a specific plan, and an enticing reward. Lets talk about how to put this together in a plan for positivity. 

The Positivity Cycle™

The Positivity Cycle is an emotional intelligence tool to help you plan for positivity.

There are four components to it:

  • Belief: the new belief you want to drive.
  • Evidence: the existing evidence you have to belief this thought right now.
  • Action: the tiny action you could do to support this new belief.
  • Reward: how you’ll celebrate once you do the tiny action.

Whenever constructing a Positivity Cycle, I first build out a Negativity Cycle. The Negativity Cycle is a pattern of thoughts, emotions, and actions that cause us to spin in negativity. 

Once I identify what thought is tripping me up in the Negativity Cycle, I ask myself: what new belief do I want to have instead?

Here’s how a completed Positivity Cycle would look like:

I can complete all of my work this week (Belief) because I have had much harder weeks than this one before (Evidence). So I will plan my day for 2 minutes each morning (Action), and celebrate with extra time on my hobby (Reward). 

This one statement helps me show up for my negative circumstances with positivity, hope, and optimism. It doesn’t mean I won’t be unaffected by my circumstances, but it does mean I’ll be less impacted by them.

The belief component gives me good self-talk, and the evidence helps me believe it more. The action is small enough to give me a boost of confidence and take one tiny step forward. And the reward keeps me motivated.

Plan Your Positivity

So if you look ahead to your week and see circumstances you do not want to face, remember: you can change how you think about those circumstances. If you can plan your thoughts and actions with a Positivity Cycle, you’ll be prepared for those negative circumstances.

Here’s how to put everything together:

  1. List an upcoming stressor. 
  2. Do a Negativity Cycle. Learn how to do one here.
  3. Plan out your positivity with a Positivity Cycle.
  4. Do the action. 

With good self-talk, a specific plan, and an enticing reward you can get back to your goal faster without the sabotage of negativity.

This is how your circumstances only account for 10% of your overall happiness. Exercise the other 40% with this tool and you’ll keep your happiness and joy strong in midst tough circumstances. 

1. Walter Mischel, The Marshmallow Test (New York, Little, Brown and Company, 2014), 62-67.

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