Happiness: Modifyng Our Set Point

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


To what extent is our happiness genetically set by our life situation, events, thoughts and behaviours? Can our happiness “set-point” be modified by specific actions and exercises?

Our own research using a personal stress and health assessment called StressScan suggested a “profile” of employees who were very likely to describe themselves as least happy with work and life. These individuals reported low levels of work and life satisfaction (psychological well-being), poor eating habits (eating/nutrition) and were very self-critical (negative appraisal). We wondered if happiness and life meaning could actually be modified given that research suggests that one’s overall happiness level seems to be at least partially genetically predetermined (50%), partly based on specific events/situations (10%) and can be strongly influenced by what we do each day (40%).

Scientific research until recently supported the idea that what we do each day didn’t have much impact on our unchangeable and biological “set point” for happiness. This older view suggested that happiness was pre-determined genetically and perhaps influenced by our upbringing but always returning to a “set point” and varying only slightly. It also explained why those who are diagnosed with a chronic illness return to about the same level of happiness they enjoyed before they became ill.

To understand life satisfaction completely though, it is helpful to review some of the components that go into most people’s experience of happiness. One of the most important influences on happiness is social support (availability, utility and satisfaction with one’s support network). People who score high on life satisfaction tend to report higher levels of supportive family, friends, and co-workers compared to those who are lonely or alone and are more likely to be dissatisfied. Loss of a close support member may cause much distress and require a period of adjustment creating lower life satisfaction and happiness.

A second factor is being involved in meaningful and engaging work, hobbies or activities. When a person has passion for what they are doing (paid or unpaid) and feels it is meaningful to them, they tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction. So identifying your strengths and passions and attempting to do more of what you truly enjoy is a way to increase your core happiness.

There is no one key to life satisfaction but rather a recipe that includes a number of specific ingredients including some of the following activities that you can practice and employ each day:

  • Sleep: Get adequate rest/sleep as lack of it has been shown to influence fatigue and moods
  • Exercise: Make time for physical activity as those who frequently exercise report lower depression and higher psychological well-being
  • Forgiveness: Forgive others who have hurt you in the past
  • Emotional Expression: The goal is to feel good as opposed to just “feeling good” all the time.
  • Expressing one’s emotions, particularly through writing, can have strong immune protective effects
  • Social Support: Engage with others and avoid those who are “toxic” in your life
  • Daily Affirmations: Reflecting on your blessings each day seems to be associated with increased well-being and happiness
  • Identifying and using Signature Strengths
  • Identifying and leveraging what you do well and how to maximize the application of your unique “strengths” will allow you to be more engaged and satisfied
  • Avoiding Negative Self-Talk: Monitor your own self-talk and work to dispute those things you say that are irrational, absolute, self-critical and/or overly perfectionist

You can also live the words of Jack Buck who said, “Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out”….Be well…
[tags]happiness,sleep, exercise, life satisfaction,psychological well being, subjective well being, fatigue, moods, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


Hot Ideas for Cool Summer Eating

As the mercury rises, it’s hard to think about eating…much less preparing meals. Try these sizzling strategies to help you keep your cool—and your good nutrition in the months to come.

Look to Mother Nature for help.
The deluge of seasonal vegetables and fruits can help keep you away from the hot stove or oven. Turn the summer’s bounty into crisp salads, refreshing desserts, and easy sandwiches without turning on the heat.

  • Dip raw vegetables—like sugar peas and carrots—into fat-free ranch dressing.
  • Enjoy a sliced tomato and mozzarella sandwich with a cool pesto spread.
  • Put grapes in the freezer and pop them in your mouth for a cool frozen treat.

Use everything but the oven.
Rely on the microwave, slow cooker, and rice steamer to help keep the heat out of the kitchen, or take to the outdoor grill for easy lowfat cooking. Grilling chicken or vegetables? Add extra pieces to the grill and enjoy for other meals throughout the week.

Keep it simple.
Keep meals quick and easy. If you do prepare meals, make them early in the day while the temperature is still cool. Many foods taste better when made ahead and refrigerated.

Drink, drink, drink!
It’s easy to get dehydrated in the hot weather. Put your water bottle in the freezer the night before—as it thaws during the day you will always have cool refreshment at hand. Pour your favorite fruit juice mixed with club soda or sparkling water over ice for a fresh fruit spritzer. Or make a fun fruit shake with your favorite fruit, a frozen banana, and liquid of choice (fruit juice, milk, soy milk). Be creative!

No-Cook Meals Made Easy
Here are a few ingredients to keep on hand—or pick up at the store—to help you put together meals that don’t require cooking.

  • Chicken, rotisserie-style—Store-cooked chickens are available and affordable in many markets. Beyond the basic meal of a leg and thigh, convert them into salads, sandwiches and wraps to be eaten later in the week.
  • Canned Beans—Toss them in salads, puree them for dips or use them in no-cook burritos. A great source of protein and fiber! Rinse before using to reduce the sodium.
  • Frozen Shrimp—Buy pre-cooked and thaw for 5 minutes in a colander under cold running water. Perfect for quick seafood meals.
  • Canned & Bottled Vegetables—Roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, beets—or any other of your favorites. Refrigerate and use to build salads and side dishes.
  • Nuts and Seeds—These can add texture, flavor and a great source of fiber to sauces, salads and desserts. Store in an air-tight container to keep fresh.
  • Frozen Fruit—Berries, like raspberries and blueberries make great additions to cereals, salads and frozen beverages like smoothies.