Happiness Now: The 40% Solution

Happiness Blog

I work full-time as a teacher, part-time as a graduate assistant, and am a student in the Walden Doctor of Information Technology program.  My evenings and weekends are full of reading, writing and grading papers, and I sometimes daydream about graduation and having some free time!  Does this sound like you?  Many of you share my plight, perhaps with children, a spouse, and maybe more than two jobs; some of you take care of parents or family members with medical conditions.  Is it possible to be happy while carrying such a weight, or at least find ways to be happier?  According to researcher and author Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky:  yes.

Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research has been introduced into Psychology and the Good Life, the most popular course in the history of Yale University.  Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos had originally conceived of the course as a week-by-week build up to the stuff that really matters for happiness.  What she found was that students were so overwhelmed with anxiety and stress – unhappiness – that the last part of the course couldn’t wait.  She had to talk to the students about what they could do to be happier now.

While there are pragmatic steps you can take to streamline your crazy schedule, research shows the deeper reasons for unhappiness are internal.  Dr. Lyubomirsky says about 50% of your happiness baseline is derived from genetics, 10% from circumstances, and 40% by your thoughts, actions, and attitudes.  The 40% solution.  Does this surprise you?  Most of us would say circumstances – money, love, a dream job – would have a far greater impact on our happiness level.  You may think, “if only I had this” or “when I get that”, I will be happy! But that’s not the case. You have within your own mind a far greater capacity to be happy than any set of exterior circumstances can provide.

When I was growing up, a neighborhood friend was always cheery and smiling, and she loved to put up posters and notes with positive affirmations.  We would tease her about her Pollyanna outlook on life, but she was onto something.  Thoughts, actions, and attitudes.  As a super-busy Walden student, you probably daydream about the day you have your evenings and weekends back. That’s a natural coping mechanism. But your happiness today does not lie out there in the future somewhere.  Without a good mindset, when your evenings and weekends return it will be something else that makes you think, if only

You can be happier in the present moment of each day by diligently working on your thoughts, actions, and attitudes.  As a graduate student, the research behind this hit me hard.  It gives me confidence and belief in the process of working on my own internal state.  As I work on my internal state, I find I’m more focused on today, on now, and less on the future.  I find pleasure in details and seemingly small things.  My cheery friend might say I’m learning to stop and smell the roses!


Augustine, A. (2013, June 2). How to Balance Multiple Jobs (Without Losing Your Mind). Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-balance-multiple-jobs-without-losing-your-mind

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Penguin.

Sternbergh, A. (2018, May 28). Here’s Your Cheat Sheet to Happiness. Retrieved June 22, 2018, from https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/how-to-be-happy.html

Written by Technology Graduate Assistant, Martin Culberson
Martin Culberson