The Happiness Connection  

Your equation for happiness

Genetics + circumstance + intentional activity = level of happiness

Research has identified genetics, circumstance and intentional activity as the variables that make up our individual levels of happiness. 


Genetics encompasses all the traits we have inherited from our parents, 50 per cent from our biological mother and 50 per cent from our biological father. 

Our emotions are controlled by the hormones that our bodies secrete. Serotonin and endorphins are examples of hormones that contribute to feelings of happiness. 

Your genetic code determines how your brain uses hormones and is one area where nature can deal you a good hand or a challenging one.


Your circumstance is your environment and how you interact with it. This includes things like your upbringing, your financial situation and your profession. 

Nature vs nurture or genetics vs circumstance

The debate over what controls us more, nature or nurture, has been raging for decades. In truth, separating genetics from environmental influences is a difficult task. 

Life circumstances and genes affect one another to such an extent that it is difficult to tell what has resulted from nature and what has resulted from nurture.

Circumstance probably has more of an effect on our happiness if we are worried about whether we will have enough money to pay our rent and buy food, than when we are confident that we will be provided for. 

If we are comfortably well-off, then genetics may have a greater influence on our happiness.

To add even more confusion, not all inherited traits will present themselves. 

You may have a predisposition to risky behaviour, depression, or alcoholism, but that doesn’t mean you will become an alcoholic or be clinically depressed. 

If the stressor that sets the gene into motion never appears in your life, the gene may stay quietly in the background. 

As a result, it is difficult to put an exact figure on how much our well-being is influenced by nature and how much by nurture. 

The two things are intertwined to such a degree that this is an impossible task. Our environments can switch genetic traits on, or leave them dormant. Suffice it to say that both factors play important roles in our levels of life satisfaction.

One of the best sources we have about the genetics vs circumstance contribution to happiness levels comes from studies of twins. 

These studies have included identical and same-sex non-identical twins. They have looked at twins who were raised together and at those who were separated at birth and raised in different environments. 

These studies showed that all the life events or circumstances of one identical twin made little difference when they were compared to the other. 

The level of happiness in identical twins, even if they were raised separately, was very similar. This was the case even if one twin was assessed a decade earlier than the other one.

In other words, if identical twins are raised in totally different circumstances, they will still have a similar level of happiness. 

This evidence points to a strong genetic component to our life satisfaction.

If there are mathematicians reading this, please forgive me for the inaccuracy of the equation at the top of this article. Not all the variables have the same weighting so it should look more like this:

  • G*5 + C + IA*4 = H

Up to 50 per cent of your happiness comes from your genetics, although some research suggests it is only 40 per cent.

If you believe that simply improving your circumstance will lead to long-term happiness, you may be in for some disappointment. 

The happiness equation shows that circumstance is only responsible for about 10 per cent of your happiness. It doesn’t matter how much you buy, or achieve, it is going to make very little difference to how happy you feel over an extended period of time.

You do, however, have the power to change your level of happiness in a significant way, despite your genetics and your circumstances, if you turn your efforts toward intentional activity.

This is the variable that you have control over and it is responsible for 40-50 per cent of your positive feelings. 

Intentional activity

Science refers to intentional activity as the things we think about, and the things we make a conscious choice or decision to do.

Circumstance can occur without any input from you, while intentional activity involves acting on circumstance.

Intentional activities includes goal setting, doing kind things for other people, surrounding yourself with positive people and taking care of yourself physical, socially and mentally.

In the Happiness Connection, I will be sharing more about intentional activity in the weeks to come.

For now, believe that you have a choice in how happy your life is. Even in times of challenge, you can decide whether to have a connection with happiness.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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