Martin Seligman is a pioneer in the area of “positive psychology”. He has written a book entitled “Authentic Happiness” that examines just how much control we really have over the emotion of “happiness.” The answer is not so much as you might think. More exactly, the answer is about 20% to 30% of our emotional state can actually be influenced long term by changing our perceptions and attitudes. The balance of 70% to 80% is determined by our individual genetic code and our circumstances. Seligman uses a basic formula to describe the factors: H=S+C+V where H is your enduring level of happiness, S is your emotional “set point,” C is the circumstances of your life, and V represents factors under your voluntary control.
Unemployment is an emotional drain, and challenges our resources for happiness. Yet, the evidence from psychological studies is that many of us have a “set point” for happiness, and that variations in our “ups and downs” is not as widely fluctuating as you might think. That 20% to 30% of our happiness formula due to voluntary changes therefore will move our happiness to the top of our set range, and hopefully keep it there, but we will not likely will ourselves into a different basic personality profile.
For the unemployed, or for anyone dealing with a negative life experience, the good news is that “happiness” studies indicate that either having more or less of worldly possessions is not a good predictor of happiness. What is important to achieve the result of happiness is to have a sense of purpose and meaning in your life, and to work diligently to fulfill that purpose each day with meaningful, challenging (but attainable) goals.
Interestingly, despite an initially dismissive and even hostile attitude toward religion and happiness, scientists are now accepting the data that persons of sincere faith in a beneficent God have more hope for the future, and more optimism about the present, and are generally more resilient emotionally. Perhaps these “believers” have that sense of purpose and meaning that Seligman defines as a major contributor to happiness whatever the changing circumstances of life.