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Why some people find it harder to be happy

Still Waters

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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

The self-help industry is booming, fuelled by research on positive psychology – the scientific study of what makes people flourish. At the same time, the rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm continue to soar worldwide. So are we doomed to be unhappy, despite these advances in psychology?

According to an influential article published in Review of General Psychology in 2005, 50% of people’s happiness is determined by their genes, 10% depends on their circumstances and 40% on “intentional activity” (mainly, whether you’re positive or not). This so-called happiness pie put positive-psychology acolytes in the driving seat, allowing them to decide on their happiness trajectory. (Although, the unspoken message is that if you are unhappy, it’s your own fault.)

The happiness pie was widely critiqued because it was based on assumptions about genetics that have become discredited. For decades, behavioural genetics researchers carried out studies with twins and established that between 40% and 50% of the variance in their happiness was explained by genetics, which is why the percentage appeared in the happiness pie.


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I think the 50%-10%-40% is only an approximation but it does seem interesting that it would be that way. I would have expected circumstances to have more of an impact and genetics to have less of an impact so it makes sense it was critiqued.

Personally, I know people who are happy despite their circumstances but most people with poor circumstances aren’t happy so it makes sense that would have more of an impact but I also know having a positive attitude on any average day can make the difference between it being good and it being bad.

I personally think some people struggle with being happy because they don’t know how. They have lived a complicated life and perhaps they have had happy moments but most of their life has been a struggle. I have talked to people who even when life is going well still feel off. They feel like something bad will happen and ruin the good progress. This keeps them on edge and keeps them from being happy even though everything is technically going fine. 

I know for me personally, I don’t feel I deserve to be happy. I have a very complicated upbringing that has kind of skewed my self-worth and so now I feel unworthy. I’m sure there is others who feel the same way. I still have happy moments but there is an underlying sadness or unease to me that keeps me guarded.


These are just my experiences, I’m sure there is many different ideas and perspectives.

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