HOW HAPPY ARE YOU, NATURALLY?

Psychological theory says everyone has a “happiness set point”—that just as some people are naturally good at math or music, some people are gifted with temperaments that make it easier to be optimistic in tough circumstances. Then there are those who can’t enjoy health, wealth, or leisure for fear of losing it.

 

According to the “set point” theory, only 10 percent of how unhappy you feel can be blamed on outward circumstances. The good news is:

  • You can stop feeling guilty about not being perpetually cheerful. (And it’s fine if you’re never bubbly and outgoing; natural ways of expressing happiness are also unique to individuals.)
  • No one’s set point is so low as to make a life of perpetual misery inevitable.
  • Your natural temperament directs only about half of your everyday mood. The rest of how happy and optimistic you feel is up to you.


Want to get an idea of your natural happiness level? Take the following quiz, marking each item as one of the following:

  1. This is definitely not true of me, and I have little hope it ever could be.
  2. This is only true of me when I’m feeling good about all my circumstances.
  3. This is true of me if I make an effort at it.
  4. This is true of me unless I am having a particularly bad week.
  5. This always comes naturally to me.

 

(1) My appreciation for “good luck” continues after the lucky circumstance becomes the new normal.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(2) I expect the best even when the odds seem against it.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(3) I like myself.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(4) I usually feel happy.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(5) Even when I have unresolved challenges or a lot to do, I feel that life is basically under control.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(6) I welcome and take advantage of new opportunities.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(7) I rarely think in terms of “I’d be happy if” or “I’ll be happy when,” because I believe happiness is found right where I am.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(8) I am grateful for all the good things in my life right now.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(9) As a whole, my life up to now has been satisfying and rewarding.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(10) Good news and good possibilities stick in my mind more naturally than bad ones.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(11) When I hear bad news, I am quick to find something I can do to help matters.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(12) I enjoy, and regularly consume, positive and inspirational media.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(13) I rely on my own knowledge of myself, plus a few trusted advisors, to decide what path my life should take.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(14) I believe that my friends like me more for my company than for how well I perform.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(15) The people I spend most of my time with are cheerful, hopeful, and empathetic.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(16) I have at least two people in my life I can trust with my struggles and secrets.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(17) I help others because I want to, not because I feel obligated.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(18) I can say no to requests without feeling guilty or hurting the other person’s feelings.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(19) I am content to finish things at a natural speed, without rushing, watching the clock, or constantly counting hours to deadline.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(20) I have my own permission to be imperfect.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(21) I have a good sense of how much I can do in the available time, and I am not tempted to take on more than I can handle.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(22) I believe that I have the power and responsibility to make myself happy.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(23) I believe that I have the power and responsibility to make my own luck.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(24) People say they like having me around.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(25) Other people listen to me and are glad to have my input.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(26) When something good happens to someone I know, I am more likely to be happy for them than to think, “Why not me?!”

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(27) I laugh easily.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(28) I find it easy to make time for things I enjoy doing.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(29) I end most days content and relaxed. If asked, “Did you have a good day?” I will nearly always answer, “Yes.”

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(30) I have little difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. I wake up looking forward to each new day.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(31) I rarely feel the physical symptoms of stress (tensing muscles, rapid breathing, spontaneous aches and pains).

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(32) I find it easy to practice good physical and mental health habits.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(33) I get over disappointment quickly.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(34) I rarely stay in a bad mood for long.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(35) When I don’t get what I expect, I shrug it off and quickly find an alternative.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(36) I am resilient in the face of pain or loss. I make adjustments and carry on, continuing to appreciate the good that remains in my life.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(37) I am not easily distracted.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(38) I have long-term goals, and I work toward them every day or week.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(39) I have a sense of higher purpose for my life. I am regularly doing what I was made to do.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

(40) I am growing more optimistic/happy/successful/effective all the time.

            1          2          3          4          5

 

Scoring: Add up the numbers you marked. Check your total against the following scale:

 

40–72: Your happiness level is dangerously low; you may be at risk for clinical depression. Consider a professional mental-health evaluation. Also consider joining the Live as an Optimist community (links below) to pinpoint first steps in changing negative habits. No one is beyond hope for improvement!

 

73–104: Happiness is naturally challenging for you. Be on your guard against “should syndrome”—“I should be cheerful all the time, I shouldn’t get upset so easily”—which only makes things worse by inducing false guilt. Treat yourself gently, be content to be quietly content, and check out the Live as an Optimist community for ideas on appreciating where (and who) you are.

 

105–136: You’re about average in happiness set point, and your moods easily fluctuate with circumstances. Remember that noticing the negative is only human: it dates back to times when daily survival depended on anticipating trouble before it happened. With a little practice, you can learn to focus more on the positive and to give the negative only the attention it warrants. The Live as an Optimist community can help you develop the necessary skills.

 

137–168: You’re a naturally happy person who easily sees good in all but the toughest situations. Do watch out for tendencies to ignore points of concern until they grow into real problems. Consider joining the Live as an Optimist community to further hone your happiness-nurturing skills.

 

169–200: You have an extra-high happiness set point and are a natural optimist. You may also struggle to understand why not everyone finds optimism easy: be gentle with loved ones who show annoyance at your exuberance. You can still benefit from the Live as an Optimist community, by gaining new insight into optimism principles and into others’ happiness levels. No one ever gets so good at anything that they can’t benefit from learning more!

 

Sign up for the Live as an Optimist mailing list, and join the Facebook group, to get in the optimistic-living loop. And to get ready for the upcoming e-course, Live as an Optimist in 66 Days.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT HAPPINESS AND “SET POINTS”

 

Argyle, Michael, Peter Hills, and Stephen Wright. Take the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire

Dvorsky, George. Take This Quiz to Measure Your Happiness Scientifically

Gabriel, Linda. 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Happiness Set Point

Happy Brain Science. Happiness Test

Lickerman, Alex. How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point

Puff, Robert. Your Set Point for Happiness

Pursuit-of-Happiness.org. Happiness Quiz: How Happy Are You?

Stambor, Zak. Is Our Happiness Set in Stone?

Suval, Lauren. Happiness and Choices