Happiness by the Numbers
It is most definitely consistent with a religious conservative’s worldview to argue that experience of happiness is a cocktail of biological, financial, cultural, social, and psychological factors, but I question whether the sort of scientific differentiation that University of Mary Washington Psychology Professor Holly Schiffrin attempts in a recent syndicated column is really all that useful, or even plausible:
So, if about 50 percent of happiness is explained by our genes and 10 percent by our life circumstances, what accounts for the rest? The activities that promote happiness are those we have resorted to during the recession because we haven’t had as much disposable income as usual, such as staying at home for game or movie nights with family and friends.
The No. 1 predictor of happiness across cultures is good relationships.
Schiffrin goes on to mention the possibility of using the little boosts of an expenditure high (in the life circumstances category) in such a way as to assist relationships. In that little concession, though, she pokes a hole in the veneer of categories. Circumstances can make quality time more difficult; moreover, I, for one, certainly have ample experience with the ability of economic hardship to prevent engagement in fulfilling activities, thereby increasing frustration and decreasing happiness. If life circumstances negate good relationships, which category is to blame?
We can go a step farther, though, and question whether even genes can be considered a one-way contributor. My general reading leads me to believe that genetic makeup can change, based not only on environmental and other experiences, but also on the attitudes and beliefs that we internalize. To the extent that that’s the case, genetic factors are more like biological indicators of where we are as organisms, and that is inextricable from where we are as spiritual beings.