Here’s a commonly-used test you can use to measure your overall level of happiness (in scientific language, “Subjective Well-Being”). Credit goes to Ed Diener, the pioneer of SWB research, who generously makes this available without copyright.
Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 – 7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.
4—Neither agree nor disagree
______In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
______The conditions of my life are excellent.
______I am satisfied with my life.
______So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
______If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
35-31 Extremely satisfied
21-25 Slightly satisfied
15-19 Slightly dissatisfied
5-9 Extremely dissatisfied
Got your score? OK, but I think there are going to be a good number of readers who will just be confused. I scored a 27. I should be happy, but I feel miserable a lot of the time. What’s wrong with me? Please go About Happiness to see why you may not feel as happy as this test suggests.
Can You Be Happier?
If you take that test every year, your scores are going to be pretty similar every time. That finding, and a great deal of other research data, suggests that each of has a “set point” for happiness, like a thermostat; a self-regulating mechanism that returns us to our own characteristic subjective well-being point after the ups and downs of immediate joy and misery have worn off. If so, can we adjust it? If my happiness thermostat is set for a relatively cool 65 degrees, can I turn it up to a warmer 72? Or is the set point something that’s determined so much by our genes and our early life experiences that adults should not try to change it but put on sweaters instead?
There’s much exciting research going on right now about how our genes work, which ends up in the newspapers and television as “finding the gene for” happiness, baldness, shyness—just about anything. That’s an enormously oversimplified view of how genes operate. As far as happiness is concerned, this oversimplified gene theory suggests that some of us are constitutionally bubbly, while others are genetic sourpusses—and it’s in our genes and there’s nothing we can do about it. Things are not really so dismal: though we obviously have basic temperamental differences, there is good reason to believe that the set point is changeable, especially through some of the mindfulness techniques we’re going to talk about. Nor is it necessarily the case that the set point is determined by our genes alone; by the time we reach adulthood life has treated some of us well, and some of us badly, and it would be foolish to argue that those experiences don’t influence our level of happiness. As we continue to age our set points will continue to change because of our experiences. Fortunately, we have some power to choose what kinds of experience we will have.