We all aspire to be happy. But how many of us can say we are really happy? People seek happiness through their work, love, children, relationships and play. But for many people happiness is often very elusive. Why do some people appear to be happy while others never do? Research indicates that happiness is inherited through our genes. We have all seen the stereotype of the optimist who smiles even when their world is falling apart. And the old grump who wins a fortune, but always has a long face. Happiness may be determined by our genetics rather than our environment.

Research indicates that our levels of happiness may be determined from birth and through brain development. There are strategic ways to increase levels of happiness. The future optimist or the future pessimist may be determined in the first three days of life. The future optimist is identified through high levels of prefrontal lobe activity. This area of the brain is known as the Happiness Centre. While future pessimists will have greater activity on the corresponding parts of the right brain. Children who may develop into pessimists will demonstrate excessive wariness to familiar situations.

Dr Davidson suggests that we are all born with a set point of positive thinking. Davidson explains that if we win a million dollars we will be ecstatic for a time. But inevitably we all return to a natural level of happiness. This ability to return to a normal level is a very positive attribute of human beings. We may experience a great loss in our life, for instance a family member, partner, or pet. We may be depressed for a time. But eventually we will return to our normal level of happiness.

This genetic level of happiness can be observed in identical twins. Identical twins that have been separated from each other often show similar levels of happiness. This may be despite different parenting and social conditions.

Society expects those who have physical beauty to be the happiest. But being attractive is not the real key to happiness. There are many other contributing factors. We have seen many celebrities who appear to have it all, but who live very troubled lives.

Christopher Swane - Counselling and Psychotherapy Services - Wellington New Zealand