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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Kalinowski

Unlocking True Happiness: It's Not What You Think

"Does this sound familiar to you? Do you ever wonder why you're not as happy as you think you should be?"

I hear this often. People often ask themselves why they're not as happy as they expected to be, despite achieving their life goals like landing a new job, losing 20 pounds, or purchasing a new home.

Misconceptions About Happiness:

Most of us have this false belief that external things or events are the keys to happiness.

Researchers in the area of happiness and positive psychology, like Sonja Lyubormirsky, have shown us that our external experiences have very little to do with real happiness. In her book, The How of Happiness, she tells us that 50 percent of the differences in happiness between people can be accounted for by our genetics. That's right, it's like our hair color or eye color, part of our genetic makeup.

What's even more surprising is that our external life circumstances, like the "bowl, bone, and big yard" depicted in the cartoon, account for only 10 percent of our overall happiness. Only 10 percent!

That explains why, even when it seems as if we have everything in life we want, we may not really be as happy as we believe we should be.

The Role of Intentional Activities: That's where the other 40 percent comes in... 40 percent comes from intentional activities and strategies, simply described as intentional habits.


How we take care of our physical bodies has a huge impact on our mental and emotional well-being. When we are sleep-deprived, hungry, or tired, we see the world with a more negative lens. It's as if we switch from seeing a glass as half full to being acutely aware that it is now half empty. Take care of your physical health to increase happiness.

Practice Kindness:

Mark Twain said, "This rings true for many happy people. Acts of kindness toward others have a positive effect on the well-being of both the person being helped and the one doing the helping. The size of the gesture is not important; it can be as simple as holding the door or buying a cup of coffee. When you need a pick-me-up, help someone else out and see how much better you feel.

Practice Gratitude:

In the book Flourish by Dr. Martin Seligman, he talks about the Three Things Study, where participants saw positive effects from writing down three things they were grateful for every day. His research showed that expressing gratitude daily had positive effects, like reducing depression, increasing well-being, and reducing depression. It's simple to do; just take a few minutes each day to identify what you are grateful for and why it is important.

Introducing the "BAG" Exercise: Imagine you carry around a BAG that collects your emotions, experiences, and things throughout your day. At the end of each day, take a moment to rid yourself of all the negativity by taking a deep breath and visualizing yourself dumping the contents of your BAG that may be holding you back from feeling happy, motivated, and energized.

Refill your BAG with the bright spots of your day by answering these three questions, and don't forget to ask yourself WHY each is important to you:

  • B: What was the Best & Brightest part of my day?

  • A: What did I Accomplish today?

  • G: What am I Grateful for? Why is it important?

So, if you find yourself wondering why you're not as happy as you think you should be, try incorporating some of these intentional habits today!

I want to point out that if you feel you are having symptoms of depression or ongoing sadness, please reach out for support from a licensed therapist or counselor.

Depression is a disease that can be treated. Talk to your healthcare provider, or you can go to Psychology Today to search for someone in your area.

Written by Cara Maksimow, LCSW, owner of Maximize Wellness, and FitPro Wellbeing Speaker Read more about Cara here Looking for something different? Contact us to see how we can customize your health talk or activity.


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