Fighting our happiness set point.

wpid 2011 02 02 07.42.56 224x300 Fighting our happiness set point.

We’ve replaced the JAR with a SKULL.

Our 2013 gratitude jar commitment has gone better than I’d dared to hope.

Quite frankly I’d envisioned the project as something Id have to nudge the Tornado to grow enthusiastic about.

To my surprise, it’s SHE who usually grabs our pretty pink papers & announces it’s time to write down our thankful thoughts:

photo77 300x225 Fighting our happiness set point.

She enjoys both the process of writing down her gratitude & the experience of revisiting the thoughts.


(so much for the uber-rigid plan of NOT re-reading until New Years Eve 2013. we misfits be a fluid bunch…)

Thanks to this process—only 78 days in—Ive discovered I view gratitude in an wholly different way.

  • Ive always possessed a general sense of gratitude.
  • Ive not always followed the notion of “sometimes the things for which we should be most grateful are the problems we do not have.

Ive spent a great deal of time pondering (and living) that concept the past few months.

Ive also spent time considering the notion of a happiness set point which asserts various factors can nudge our happy-levels up or down but we’re pretty much destined to the same place.

(think weight set point but with your happy.)

Most interesting to me is the only factor which purportedly can change this genetically-determined set point of happiness is gratitude.

photo85 300x209 Fighting our happiness set point.

Whether you are a naturally happy person or not (Im grateful to be a “my glass is overflowing–may I pour some in yours?” gurl) continually working those gratitude muscles can help you *break through* a happiness set point plateau.

Research indicates FORTY PERCENT of happiness is determined by intentional activity.  

We control much of our destiny.  Our HAPPINESS GUNS may be loaded—but we dont have to pull that trigger.

Journal, find a gratitude partner, work on your internal monologue, create a gratitude jar, focus on the gratitude of selflessness.

Whatever you do–commit to living with intentional gratitude activity. 


Today my happiness and gratitude are both sky high.

Im grateful to be stealing this one away for a SURPRISE trip soon (she knows it’s almost spring break…but knows not we’re running away):

photo81 225x300 Fighting our happiness set point.

And you?

  • What problems are you grateful NOT to have today?
  • Do you believe we possess the power to change our happiness set point?
  • Wanna come by & yammer at the husband since we’re abandoning him while the child & I go frolic?




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  1. says

    I’m sure with the Happiness Challenge I have going on it’s unsurprising how interesting I find this topic! I also lecture on Happiness Set Point’s in class. It’s sad to me that I always have a few students who fight the idea that we are primarily in control of our own Happiness – I think the people who don’t believe that are the one’s to sad/unispired enough to work on improving theirs.

  2. says

    Happiness is a choice. I know some people in awful circumstances…yet them smile, laugh, and joke. It inspires me greatly.

  3. says

    I’ve been wanting to start a happiness/gratitude jar with me kids. I’m in the process of a divorce and there’s so much angst involved that sometimes it’s hard to just be happy.

    I agree that happiness is a choice, though. Unhappy circumstances happen, which is exactly why we need to be grateful for the good.

    Thanks for reminding me this morning. I needed it.

  4. Runner Girl says

    Very interesting. I am typially and by nature a pessimist.
    I would love you to be right.

  5. says

    How exciting! I love surprise trips! Makes the adventure that is life…more fun!

    I have definitely changed my mindset when it comes to being grateful for what I have and who I’m with. Life seems to be an everflowing set of ups and downs around here and focusing on the ups (even if they are small) really does make a difference in how happy I am.

  6. Ida says

    I firmly believe we have set points and struggle to nudge mine upward without prescription assistance :)

  7. ANITA says

    I wonder if stuffs like your taking the Tornado away on a fun trip can create new happiness set points?
    Create an expectation life is filled with good?

    • MIZ says

      Im definitely game to try as I cant yet tell what her set point would be…

  8. says

    yes yes yes, this is why i do the gratitude journal and why I say affirmations. i think the way I was raised i lean towards being too serious and these help me shift my energy to a way that I enjoy life more

    • Nikki says

      This may be a silly question but for a natural pessimist…How do you do a gratitude journal?…When you live life with so many regrets and disappointments?I’m nearing 40 and I think I should start :) Don’t know how! Want to begin a new chapter…it’s time!
      Any advice would be appreciated!

  9. Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family says

    I completely agree with you. It’s like hunting the good stuff for me! I think that choosing the positive and searching out things to be grateful for is harder than focusing on the negative. Humans have a negativity bias that we have to overcome.

  10. says

    I definitely agree that happiness is a choice. Life can be pretty harsh sometimes, but I believe that once we have had a day of “this sucks” and “it’s not fair” that it’s time to look on the bright side and be thankful for all we have!

  11. says


    Plenty of probs & people worse out there so I am with that I am glad not to have them but wish we could all help one another!

    Such am interesting post. I NEVER EVER heard this theory of set point for happiness… I just felt we make out own or things happen to make us happy or we do things to make us happy & those around us.

    I am so excited to hear Tornado’s response to the surprise. I did not know it was a surprise! :)


  12. says

    I completely agree that happiness is a choice every day. Some days it is easy to find things that you are grateful for but other days it is a challenge. I love the idea of the family putting things in the jar each day. It keeps our minds on what matters. I have spent my whole life with a father who has a very unpredictable chronic illness. There are days when he is feeling great and others when he struggles to get out of bed. Growing up it was seeing him choose to be thankful for God’s blessings rather than bitter for his lot in life that has made me strive to look at the blessings. I struggle now to get my husband to see this. He is more of a yeah it’s great but…type person. He could look at someone who has just lost 200lbs and say wow he still has a ways to go. It’s frustrating for me but I think we are going to be needing a jar in the Fancy Nancy house…perhaps one with sparkles!

  13. says

    LOVE this post! I actually just did a gratitude guest post on I have to work at it but I truly am so grateful for so much in my life. I do believe happiness is a choice, and I choose to be happy!

  14. says

    I like what you said about working your happiness muscles to break through a happiness set point plateau. I’m a naturally happy person but am not great at expressing gratitude aloud. My husband has kind of a brooding, moody personality and (used to) live by what he called “defensive pessimism”–always assuming the worst will happen so you’ll be prepared if it actually does happen. We recently did a thankful tree, much like you gratitude jar and found that it was a wonderful exercise for all involved.

  15. says

    I’m so happy…dare I say grateful! That you posted this. I try to be a generally happy person, but lately I’ve been getting bogged down in so much STUFF. I mostly need to work on my inner dialogue though. I’m really good at showing people that I have a happy disposition, but then I take out all the negativity on myself. Noooo thank you! But thank YOU for inspiring. :)

  16. says

    I think our set point is our set point. Someone who has a lower set point than you do is not going to be inspired to do the adorable things you do to rock your happiness :) One thing, though, is that I think what you are doing with your moments of gratitude is giving yourself moments of joy. I think joy is not happiness. So…my opinion is all skeewampus and off because I don’t think any of us can even know our true set point for happiness because happiness is tough to measure – because it’s not an emotion, it’s not something creatable, it’s a state of being. In my opinion. Okay, me and the information I’ve gleaned from all the crazy documentaries (which I may have misinterpreted so there’s that).

  17. says

    I never thought about it as a happiness set point before but I like that idea and that you can change where it’s set through a practice of gratitude. I love the Tornado’s notes. Those are so great. Today I am grateful that we did not wake up to snow on the ground :-)

  18. says

    I meditate every morning, seated on my shower floor. Lights out. Hot water awakening me. Among many things I repeat aloud during this time:

    “I will live my intentions this day.”

    It’s a powerful way to start the day…

  19. says

    I absolutely adore that your daughter is so into this activity that is becoming a habit she’ll carry with her throughout life. I think it’s so important to find gratitude, find joy and positivity in even the littlest of things.

  20. says

    gratitude is a feeling or attitude of a benefit we may receive from what we have received or shall received.. the Happiness is the action that shows that feeling or attitude….and all actions have an individualized set point..

    Ironically, I am happy for ALL my problems..they help me move in the happiness actions….to look at what problems I don’t have puts comparison into the mix for me and negates the gratitude I want to experience

    ….and somehow a focus where I don’t want it to be.

  21. says

    So well said! I definitely agree that we have the power to move our happiness set point, and gratitude is one of the best ways to do that. I think good parental models go a long way, too… my mom is a very cheerful, joyful lady, and all of us kids have taken on a similar disposition. She’s taught me how to look for the good in any situation, and see the larger perspective.

  22. Karen says

    I have always like the idea of the things we should feel most thankful for are problems we don’t have.
    It keeps my life in perspective.

  23. says

    I think we have a built in happiness set point. Some people just seem to be naturally of more less happier than others. But I do think you can train yourself to be happy by deciding on what you focus on.

  24. says

    I love the happiness and I think it comes from gratitude. I was listening to a Ted talk on retraining our brains to think in the positive first through gratitude. I’ve been trying and I do think it’s working. You’re such a ball of joy! I love it!

  25. says

    I sooo want to agree with you; I am a fellow ‘glass is half-full’ girl and try to instil this approach in my children.

    While I believe that attitude and perspective are a big part of how happy we are, living with a spouse who has fought depression on and off for years, I also believe that brain chemistry does play a role in how we view things…

  26. says

    I don’t want to rely on external things to make me happy. What if they were taken away from me? Would I still be happy or find happiness?

    I’m choosing to be grateful and that makes me happy…both inside and out.

    • MizFit says

      every single wednesday is early release in CA!
      I wont lie. at first I FREAKED OUT—now I adore the time with her and dodge playdate offers whenever possible ;)

      • cheryl says

        yeah all those teachers are “getting over”- ha. Do you even realise WHY it’s early out? We hate it just as much as parents do believe me-but it’s another federally mandated thing we have to do. All because “they” think we aren’t doing a “good enough” job.

  27. says

    I love your idea of “being grateful for the problems we don’t have!”
    I’m a pretty upbeat person – but I agree with the research – it is mostly from intentional activity. I always tell my boys – you can choose to be happy or not.
    Mostly I choose happy – occasionally I need a reminder and then I will have to think back to this post!

  28. says

    How interesting–I just stumbled on that wiki entry the other day. Hadn’t heard of the Hedonic treadmill before (as I try to avoid most things involving treadmills these days), and found it very interesting.

    You’ve probably already figured out that I have a pretty high “h” set point. :) And when it’s not working I can usually invent something to move the needle a bit. Gratitude is always effective!

  29. says

    I love that you bring the tornado in on this…great way to teach gratitude! I have always believe we control our happiness. I also believe nature plays some role–I find that no matter how upset I might be on something, within a few days I gravitate right back to my naturally happy state. I am thankful for THAT!

  30. says

    My parents have always told me from a young age that I must “snort rainbows and sunshine in the morning” because I’m always overly optimistic even in the saddest situations! I have tried to understand when people aren’t happy and how they can be annoyed and distressed with their lives, but I think that I must have just skipped over that gene somewhere along the line. Gratitude is a practice that we should visit daily and its awesome that you are teaching this to your daughter at such a young age!

    • MizFit says

      honestly I thought it would just be another…not fight…but “to do” for the year.
      Im so excited how the child has embraced it and loves looking for the GRATITUDE in her days.

  31. says

    I love that you’ve included your little one in on the jar project. I think it’s wonderful! We try and make sure at dinner we say one thing that made our day awesome. It’s fun hearing everyone’s answers and it helps open up discussion at the dinner table.

  32. says

    I REALLY love this post. I’m a firm believer in CHOOSING to be happy. I don’t always live it if I have a crap day, but for the most part, I feel life is better and more fulfilling lived in happiness, rather than misery, resentment or excuses. And I would be more than happy to come over and yammer to your husband while you and the Tornado are frolicking. As long as I can stay just a while when you get back and frolic with you too! :) Happy Wednesday Miz!!

  33. says

    Over a year ago i started posting daily on a gratitude list at a forum i belong to. It has helped immensely.

    We can control so much more than we believe.

  34. says

    I do believe that I have a great deal of control over my happiness but I don’t discount outside factors. The happiest times of my life have been when I had the most freedom and control over my life and when my work was valuable and appreciated. For that reason I just don’t believe in any set point for happiness.

  35. says

    I used to torture myself about my purported low happiness set point when I was depressed. :-(

    I’m happy that I didn’t skip my morning resistance workout. I needed it badly because I spent Tuesday glued in front of my computer.

    The skull fits you like a – oom – nail in the head! :-)

  36. says

    These past few days have been the craziest roller coaster I have had to endure yet. Luckily today I am starting to level out again, but of course there is still a lot to deal with. I don’t think it helps that all of the stress that has been building up is now causing me to feel sick (head cold-ish…) and I never get sick. Clearly this means I have been dealing with a ton. But I think I resolved everything this morning (well everything that was bugging me), so I guess I am thankful that today is not yesterday or Monday. I don’t need a repeat – I need to move forward and look forward to what’s coming next! :)

  37. says

    I recently read about that happiness set point thing too and was surprised. I never thought about that. I like how you brought up that we CAN push towards greater happiness with consistent effort and thought on gratitude. Love this!

  38. says

    It is funny…until I moved out of my comfort zone and literally across the county – I never havre realized how happy I am becuase I look at things so differently now. The problems I don’t have make me grateful for what I do have!

  39. says

    great post! it reminds me of brene browns talks and books! shee found in her research, that the happy people were always also doing gratefulness practice. i too believe that you need to practise looking for the good stuff and realising how greatful you are. i would also say that for my life, there has been no correlation between outer things like job, money, love.. and the happiness i felt.
    i enjoyed reading all the comments! you really get us thinking :)

  40. says

    I used to do a jar like that with my students. They would write down things about the other students in class that made them thankful. We read them every Friday afternoon before we left for the weekend. LOVED!

  41. says

    I have read the psychological research on the benefits of creating a happiness journal but what most women don’t realize there are tremendous benefits from physical perspective. Boosting happiness lowers cortisol which promotes thyroid function and this supports balance between estrogen and progesterone! Living in a state of natural hormone balance helps women live a fit life and have a profound sense of well being in the process! Great post!

  42. says

    I love the idea of a “Gratitude Jar.” It is so easy to get negative about things and this seems like an excellent strategy for focusing on the positive. Thank you for sharing this awesome idea!

  43. says

    Okay after my exam this weekend I am making one of these! LOVE!! We all need to pause and take a moment to be grateful for our beautiful life. We are blessed to be here. Something I often forget when swept up in the silly little stresses of life… MUST DO THIS WEEKEND

  44. says

    I try to do at least one good thing a day for someone else which I then believe returns itself back to you (some sort of karma thing). Even if this is not always the case it makes me feel good.Could be something simple like holding a door open for someone or helping a person at work. Give it a try it works wonders.

  45. says

    I love the idea of a gratitude jar. My father’s girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer a little over a year ago and she has spent the greater part of the year since being treated. In the kitchen is a jar full of tiny pieces of paper expressing thoughts, thankfulness and gratitude. I think it is a great idea.

  46. says

    This is just what I needed. Happiness is a choice, it’s not what happens to you that determines your happiness, it’s how you respond to what happens to you :)

  47. says

    I totally believe that part of our happiness is if we focus on the happy parts. I know that you can be in a terrible situation and still focus on the good. Unfortunately, not everyone has that mindset, and when you are in the middle of a tough situation and have a good attittude they might think that you don’t understand the gravity or seriousness of the situation. Everyone handles their “tough stuff” differently, I know I need to look more in the positive than I have been!

  48. says

    I feel that I am generally a happy person. I do try to stay upbeat. I believe we all make our own happiness. We can’t rely on others to do that for us. I know for myself there are some days that I have to remind myself that even if things are bad, it could be far worse. I remind myself to feel grateful and blessed.

  49. cheryl says

    Really-people want to know what they can actually be grateful for? They need advice? Are you healthy? You obviously have enough $ to afford a computer and be on the internet. Do you have kids who are on the spectrum, have special needs or a debilitating disease? Start there! I know many parents who have kids like this and are STILL thankful for the day and their family. Do you have a job? Do you live in a house? Do you have enough to eat? My gosh ladies-what DON’T you have to be thankful/grateful and happy for?

  50. says

    I’m very grateful to not have any problems with my health (besides terrible allergies!) and also to have the physical capacity to perform the activities I do. Every time I go for a run when I really don’t want to, I think of the people who can’t run and would give anything to be able to. And yes I do believe we have the power to change our happiness; when it comes down to it, you can’t rely on anything or anyone but yourself and your own thoughts to dictate happiness.

  51. says

    I’ve come to believe that we ‘choose’ happiness. Until the last 6 months I would have said I wasn’t at all (rarely) happy. That’s changed. I feel far more contented having made some overdue life changes.

  52. says

    I was taught that happiness was not a destination but rather a mode of travel. I know it’s tough to be happy all the time. And, in fact, it sometimes confuses very serious situations if you have someone who seems to be on “happy pills”. But, from reading many of these great posts, I think the world would be a much better place if we were to all take a figurative “happy pill” first thing in the morning. Exercise is that pill for me. Thanks for a great post. — Owen

  53. says

    I’ve not heard of a happiness set point. If I have one it must be set pretty high. Maybe because I was an only child and had to make my own fun, but I find it natural to make my own happy.

  54. says

    Happiness jar sounds like a great idea. I think we need this in our family to keep us together and live a happy and peaceful life.

  55. says

    Been happy is a rare quality people need to choose. If some one gets their mindset positive there world will be brighter and happier.

  56. says

    …and THIS is why I go back and read the blogs I’ve missed even when I go away for vacation. I need to practice more of this type of gratitude and happiness connection. I think it scares me a bit, in that if I am already happy, then what?! I’m beginning to see that it’s OK to be satisfied with where you are and it doesn’t mean there won’t still be growth.

  57. says

    This idea of a happiness/gratitude jar is so positive and uplifting. Happiness IS a choice and you have all the power to choose/set your happiness. Sometimes we take things for granted and don’t realize that so many other people with way less than us, are happy and move forward just the way it is. It is hard to constantly think about this but this post made me take a step back and truly think about my happiness. It’s all about your mindset and how you look at things. Our life is a journey and things may not always go accordingly but it is up to YOU to turn things around and gain positivity :-)

  58. says

    I work on my happiness and gratitude everyday, and I teach my kids to feel empowered about it (as opposed to adopting the victim attitude).
    I built my whole blog around that topic:
    Looking for and finding happiness inside is one the of the most useful tools to have in life.
    I am grateful for very simple things: being born in the right place at the right time, not having any major health or financial or relationship issues.

  59. says

    Happiness is our choice. Something we should control, but we have to learn and work on it every day. Many times people just don’t realize how blessed they are.

  60. says

    Your life is your responsibility, so take charge and make sure you are happy. There is an old saying “count your blessings” and this is a good thing to do regularly.
    There is always something positive in everyones life.
    The advice about starting with one little thing and building on it is excellent.