40 Percent of Happiness Is Driven by Behavior and Mindset — Here's How to Make the Most of It

POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone
POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone

Some people see the glass half full, some see it half empty. But what does that really mean? When we talk about creating a happier life, those half-full types of people are right, according to many various scientific studies that have been conducted over the past few decades.

The half-full types perceive that life is positive because they can control it. Believing that you have control over your life is more than half the battle.

Research tells us that about 50 percent of our happiness levels are influenced by our genetic makeup, something that we cannot control. Then, you've got to remove another 10 percent slice of the happiness pie due to life circumstances, like health, marital status, and career that we also have less control over. However, that leaves us with 40 percent (almost half) of the happiness pie that is ours to enjoy to the fullest. This means we have the potential to control almost half of the factors, mostly the patterns in our everyday behaviors and thoughts, that influence how happy we feel in our lives. That's a highly empowering fact.

Here are some scientifically proven behaviors that you can apply to make the most of that 40 percent and enjoy a more fulfilling life:

1. Stay social

Keeping regular contact with around 10 friends has been shown to increase happiness levels and the length of your life. Studies have also found that senior citizens, those who have lost a loved one, heart attack survivors, and people with cancer or diabetes have strongly benefited in health and well-being from having the support and positive emotions from friends and family members.

2. Meditate often

Research shows that meditating just 25 minutes a day three times a week has a significant impact on improving your mood and changing the way you deal with stress. You may find yourself sleeping better, feeling more peaceful and relaxed on a daily basis, and even sensing an improvement in any long-term health conditions. Of course, sitting quietly and stilling your mind for 25 minutes isn't easy for everyone. Search for a meditation technique that works best for you, either online or in a class. Start slowly and move at your own pace.

3. Spend time outside

Aside from the "sitting disease" that we risk by staying in our homes, cars, and offices all day and night, stepping out to get some fresh air, whether it's sunny or not, is important to our happiness levels. Just a 20-minute stroll, jog, or run can help boost a good mood, improve our working memory, and broaden thinking.

4. Be grateful

Many studies have linked a practice of gratitude to greater well-being. No need to wait for Thanksgiving — recite the things you are thankful for when you wake up or when you go to bed. Make a list and keep it on your desk at work, on your fridge, or even on your phone. Tell people how grateful you are to have them in your life; send them flowers or thank you cards and emails spontaneously.

Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator and published author. She figures out the science of what makes people tick at her human behavior research lab, the Science of People. As a geeky, modern-day Dale Carnegie, her innovative work has been featured on NPR, Business Week, and CNN, and her latest CreativeLive class, The Power of Happiness, teaches you how to be a happier person every day.