If you know me well, you know that I like to research, read, learn and better understand happiness and positivity – what drives happiness, why some people are happy when others aren’t, and there is a relationship between being happy and being positive. Recently, I started reflecting on the “why” of my focus on happiness and the underlying influence in my life…
Most studies show that there are three primary areas where happiness comes from – our genes, our circumstances, and ourselves. The percentages across each of these vary slightly from report to report; however, I am safe in general saying that 50% comes from genes, and 10% is due to our circumstances – leaving 40% that is within our control. This is why they say that much of your happiness is your choice.
Looking at these percentages, understanding that a percentage of a person’s happiness is genetic and based on their surroundings, I looked to understand where my positivity and happiness came from in my developmental years and beyond.
Growing up I was generally happy and positive; however, I didn’t understand the drivers behind my perspectives. We had a great neighborhood, one of those where we’d be out with friends playing kick the can or some other activity that involved $0 investment “until the street lights came on”. The good news is that due to the power of technology and social media, I am still connected to many of those that ran the streets around Livonia.
While never really being a person who reflected on the past, it was a challenge for me to be open-minded to discover these influences. I did have a number of good teachers, but at the time, I wasn’t really the studious type (shocker) to have one that I could say was an influence. I also had a number of good mentors in my career, but by that time, I believe my perspectives were already ingrained. The one thing that kept coming to me was my Dad. Again, I haven’t been one, previously, to say that my Dad was one of the bigger influences on my life, but this time of reflection allowed me to see a variety of different things.
My Dad generally saw the positive in things, so much to the point that there is actually a joke in the family about him saying that every meal he had was the best he had ever had – no matter what his meal was, it was the best he’d had… that was the best steak, that was the best burger and so on. I can’t remember a time when he said that his meal was “bad”.
This doesn’t mean that my Dad saw everything as sunshine and rainbows, he was realistic, but generally saw things from a positive perspective.
As I continued to think through this process and remember back to the key areas where happiness comes from (genes, environment, ourselves), I can align myself with the fact that 50% of my perspective on life and happiness comes from my Dad’s genes. As he was an only child, I am unable to compare his perspectives with his siblings and his father died at an early age so I never knew him. While I knew his mother, my grandmother, I can’t say I knew her well, but I do know that she wasn’t the most positive.
Reflecting on my memories, I think my Dad was simply grateful for what he had and wasn’t trying to compete with others. He set an example of his gratitude by working to give back to the community. We weren’t wealthy, so I can’t say he was a philanthropist, but more of a servant to the community. I don’t remember a time that he wasn’t engaged with the church – St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church – Livonia, Michigan. Then after he retired, he expanded his volunteer work with the Open Door program at Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit. He’d be at Fort Street every Thursday morning supporting those in need with not only food but other basic necessities of life – hygiene kits, access to medical facilities, clothing, etc.
Another example that stands out for me around his focus and gratitude, was the day my daughter was born. While he’d been planning his retirement from Chrysler, the day I called to say that my wife was in labor, he handed in his papers, retired, and headed to Indianapolis to welcome his first Grandchild.
So, suppose the studies are accurate and 50% of one’s happiness comes from genes and another 40% comes from within themselves. In that case, I believe my Dad’s genes and his overall perspective had a significant influence on why I generally have a more positive perspective and try to be happy. It really took me a while to dig through my memories to determine that it was my Dad that influenced me in this way. I am not sure how much this influenced my professional life and career; however, I do believe that positive psychology in a professional environment does tend to drive success.