Use the Set-Point Theory to Live a Happier Life


If you are the happiest person in the world you don’t need to read this article.  Carry on being your happy self.

If you would like to be a little happier, read on.

If you are naturally pessimistic, seeing the world as “the glass is half empty” and constantly telling yourself, “this is who I am and this is who I will always be,” then I implore you to read on.  

Read on because you are telling yourself a story about yourself that simply is not true.  It’s not true because we all have the ability to change. The challenge is that change is hard.  

Understanding the set-point theory of happiness will help you be happier, and when you are happier, you will lead a more fulfilled life.  

Set-Point Theory for Body Weight

The set-point theory of weight loss maintains that your body has a natural weight range where it wants to be.  Just like your hair color, eye color and height are genetically determined, so it is for your weight.

Why is it that the most popular weight loss articles talk about how to lose that LAST ten pounds?  Because your body is fighting to get back to its natural body weight. You are fighting against your own set-point.

The theory goes that if you lose twenty pounds and focus on keeping that weight off, over time your body will adjust to that new weight.  Once your body understands that this is the new normal, you can focus on losing additional weight.

I saw the set-point theory play out in my own life in a not so pleasant way.  When I was ill, I lost so much strength for such a long period of time, that I started to think that was the way I would always feel.  I accidentally created a new, lower set-point.

Luckily, I learned about the Goldilocks Rule and applied it to overcome that obstacle in my life.  

Set-Point Theory for Happiness

For a long time, psychologists thought that happiness was also controlled by a set-point: that you were born with a predetermined level of happiness.  You could try to be happier but eventually you would fall back to your set-point.

This point of view – that you are who you are – gets imprinted on you during childhood.  This imprint becomes your operating system. Your operating system determines your values, beliefs and convictions.  Your beliefs shape your view of the world: “I am who I am and I am never going to change.”

Ugh.  Ugh because that is your inner critic telling yourself a story, a story which can cement you into a fixed mindset

But there is good news!  Just as you can overcome your set-point body weight, you can also recalibrate your set-point for happiness.

Here’s how.

Think Differently

Dr. Martin Seligman, widely regarded as the father of positive psychology, argues that optimism isn’t something that is fixed but rather something that can be learned.

Seligman suggests that pessimists and optimists can look at the same situation and interpret it completely different.  He calls it your explanatory style:

“The manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why events happen” (Seligman, 1990).

The following chart outlines characteristics of each explanatory style.

First, realize when your operating system is at work.  When your thoughts gravitate toward the left column…

“This will last forever.”  “This is going to undermine everything.”  “It’s me. It’s my fault.” “There is nothing I can do about it.”

…take a moment to understand that you are having thoughts only and that isn’t your reality.

Viktor Frankl, famed neurologist, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor said,

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

My life changed once I learned this concept.

In order to be happier, think differently.  Acknowledge the pessimistic thoughts that your operating system produces for you, then dismiss them.  As you dismiss them, focus on happier thoughts:

“This too shall pass.”  “What I am dealing with is isolated and not pervasive.”  “I’m not entirely at fault.” “There is something I can do.”

Brian Clark produced an infographic to help you be happier.  These principles can also help you to change your set-point for happiness.

Build Strong Relationships Through Networking

In the book, The Go-Giver, the authors, Bob Burg and John David Mann, outline The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.  It is worthwhile to review these laws to build stronger relationships in life.

The five laws of stratospheric success:

The Law of Value – Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than what you take in payment.

The Law of Compensation – Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.

The Law of Influence – Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.

The Law of Authenticity – The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.

The Law of Receptivity – The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

When you give more, you become happier.

Choose a Fulfilling Career

We spend more than one third of our lives working yet many of you aren’t focused on your calling.  Here’s four techniques to find your “why” in life.

  1. Set aside time to think.
  1. Conduct an inner-interview.
  1. Figure out what legacy you want to leave behind.
  1. Reframe your current job.

Create a Life Manifesto

A manifesto is a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives.  Manifestos usually pertain to corporations, organizations and governments.

Why not individuals?  We should have our own unique manifesto!

Here is my personal manifesto:

  • Acknowledge fear.
  • It’s impossible to get through life without experiencing adversity.
  • We are defined not by how we react when times are great, but instead by how we respond when times are difficult.
  • Vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
  • None of us have all the answers; be curious.
  • We’re all going to die (maybe even tomorrow) so be bold in your decisions.
  • Take time to figure out your life’s purpose, otherwise you will be rudderless.
  • Yesterday’s crazy idea is tomorrow’s success.
  • It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  – Aristotle
  • Contribute to a cure for cancer.

What is your personal manifesto?  When you have a life compass you can always check yourself.  When you live to the standards you create for yourself, you are bound to be happier.

The Bottom Line

While you may have natural tendencies towards happiness or unhappiness, do not believe you have a predefined set-point for happiness.  Just like you can recalibrate your set-point for weight, you can also change your set-point for happiness.

When you do, you will be one step closer to leading a more fulfilling life, and isn’t that what this journey is all about?



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