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The Formula for Happiness and Thanksgiving

It’s the evening before Thanksgiving. My husband, Joel, has been sick as a dog all day (vomiting, etc.) and I’m fairly certain our Thanksgiving tomorrow isn’t going to be a formal affair. That’s okay – I’m actually not a big one for holidays, and I’m cool just chillin’.

But it’s still a bit of a bummer, so instead moping around feeling sorry for ourselves we decided to watch a documentary entitled “Happy.” (You can stream it on Netflix.)

My favorite documentaries dump massive amounts of data on me. “Happy” doesn’t do that, but man – what great reminders.

First, it seems that about 50% of our happiness depends upon genetics, which is somewhat out of our control. On top of that, about 10% is reliant upon the kinds of things we usually associate with what will make us happy, i.e. the quality of our possessions, how much money we have, how attractive we are, where we live, etc… So, depending upon how you see things, around 60% of happiness is arguably beyond our control (depending upon things like the country you live in). That means a full 40% of our happiness is up to us.

Happiness is the result of dopamine, a neurotransmitter our brain releases that make us feel good. We have a limited amount of them, and it seems to fall under the ‘use it or lose it’ policy. When we exercise them like a muscle, we retain our dopamine neurotransmitters. When we don’t use them, they start to go away and there’s no real evidence that they ever come back. So, ombviously it’s important to make sure we DO use the.

There are a few things that we need as a baseline. We need to have our basic needs met, such as food, shelter, and so on. Interestingly, however, while there’s a significant difference in the happiness between someone (in the U.S.) making $5,000 a year and someone making $50,000 a year, there seems to be no discernable difference in happiness between someone making $50,000 a year and someone making $50,000,000 a year.

Making money is called an extrinsic motivation, and is joined by things like image and status. There is very little relationship between these extrinsic motivators and happiness, and in fact they may actually be in competition with each other.

What is far more influential are called “intrinsic motivations,” things that feel good internally when they are done. They pretty much make up that entire 40% of controllable happiness.

One major intrinsic motivation is “flow,” a state where we feel ‘in the zone’ and lose time due to pleasure in an activity. It relies on mastery and interest, like playing an instrument at which you’re getting better and better.

Other intrinsic motivations are personal development, relationships, values, social bonding, cooperation and having a ‘spiritual’ side, or seeing life as being bigger than yourself.

Studies all indicate that extrinsic motivation seekers are generally more depressed and feel less vital, while intrinsic motivation seekers report less depression and more vitality.

An example of this is post-WWII Japan. After the devastation of the war, Japan focused on rebuilding the country and creating material prosperity. It became woven into their culture, and now Japan is entirely focused on material prosperity – an extrinsic motivation. While they’ve accomplished amazing things, it’s come at a price. They are the least happy of the wealthy countries. Working oneself to death is common enough for them to have a word for it: Karoshi.

There is a major exception to this in Japan, the island of Okinawa. The inhabitants of Okinawa enjoy exceptionally long lifespans (people frequently live to over 100 years old). Their culture encourages relationships with people from different villages and ages, and get together regularly to discuss the day. One woman was quoted as saying, “Having a lot of friends is happiness.” They even cremate their dead and mix their ashes to remain ‘one family’.

Exercising Happiness

According to mind mapping technology, meditation that focuses on compassion and loving kindness increase happiness, as well as having it last longer than most anti-depressants. Focusing on love, cooperation, compassion and relationships actually changes the physicality of our brains.

The documentary lands the plane with this quote “If we spend a few minutes every day to exercise happiness, compassion and love, the entire world would really change. Think of it as a skill, not different than playing the violin or golf. Play, new experiences, friends and family, doing things that are meaningful, appreciating what we have. They’re free. With happiness, the more you have, the more everyone has.”

So, while you’re enjoying your turkey tomorrow (or, since you’ll be reading this on Thanksgiving, today) and thinking of things you’re grateful for, ask yourself if you can incorporate a meditation on gratitude, love, compassion and happiness in your everyday life. Just a few minutes could truly change the world.

Happy Thanksgiving!


p.s. Try these exercises for happiness:

Every Sunday write down 5 things you’re grateful for as a family tradition.

Commit random “acts of kindness,” i.e. put quarters in a stranger’s parking meter, or visit a nursing home.

Antonia Dodge is a co-founder of Genius Awakening, a business designed to help people leverage their own mental processes to optimize productivity, communication, job satisfaction, and most importantly – happiness. She has over 10 years in applied psychoanalytics, profiled hundreds of people, and consulted for companies such as Zappos, Zappos Insights, Hot Topic Media, Oracle and Voyage Media. She has helped developed over 20 high level trainings, products and resources and served on the leadership team to plan and orchestrate TEDxSinCity, an independently organized TED event held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

About Antonia Dodge

Seeing how people tick is at the heart of Antonia’s natural ability to understand how people systems work. She is an author, thought leader, coach, trainer, systems thinker, and personality profiling expert.  At the age of 15 Antonia picked up a book on personality psychology and her world changed forever. She began to see the patterns of why people do what they do – not based on behavior alone – but based on how the mind works. Antonia has co-developed a 6-month profiler training course that teaches coaches and business professionals how to "speed read" people, understand how their mind works and and then work with the unique personality for achievement, life purpose, or team building.
  • Tom

    Happiness is tied to ones own personal spiritual perception, the more love one encompasses in their life the more happiness is achieved. Material things and the science behind them is but the fleeting shadow of true reality which is happiness, happy to be challenged, happy to be alive, happy to be an AMERICAN. A mixed breed of exceptional character and fortitude, those who embrace the ideals of our society and not the immediate self gratification of material reality are those who will be the happiest. Find God for yourself, however you choose to look you will find Him within.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Salvador

      Great information.Thank you. It is important to know the reason for many things…

  • emmanuel

    Am very excited reading this information.I ask that God give you yur strength to use in blessing the world


    My father always told me that “Happiness is a state of the mind “ TRUE
    be forever grateful for the small things in life. Smile frequently, it is very infectious=“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you.“
    At your evening meal take it turns round the table to say
    1) what you have enjoyed most to-day and
    2) what you are most greatful for today. My grandchildren do this ( when we remember)
    it is lovely and triggers off many an interesting conversation.

  • Vanessa

    Not sure how to explain this but here I go: Happiness is within, it’s a spiritual sense of well being. A feeling of being true to what is you. Often times we rely on external forces outside of ourselves to be “happy.” Yes, external factors can and will contribute to our happiness but only because we are in touch with our own inner self that is a reflection of our external world. So, if you are content on the inside, your outer world will mirror that back to you and vice versa. Perhaps if we are working towards that we can still have that as an experience of happiness. As we heal and learn it will become more easier and effortlessly. We have evolved ourselves from the constraints of the limitations that we have allowed ourselves to be restrained by outside influences.

  • marie carr

    whenever I see the face of the Dali Lama I see happiness shining through, so I try to follow by his example.
    I often find myself feeling happy for no reason! yet I am going through the most challenging year of my life on a very personal level, I guess I must be doing something right.
    xox 🙂

    • Pauline

      Marie, I met the Dalai Lama when he came to Scotland & will never forget the feeling of total warmth which emanated from his lovely smile as he looked directly at me.
      I framed a picture of him which hangs in my home & every time I look at it, I just have to smile back.
      Marie, find a picture & do the same, it will help you too I am sure.
      Wishing you a Happier New Year ahead, when it comes.
      Pauline in Scotland xx

  • Irena Mickunas

    Happy Thanksgiving to you Antonia from Canada, I think happiness comes from within and is to be shared with other earthlings freely.I am very grateful for my dear family, for my beautiful friends, my good health.I am very grateful for my ability to express myself in my paintings and most happy to be living on one of the most Beautiful Planets in the Universe !I am sad for the suffering in so many places in the world.All of us must help to heal and feed the hungry.Flood the Planet Earth with Love.

  • I have read & seen that if many people think happiness or love they have the effect on others, so it seems if the number of people on this planet could start feeling love or happiness then wars would cease there would be more happiness & joy & people would be living there life as God intended, but we don,t have 7 billion people alll being happy half that number are fighting & killing each other, so it begs the question besides God is there realy someone called The Devil who has an active part in our world, if so & i don,t know & beleive in God & Jesus etc, but i listened to someone the other day & cannot remember who but he insisted that God has his work cut out to try & do as much good as he can as Satun is around doing all the bad, well this does make it easier to see why a very nice & loving person is suddenly killed & everyone says but why he or she was so loving & helpful why of all people was she or he taken from us, has anyone any idea,s about what i have said & do you think there is a Devil, i would love to hear people,s thoughts on this. GK.

  • Dawn

    Wonderful to read such life inspiring thoughts. This should be taught in schools and spread throughout society. Happiness is not something someone else provides you with, it is something you have found and shared with others.
    Happy friday from Kent. England. UK

  • Keiko

    Thanks for this great reminder…and certainly great encouragement for those who’ve been living and raised in a culture such as Japanese, feeling as an alien, as I have for my entire life, being sick regularly without much awareness.
    Being ill was “normal” and even “healthy” for me and something I thought needed to live with, saying “sho-ga-nai,” a Japanese phrase you would here often in Japan (certainly NOT Okinawa though…), meaning “no choice” …until now…
    Equipped with all the information learned from you and others, I now could never be healthier and happier, realizing being born Japanese is not “genetic,” well, at least mentally, and that I am free to be different and myself before any kind of society could mould my life for me. In fact no one can but me. I’m happy to have this innate ability to transcend the nationality as a human being, as everyone does : ) Knowledge *in practice* is real power.
    Love from a happy sojourner on the earth,

  • Irena Mickunas

    Dear Grinling, GOD, if there is ONE, belongs to everyone and everything on our Earth. I think SHE is too busy taking care of the Universe, SHE is doing a very good job! Nothing is crashing into anything or we would hear about it on Google Earth or CNN.The greatest evil is GREED and IGNORANCE! All of us are gifted a free WILL to choose in doing Good or Bad,to Love or to Hate. We should leave, what Divide us and choose what Unite us.To Love and Enlightenment !

  • lily Igbiks

    tanx very for this wonderful motivative talk,happiness truely comes from the inside and the best person make you happy is you.learn to be happy inspite challenges………………………..thank you

  • Dear friend
    I like the massage you have sent, ‘Happiness’ which is an extreme precious element for a person’s life span. But it is Supreme Power’s wish every person should know to grab the Happiness from the series of difficulties face by a person in life. Happiness varies from person to person. Prosperity gives a person to some extent of Happiness but sometimes prosperity takes away a person far from the Happiness and makes a man lonely. According to my opinion a true knowledge regarding anything can make a person happy, obviously for that he/she should have that type of mental construction. Friendship is a great gift of God. It also makes a person happy. But not so many persons are blessed with this gift. Inside energy which is most valuable material for person’s happiness. Every person should follow that.
    Pray for your happiness.. .

  • Nadi

    My favorite saying- – “Happiness is a warm blanket. Grab it wrap it around yourself and the world”. ~Nadi

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