The 60-40 Rule of Happiness: May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

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Your head is fogged as your iPhone alarm sounds. You keep forgetting to change that damn ringtone; Star Wars was cute a year ago but it got old quick. You roll over systematically, upper body leveraging lower body, preparing yourself to stand up. You know it’s time but that sweet pulling feeling buried deep in your skull serves as reminder of how easy it would be to lay it back down on the pillow.

You’d be out in mere seconds.

That feeling has become elusive, hidden behind caffeine-laden afternoon coffees and the same stressful late night thoughts that have reduced your fingertips to meaty nubs. It’s become precious to you, and these days it’s getting progressively more difficult to find the motivation to get up, get dressed, get happy.

You need a way out: this might be it.

Martin Seligman, father of the fascinating field of positive psychology, says that while it’s true that 60% of our happiness is dictated by our genetics and environment, a full 40% is entirely under our own control. While this may seem like bad news at first glance, after some consideration it’s pretty empowering.

Imagine you saved 40% of your month’s salary for future endeavors while using the rest to spend freely; that 40% of your investments panned out versus a 60% failure; or say you had 40% battery on your phone after the day’s end while 60% had been spent. Put in these terms, the ratio doesn’t seem too bad.

So much of our ability to be happy is decided by what we think is feasible; what we believe we’re capable of and what we can get done daily.

There’s another psychological term for this called “inner locus of control.” As a whole, humans are pretty critical of themselves, their surroundings, and their abilities:

"A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation)." (Zimbardo, 1985)

For example, consider this: you’re standing at the foot of a fifty floor high-rise, dress pants clenching tightly at your waist. You take your first step into the building, stumbling just a bit on the uneven concrete and make your way to what may be the most important interview of your life. You enter the stuffy office, let the receptionist know you’ve arrived, and sit.

You meant to rehearse your key points while waiting but her hair is so red she could moonlight as a stop sign. The waiting room has just been re-painted and the chemical stench of the soft lavender walls is overwhelming. You’re distracted. You’re uncomfortable. You can’t breathe. Before you know it, your interview has begun.

A week later, you find out you didn’t get the job.

You are more than likely to attribute the situational aspects of this scenario to your failure than to accept that you may not have had the experience, qualifications or skill set most appropriate for this specific position.

This is an external locus of self control, and this is what distinguishes those who take internal responsibility for their own success and happiness from the rest: the group that is taking full advantage of their full 40% of self-controlled happiness.

This is powerful information. There’s nothing dictating to which group you belong; you can alter your thoughts to capitalize on the 60-40 rule, and once you make the switch you’ll reap the benefits.

Those that command their 40% cope better with stress, experience better health and tackle traumatic situations more fluidly than those who remain focused on the other 60% that they cannot control.

So get up, get dressed, get happy.

And don’t forget to change that ringtone.


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.