Researchers have now decided that three things determine how happy we feel-- our genes, events and values. Once again, they study identical twins reared apart to separate out nature (genes) vs. nurture (environment).
First I will retell the old Christmastime joke about the twins who were placed in different rooms--one filled with new toys and the other filled with horse manure and a shovel. One was sad when the doors were opened a few hours later, the other happy. Which one was happy? Not the boy who was sitting among a pile of broken toys and complaining about the lack of batteries, the directions he didn't read etc. but the boy who was enthusiastically digging. "There must be a pony in here someplace," he said.
Some of us from childhood onward have this gift of optimism, this aceptance of life, this appreciation for whatever comes their way. Others see only the faults, the missed opportunities, the indignities; nothing makes them feel happy or content. Usually it is "others" who are to blame, but sometimes that insecurity is turned inward, toward themselves and they feel guilty about everything "wrong" that happens.
Which brings us to events. I spoke with a stranger as I was waiting outdoors on line to purchase a movie ticket. "Great day, isn't it? Waiting outside in the sunshine? Couldn't be better."
He answered, "Yes, Arizona has great weather. If it could only be 10 degrees cooler in the summer or 10 degrees warmer today it would be perfect."
And my friends in New York this weekend? For one the weather is "no big deal" while the other response was "I'm staying home all day until it gets warmer."
Of course when I read about the genetic component I thought about my parents and my children. What have they passed on to me and what have I passed down to my children and grandchildren? If we become aware of our "programmed" parts as adults, we can develop our own values so we can look at events in our own chosen way. We can learn to appreciate what works to make us happy in the events over which we have no control, whether that is staying home and enjoyiing the bad weather from afar, or digging out boots and hats and gloves and discovering how good it feels to have the brisk air in our lungs.