The Set Point Theory

2010 was the first time I had heard about the set point theory.  Deepak Chopra spoke at length about this theory, but it is not his theory.

I had travelled to Sydney to listen to his lecture which went over two days.

The set point theory originally came from a set of brain researchers who study happiness.  The researchers came up with a happiness formula, which positive psychology has adopted.

The formula is:

Happiness = Brain Set Point + Conditions of Living + Voluntarily Actions/Choices. (H=S+C+V)

The brain set point is a mechanism (set point in the brain) which is acquired in childhood based on our conditioning.

The research found that there are two categories of people.  These two categories fall into groups of

  1. Those who look at situations and see opportunity and
  2. Those that look at the same situation and see problems.

Happy vs unhappy.  Not dissimilar to the glass half full and half empty philosophy.

The set point is a conditioning from childhood experiences namely around the ages of 3-4 of course family dynamics and a range of other things also come into it.

Essentially, the question is can the brain set point be changed?

Yes, it can change.  It can be influenced by anti-depressants – but this is not a long-term solution.

It can also be changed by cognitive therapy and by questioning your limiting beliefs.  It is influenced by meditation, stillness, self-reflection, reflection and self-inquiry, and quiet self-dialogue.  These types of activities all work together to support changing the mind set point.

The research says that the brain set point determines about 43% (S) of our total happiness experience.

Conditions of living (C) refers to areas in life like our financial stressors or not, what’s happening in our life like divorce, injury, physical pain but also falling in love, healthy relationships, feeling content with work and so on.  These conditions contribute to around 10% of your total happiness experience.  Overall conditions aren’t really as significant as the other elements in the overall scheme of the happiness formula.

A good example is: if you won the lottery today and win $20 M you will be ecstatic but at the end of one year you will be as happy or unhappy as you were before you won the lottery.  It is said, that your basal set point doesn’t change in the overall just because you won the lottery.

Therefore, the second component (C) of the happiness formula is minimal to your overall happiness.

The third component to the happiness formula is our voluntary (V) choices and actions which make up for around 47% of our happiness formula.  That means every day you can make voluntarily choices for your personal pleasure. Things like going out for dinner, shopping, having sex, meeting with friends and so on all make up this element. Additionally, the easiest way to be happy is to make someone else happy.

Voluntarily choices cover a wide range of things but essentially making other people happy adds to giving you meaning and purpose.

So that leaves 47% left for choosing voluntary acts for being happy.  Which in context is a staggering % to consider and then the impact this has on our happiness scale.

That is the Happiness formula. H=S+C+V.

Does changing the brain set point guarantee happiness.  No. why not?  Because we worry about the future and have regrets about the past.  This seems to be part of the human condition and a result of our childhood influencing.

Please take note though, the largest portion of the happiness formula is around 50% and is tied to our voluntarily actions and choices.  To me that says quite loudly that the ball is in our court.  From here we can choose to do the ‘things’ that make us feel happy.

The point of the set point is firstly to be aware that there is a mechanism in our brain which we can influence in the most wholistic and nurturing of ways.  Yes, we have past, present and social conditioning to take into account, yet, we have around 50% control of the things we choose and decide to participate in.

Ways to influence the whole set point formula.

  • There are two things that will support in changing the set point (S).
  • The practise of meditation – meditation supports the pre-frontal cortex to synch and fire together neurons that encourage the brain to secrete good hormones.
  • Cognitive therapy – supports the questioning of what we think we know. In other words, working toward shifting limiting beliefs.
  • Changing (C) is connected to our conditions of living, so if you can improve any of these it will also improve the happiness levels.
  • Voluntary Choices and Actions (V) account for almost 50% of our personal happiness. The ways to raise this are:
  • Our first choice is to make choices purely for personal pleasure, this will increase happiness for 1-3days.
  • Our second choice is to choose to do things for fulfillment. For example what gives you meaning and purpose in your life, how do you express your creativity and how can you make others happy.  (This third element is the fastest route to make yourself feel happy)


Deepak Chopra: Sydney Convention Centre 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *