Think you know what makes people feel happy and enjoy life? Weight loss or becoming wealthy don’t cut it. Conclusions in a Parade Magazine article (“Sunny Side Up” by Colleen Oakley, 7/31/11) might surprise you. Some highlights.

According to University of Denver researchers, folks who highly value happiness have, “on average, 17 more symptoms of depression than those who don’t.” Seems backwards, huh? Not really. Happiness is like self-trust, self-esteem, and feeling deserving: when you have these qualities, you rarely think about them. Happy people take their outlook for granted. They don’t value it less than unhappy people do; it’s simply a given. Unhappy people are the ones who think about and strive for happiness!

Another interesting factoid is the conclusion that “happiness is about 50% genetic, 10% influenced by life circumstances, and 40% influenced by how you think and act every day.” Heredity can set us up for seeing the glass as half empty or full, but nearly an equal amount of happiness—a whopping 40%—derives from your beliefs, which is why I’m always harping on creating a healthy, rational belief system. Note that only 10% of happiness is dictated by circumstance. For those of you who tend to think of yourselves as victims because of a dysfunctional childhood, trauma, or bad breaks, think again.

Regarding who’s happier, optimists or pessimists, here’s a shocker: “It turns out that expecting the worst can actually make you less prone to depression, particularly during difficult events such as an illness, a divorce, or the death of a loved one.” Why? If you have low expectations, you’ll likely experience less disappointment. I believe the key is to hold realistic expectations, not too high and not too low, and recognize that any outcome is possible. Hoping for the best and expecting the worst covers all the bases.

One suggestion affecting happiness is not new: taking a daily fish oil supplement can be highly effective in improving your mood. “Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which increase your brain’s ability to receive mood-boosting signals from ‘feel good’ hormones like serotonin and norepinephrine,” says Teresa Aubele, coauthor of TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO BE HAPPY. I’ll add to that taking B complex vitamins daily.

From what you’ve just learned, what can you do to enhance your happiness—change your beliefs to be more positive, develop realistic expectations, and/or take fish oil and B vitamins? Make whatever changes you need and you’ll be happy you did.