As is typical in my field, I frequently find myself learning all kinds of new things from my patients. During a two week period right around Thanksgiving last year, I had three patients who, during their appointments, told me about a new documentary titled “Happy.” They all said I had to see it.  It was on Netflix at the time, so I gathered my family together over the holidays and we watched.  As my patients had told me, it was an inspiring movie.  The director blended scientific research (right up my alley) with personal interviews (also up my alley) and put it together in a way that appealed not only to me, but also to my parents, husband, and my teenage kids alike.

Perhaps the most powerful research that was quoted (and is what my patients quoted to me) described percentages of happiness that are within our control.  According to the statistics collected for the documentary, 50% of happiness is genetic, meaning some people are just born optimistic and others not.  So some may have to work harder to overcome their genetics. More surprising was that, out of the 50% we do have control over, materialistic things  (what we have achieved, how we look, what we have) only increases our happiness by 10%.   Apparently happiness from those things fades quickly and we tend to look for the next thing.  So, if it’s not by materialistic things, how do we maximize the 50% that is within our control?

Although different for everyone, the common themes are: a sense of friendship and community, caring and doing for others, personal involvement with nature, a balanced life with plenty of leisure time, and engaging in activities that one finds enjoyable. Not surprising, most of these are targeted by DBT: Interpersonal Effectiveness enhances friendships and relationships, Mindfulness increases awareness of nature (that around us), and Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance include balancing life stress while also increasing pleasurable experiences.  So, in the DBT way of “Building a Life Worth Living,” we are also working toward becoming happier. For more information on the documentary please visit,