Every man is the architect of his own fortune or can one learn to be happy?

The saying ‘Every man is the architect of his own fortune’ was already known amongst the Romans. In the 3rd century b.C. it appeared with the then consul Appius Claudius Caecus And still today it shapes the perception, of our own happiness , it is: every man is himself responsible for it , is ‘the architect of his own fortune’. According to the saying, in order to achieve fulfillment and satisfaction, man should not rely on chance or the help of others. With perseverance and some effort everybody can take his fate into his own hands and become happy. So far so good. If there weren’t life itself What about all those strokes of fate, the lottery winnings not won and the little word “if”?

If I had a Porsche standing in my garage, if my parents had sent me to a better school, if I had another job, if I were a little bit braver, if I only had 5 kg less … then, yes then being happy would be so easy.

What does our happiness depend on – on genes, money or thoughts?

So on what does our happiness depend ? Can we take it into our own hands or do external circumstances or even our genes dominate whether and how happy and fulfilled we can be in life? This question arose 2005 in a research group around the well-known professor Sonya Lyubomirsky from California and they identified three areas that are decisive for one’s own experience of happiness and life satisfaction:

  • the inner attitudes, goals, positions, patterns of thinking
  • life circumstances( ( money, environment, health, etc. ) etc.)
  • the genes

What do you think , in what proportion happiness does depend on those 3 factors? The answer might sound surprising: according to the study half of our happiness is determined by our genes.
Does this seem too much to you? Extroverted people, for example, are happier than introverted people because they typically have more social contacts, meet more often with their friends and therefore have more opportunities to experience beautiful things. The situation is different for emotionally unstable people. They tend to be less happy because they are often more prone to self-doubt and fear.
The second half do share our life circumstances and our inner attitude – in a ratio of 1:4, i.e. 10% life circumstances and 40% inner attitude. Whether I drive a Porsche or a rickety Fiat Punto, whether I’m married or single, even whether I’m healthy or in a wheelchair account for only 10% of my personal happiness! Who would have thought that? For example, a study by American psychologists in 1978 found out that lottery winners were no happier than their peers after about a year. Despite a positive event that rewarded us with exhilaration, we soon return to our normal state of emotion. This phenomenon in psychology is called ‘hedonistic habituation’
What should we strive for then, if not even winning the lottery makes us permanently happy? But here comes the good news: Often happiness is already knocking at our door and we don’t even notice it. 40% of our happiness comes from our inner attitude, that is, from how we perceive the world and where we draw our attention to. If we’re looking for happiness only on outside factors, on salary increase, beauty surgery or the next holiday, then we might miss the quiet moments of happiness. We don’t see the wood for the trees – or worse, we don’t even know what we’re looking for.

When was the last time you laughed heartily with a good friend? When did you let the sun shine in your face and spend a short time only on yourself? When was the last time you were grateful for a beautiful moment that you had experienced? What are your little moments of happiness?

Hold on to your happiness

Unfortunately, happiness cannot be preserved – it is a volatile condition. But happiness can be cultivated. A suggestion: For two weeks write down your moments of happiness every night . Catch yourself at being happy. Maybe something very beautiful will turn up: the moments of happiness become more and more every day.

Our happiness can be changed Everyone can take his happiness into his own hands. Make more out of your 40%! how? Find out for yourself what makes you happy, what gives sense to your life and try it out. We can actively influence our happiness, but everyone has to find his own happiness or to use the image of the blacksmith: everyone can forge the hot iron in such a way that it suits his life and personality best.

Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash


  • Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978): “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?”; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1978, Vol. 36, No. 8, 917-927
  • Diener, E., Lucas, R. E. (1999b). Personality and subjective well-being. see D. Kahnemann, E. Diener & N. Schwarz:Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology, 213-229
  • Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M, & Schokade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.