How to be happier?
A review and executive summary of the book by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Are you unhappy? Do you know why?
If you blame your unhappiness on things like lack of money, a lousy job, the world’s worst boss/spouse/children you just might be barking up the wrong tree looking for your happy place.
If you think winning the lottery will make you happy, it will… for a while, but then you’ll probably just return to the same level of happiness you had before. You’ll become used to your new state of being, a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation.
Wealth, health and work etc. are, of course, not irrelevant, but have less influence over your happiness than you think they do.
I have been doing extensive research into happiness for a few years now. In my opinion, it comes down to two things.
- Positive psychology
- Gut bugs
This post is about positive psychology. I have written about gut bugs elsewhere!
Positive psychology has been defined as:
“[being] is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008).
The Positive Psychology Institute defines it as
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001).
The concept has been around for a while, and Martin Seligman is cited as the father (or perhaps grandfather by now) of positive psychology. His book Flourish is an excellent starting point. I have read it a few times to keep me on track and have the tenets of happiness in front of mind.
This month I have read Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How Of Happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. (Penguin Books 2007) It’s not a new book either, but my goodness it’s a simple to read, based-in-science guide book that makes a whole bunch of sense! I loved it!
This post gives you some of the main points but get your own hard copy because you’ll want to write all over it! You’ll be underlining the important bits, completing the short quizzes and answering her questions out loud as you read through it.
The basic idea is that you can make yourself happier. It takes some effort and determination and like most things in life, it is something you will actually have to DO on purpose. It won’t fall in your lap. It is something I have been working towards for the last 10 years in my road to recovery from divorce.
How much of your happiness is under your control?
The answer is very nearly 42! According to Sonja, 50% of your happiness is down to a “set point”, 10% is circumstance, and 40% is created by intentional activities on your part. Your set point is determined by your genetics and your personality and stays pretty much the same throughout your life. Some people are just happier than others.
Circumstances account for a tiny 10% of happiness. A poor person can be just as happy as a rich person. Where you live doesn’t really matter that much. A bigger house, a better car, a different job will not matter much either!
However, you can control the remaining 40% of your own happiness by intentionally choosing to commit to some “happiness activities”. Lyubomirsky posits twelve categories of happiness activities. You don’t need to do all 12 to be happier. In fact, she suggests that you concentrate on 3 – 4 that will work best for you based on your set point, personality and interests. How do you know which ones to pick? There, is a questionnaire that will point you in the appropriate direction. After doing the questionnaire you can read the sections relevant to you.
This link will take you to a very brief summary of the happiness activities identified by Lyubomirsky and her researchers. Click through the arrows at the bottom of the page. It only scratches the surface and obviously does not give the depth of detail as in her book, but it will give you the road map and hopefully spark your interest.
The last chapters give the “Five hows behind sustainable happiness” which are:
1. The upward spiral of positive emotion: one positive act will lead to another
2. Optimal timing and variety: mix it up and time it right to get maximum benefit and prevent hedonic adaptation.
3. Social support
4. Motivation, effort and commitment: you are going to have to work at it and keep working at it.
5. Make it a habit!
My Happiness Activities Profile
After I did the questionnaire, the recommended happiness strategies for me were:
1. Committing to goals
2. Savouring life’s joys
3. Practising acts of kindness. (I have a post here about that)
4. Taking care of body and Soul
None of these really surprised me. I feel like I already have the goals and taking care of body aspects under control. I am going to make more of an effort for savouring, and while my physical health is good, I would like to learn how to meditate. So I’ll add these to the to-do list!
Negative emotions should not be avoided at all costs. Negative emotions have their place. I am no way suggesting that you be 100% deliriously happy at all time. It is vital that you feel some struggle in your life and that there will be difficult times to face. You can’t and shouldn’t go around this world being ignorant of negative emotions that have a relevant and important role to play.
My philosophy is that you should tend towards a life, that, on the whole, is pleasant, fulfilling and purposeful. This is turn will be a life that is more likely to be a happy one.
Furthermore, happiness should not be confused with pleasure. Some things that make us happy are not pleasurable. For instance, running a marathon might not be pleasurable but leads to happiness because you achieved a goal.
Sonja also gives some advice to people suffering from depression, which you should read first if applicable.