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The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want
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137 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
About: Science-based ways of how to increase happiness

Review: Right off the bat, Lyubomirsky points out that we can only control 40% of our happiness (with half being genetic and 10% being environmental) but she suggest a bunch of techniques that have the backing of studies (which she cites) that have been shown to increase happiness. She notes that all techniques aren't for everyone so she encourages readers to choose the ones that fit their lifestyles. These techniques include practicing gratitude, forgiveness, goal setting, spirituality, exercise and living in the present (among other things). Ideas of of how to put these things to use are clearly spelled out. I really enjoyed this book, sources cited, great topic, well written, engaging, actually applicable to life.

Some random things I learned:

Marriage increases happiness for 2 years, then it returns to normal levels

Happiness also tends to eventually return to set point levels after both catastrophes and successes

People get happier with age

No one thing brings happiness

Overthinking (i.e. in times of anxiety, stress or insecurity) isn't good for you and just makes things worse

Helping others makes people happy

Hugging is good for happiness

The happier the person, the less he or she pays attention to what others around are doing
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394 of 432 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
I tried to follow the suggestions in this book. First of all, if you really want to use this as a how-to guide, its format is not conducive to that. The very few specific actions it recommends are buried in text that is full of anecdotes and studies that are supposed to sell you on the thought that doing these actions will make you happy. Also, according to the author the solution to all of your problems seems to be writing in journals: your "Best Possible Selves" journal in which you are trying to cultivate optimism by imagining what your life will be like one it is exactly the way you want it to be, your "Goals and Subgoals Journal," your "Trauma" journal, in which you write about traumatic experiences you've had as a way of coping with stress, a "Gratitude journal" in which you are writing what you are grateful for, etc etc etc. While I can see how writing can help people become more optimistic and grateful, lighter in spirit and more focused, the author does not give specific advice on what questions to ponder while writing.

I felt after reading this book (several times) that it was a less helpful, more commercialized version of a much better, more helpful and more specific book which was written several years ago, "The Emotional Toolkit" by Darlene Minnini (also a PhD from California, although from UCLA). The Emotional Toolkit cites the same studies that The How of Happiness cites and more, but is more focused on the reader and what he or she can do, not exclusively on selling the idea of what they should do. It gives specific suggestions, which How does not; such as listing questions to ask yourself while writing in a journal, for example, and questions to ask yourself to shift your thoughts from negative to neutral (instead of How's simply telling you to "stop" the negative thoughts because negative thoughts are bad for you).
So, if you really want to help yourself, I would not go for How of Happiness.
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181 of 206 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a psychologist for twenty years, it has been drilled into my head that as psychologists we are both scientists and practitioners. Having been a clinician for the majority of my career as well as a book-a-holic, I have been anxiously awaiting Lyubomirsky's book. As Gilbert accomplished in Stumbling on Happiness, Lyubomirsky accomplished in this fine piece of work, a wonderful marriage of both the "science" of psychology as well as the "practical" aspects of psychology. A dream for scholars and clinicians...what a fine contribution this book is to our field.

Lyubomirsky has created a work which will be interesting, challenging, and useful to researchers, practitioners, and the general reader as well. Her book answers the questions about happiness by backing up her assertions with a fine review of the empircial literature. "Harumph", no more touchy-feely stuff for the "soft science of psychology"...Lyubomirsky has created a book that will appeal to both my neighbors as well as my colleagues. This book would be appropriate in a psychology graduate course or a local reading group....

Her tone is deliciously real and edgy, her presentation delightful and well-thought out, and her suggestions concrete, specific, realistic and engaging.

There is something for everyone in this book.

I hate goals, I rebel against goals, tell me I "should" and I certainly won't. Well, after reading this book, taking the tests, I have actually done some goal setting that I might find I can complete without gritting my teeth and gutting it out.

Thanks, Sonja, I will be thinking of you tomorrow at 6am as I head out to the gym.

Beth Waddel, PhD.
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100 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read almost every non-technical book written on the psychology of happiness and positive psychology. While they are all good, The How of Happiness is by far the best.

This is no generic self-help book with off-the-cuff suggestions stemming from the authors' own life or anecdotal evidence. Every single claim Dr. Lyubomirsky makes is backed by scientific evidence. Moreover, the book's content is supported by peer-reviewed journal articles. While I am an economist, and not a psychologist, I do know which journals are the most prestigious, and the bulk of this book is based on publications from the most prestigious psychological journals.

To illustrate how highly I recommend this book, consider this. I personally spent over $100 buying multiple copies of the book and giving them to several of my students, in hopes they will read it. If they do read it, they are certain to live happier lives.

I am naturally a very happy person, and can say without reservation that this book has made me happier. My friends have found it surprising that someone as happy as me would be reading a book on happiness. After hearing my profound respect for this book, they too purchased it and found it a life-changing experience.

Of the many reasons we do science, one is to improve the lot of humans, to become a happier society. We are fortunate to live in an age when science has uncovered the science of happiness, and fortunate to have Dr. Lyubomirsky to communicate this science to a non-technical audience so clearly. In my opinion, this book is the pinnacle of science.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A very intersting research on the topic of "Happiness" , Lyubomirsky submit insights of 18 years studying happy people.
The results of her research parked into 12 key strategies for increasing happiness. More interestingly, she takes you into a quick reflective test to examine your "top 4" priorities among the 12 happiness strategies. I received my results with a sense of Awe ! it dawned on me where do i need to invest more to become happier , this was among the best insights i had.
Next, she reviews comprehensively mindsets & actions suggestions to put your top 4 into life.

I also recommend the book "Happier" by Tal Ben Shahar , who is the owner of a popular happiness course at Harvard. Ben Shahar's central theme for happiness is to search for actions that are rich in both meaning & pleasure. Although Lyubomirsky's work is more comprehensive , more structured & more scientifically tuned, still, Ben Shahar's work appears more friendly, shorter & able to derive subjective individualized happiness strategies from within based on reader's reflections where you end up having a practical plan of action that is , really uplifting.

Ben Shahar's work didn't address critically important topics like smiling, religious rituals , the negative effects of social comparisons & the happy sense of re-living past nostalgic moments, where Lyubomirsky's work didn't address the need to act "ritually" on happiness activities & didn't equally address the need to simplify actions & life.

By the end, i do recommend both books, both are based on scientific findings & they are complementary.
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48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Sonja Lyumvomirsky declares right away that to her knowledge she is the first person to write a book "who has actually conducted research revealing how people can achieve a greater sense of happiness in their lives." Her knowledge of how to write a good book is as limited as her knowledge of current research into happiness in the field of psychology. The book is meandering, unfocused, full of herself and anecdotes with very little research referred to. A complete and utter waste of time and money. Martin Seligman's "Authentic Happiness" (published three years before Lyubomiskky's book) and his other books on the psychological underpinnings of optimism and ways to improve it in oneself are well written, well researched and documented and provide actual paths to improve optimism and therefore "happiness". He even manages to credit a lot of people other than himself for ideas and answers. I rarely recommend books but Seligman's books are worth reading and The How of Happiness is absolutely not worth considering in my opinion.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Read several happiness and self help books so far. This is the most comprehensive! and it's evidence-based to boot! Originally didn't want to complete 'another' happiness quiz. But I really enjoyed the main quiz called 'Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic'. There are 12 happiness activities and my filling it out, you figure out which 4 of the 12 happiness activities make you the most happy. Then the second part of the book describes each of the 12 happiness activities. You find the 4 that suit you the best and read up on the specifics. It's like a personalized, customized 'How to become more happy'. Other books are good but are generalized. I felt like this book was specifically just for me. An excellent read for everyone! Worth every penny. Thank you Sonja Kyubomirsky for compiling all the info and writing this book!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
I bought this book out of curiosity - not because I felt particularly unhappy, but because I wondered how I could be even happier. After reading the introduction I was hooked and expected the book to be truly interesting as it was written by an academic researcher specialized in positive psychology.

As someone with a scientific background myself, I was pleased to read in the introduction that "The How of Happiness is different from many self-help books as it represents a distillation of what researchers of the science of happiness, including myself, have uncovered in their empirical investigations. Every suggestion that I offer is supported by scientific research; if evidence is mixed or lacking on a particular subject, I plainly say so." (p.3). The author then goes on to explain that only double-blind experiments with participants chosen at random can determine whether a claim is true, which are often missing in other books and magazines providing advice on how to become happier. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to these expectations. Mrs Lyubomirsky often resorts to unscientific anecdotes and personal stories (isolated cases) to illustrate her methods. There is hardly anything scientific past the introduction. It's just another book of advice like any other one. It may be based on serious research, but unless you decide to check all the references in the notes section, very little is explained. You just have to trust her. That's not a very convincing approach.

Overall I found the book annoyingly repetitive, with lots of empty sentences stating the obvious or things that are common sense.

The book seems to have been written for a somewhat stereotypical American audience, starting from the premises that the readers are inordinately materialistic and obsessed with work, money and keeping up with the Joneses. It almost feels like the author had the Desperate Housewives in mind when she wrote the book.

I will go as far as to question the reliability of the content of the book itself. When I read on page 45-46 that the weather and personal safety are not important to achieve happiness, one could wonder why so many Northern Europeans suffer from depression in winter, or why bullied children and harassed workers ever commit suicide. Mrs Lyubomirsky claims that studies comparing the happiness levels of Californians and Midwesterners didn't show that Californians were happier in average, and therefore that weather is not a factor influencing happiness. It doesn't take a genius to understand what a gross simplification that is. If people could live as happily in the Arctic regions, then why is there so few people moving to the Canadian North, Greenland or Lapland ?

Mrs Lyubomirsky completely disregards Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which states that people can only be happy once they fulfill life's needs by order of importance. At the bottom of the pyramid are the most fundamental needs, like food, water, sleep and sex. Then comes personal safety, then only friendships and love. Without all these, people cannot move to the next level, which is self-esteem, confidence, and achievements. And only when these needs have been fulfilled can an individual truly reach the level of self-actualization and happiness. How can she, as a psychologist, believe one second that personal safety is not an essential step to achieve happiness ?

I think that the main problem with this book is that the author doesn't understand the essential distinction between being (un)happy about a temporary situation and life in general. She claims from the first page of chapter one that being in a relationship, having a baby, getting a better job, a bigger house, and so on will only make us happy for a short time, until we get accustomed to the novelty and want more. However, some of these cravings are more than mere whims. It is true that some people can be perfectly happy staying single and not having children. But that's a personal choice, emanating from one's character and physiological needs. There are people who simply cannot live a happy life without being in a relationship or without having children. The author's approach is to compare statistics of the happiness level between two groups of people, then wildly claim that because both groups have similar levels of happiness, one factor (like being in a relationship) does not significantly influence happiness. That is very poor science indeed.

What's more, her suggestions to improve our long-term happiness do not differ much from the small highs one get by buying a new car or getting a promotion at work. She advocates doing a series of small things on a daily basis, like being kind to others, showing one's gratitude, or savor one's food. Each of them will only provide a small boost, but doing them frequently and regularly will improve long-term happiness, she explains. I fail to see the difference with enjoying one's life by eating out with friends, watching a good movie, or redecorating the house. It's as if Mrs Lyubomirsky had a moral issue with achieving happiness through material ways and wanted us to do it only through mental or spiritual ways. Perhaps that is a reaction to living in a too materialistic society (California).

There are actually quite a few simple ways of boosting one's mood, and therefore happiness, on a daily basis, which aren't mentioned in the book at all. Sleeping well is one of the most important, as sleep deprivation makes up irritable, stressed, unpleasant and aggressive with others, and even depressed. Watching comedies, playing games, and so on are also good ways.

Finally, Mrs Lyubomirsky only looks at positive ways to enhance happiness, but fails to recognize the importance of reducing negative circumstances. Her methods will never work on someone who is bullied on a daily basis and can't escape from it. That person will remain miserable, because he or she did not achieve personal safety, towards the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If it is true that we possess an uncanny faculty to adapt to positive changes, even winning the lottery, and some negative changes (illness, unemployment, loss of a relative), deficiencies in the basic necessities of life can seriously affect long-term happiness. Sometimes having a house big enough for all its occupants can become a basic necessity if it is the only way to sleep well regularly. Too bad the author couldn't understand that.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
THE HOW OF HAPPINESS presents an intelligent and original approach to maximizing happiness that is exceedingly useful for psychologists, mental health professionals and laymen alike. The fact the Dr. Lyubomirsky is able to quantify, through her research, that 40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change, is illuminating and has the capacity to transform lives. As a clinical psychologist and Director of Psychology responsible for training doctoral level psychology interns, I have incorporated her research, principles and activities in my clinical practice as well as my teaching interns and staff. Dr. Lyubomirsky's secrets to abiding happiness provide important insights and her happiness activities and recommendations are both practical and highly effective. THE HOW OF HAPPINESS is an important contribution to the field of positive psychology. I highly recommend this gem of a book to every reader.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book not to become happy but because it was written by my colleague Sonja Lyubomirsky; I knew her from work, found her research interesting, and wanted to find out more. The book actually did make me happier. I knew most of the material from the professional journals, but Dr. Lyubomirsky puts it together for you much better than the scattered and hard-to-read research papers do!
The interesting thing here is not so much what works as that science has found SOME classic ways of being happy do work--being grateful, forgiving, having goals, and more. Others do NOT work: notably, making money. No one misses the point that Americans are much richer than they were 60 years ago but are also considerably unhappier. Another notably unsuccessful strategy for happiness is running down other people. Many friends of mine seem to depend on this to keep themselves feeling adequate. It doesn't work. Dr. Lyubomirsky points out that emphasizing the positive is the way to go.
Working in China and with Chinese data, I ran into a delightful Chinese proverb. My favorite form goes like this: "If you would be happy for three hours, get drunk. If you would be happy for three days, roast a pig. If you would be happy for three months, get married. If you would be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden." There are other possibilities in other forms of this proverb, but the idea is clear: we habituate fast to many kinds of happiness, and they don't work for long, but others give true lifetime satisfaction.
A point made by Dr. Lyubomirsky, but maybe a bit buried in the data, is worth bringing out more strongly from my own case: All the real satisfaction and long-term pleasure in my life has come from things that were highly challenging, and thus not always fun or happy at the time. "Climbing higher mountains" is hard work and you often get rained or snowed on. I took freshman chemistry from Dr. Gary Nash, who was a legendary teacher--if you ever had him, you haven't forgotten it. I worked harder than ever before or since, hated the work, and almost flunked, but the class was a Great Experience anyway. Dr. Nash (who died tragically young--said to have literally worked himself to death) was like that. Since then I've worked terribly hard at a lot of things, and some were frustrating, but all were satisfying.
By contrast, getting drunk and eating a pig (and taking easy college courses) are fine in their place, but they provide strictly time-limited happiness.
One other scientific finding mentioned but not highlighted here: People who get along well with people--who are socially skilled and socially sensitive--do better and are much happier than others, on average. (There are many conspicuous exceptions, however.) This is a two-way street: being happy makes you nicer, other things being equal, but being socially skilled most certainly leads to a lot of good times, while being socially inept leads to a lot of major trouble and grief. The reason for not highlighting it is good, though: people can adjust and learn to be happy anyway. It may take more work.
One last matter of interest is optimism. The most robust finding in the happiness literature is that optimistic people are happier than pessimistic ones. Yes, but there is a Tao of optimism. If you are optimistic about YOURSELF, your real goals, your work, and your ability to cope with problems, you are in fine space--it helps a lot. However, if you are optimistic about the world in general, and especially about people, you may be in for a very great deal of major unhappiness. You wind up assuming you can avoid traffic tickets when speeding, or answering those emails from Nigeria, or expecting the best of American politicians, or trusting non-licensed businessmen and medical practitioners. A healthy caution in dealing with people is necessary in this world. Go with demonstrated performance. Good luck.
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