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The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want Paperback – December 30, 2008
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"Finally we have a self-help book from a reputable scientist whose advice is based on the best experimental data... The How of Happiness is smart, fun, and interesting - and unlike almost every other book on the same shelf, it also happens to be true."
-Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University professor of psychology and author of Stumbling on Happiness
"A guide to sustaining your newfound contentment."
"Lyubomirsky's central point is clear: a significant portion of what is called happiness . . . is up for grabs. Taking some pages out of the positive psychology playbook, she coaches readers on how to snag it."
-The New York Review of Books
"Is lasting happiness attainable or a pipe dream? For the last eighteen years, University of California-Riverside professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky has studied this question, and what she reports might even sway pessimists."
-U.S. News & World Report
"The right place to look for science-based advice on how to become happier."
-Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism
About the Author
SONJA LYUBOMIRSKY is professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University. Lyubomirsky and her research have been the recipients of many honors, including the 2002 Templeton Positive Psychology Prize and a multiyear grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her family. Her next book, The Myths of Happiness, will be published by The Penguin Press in January 2013.
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I seem to have a low (and high) set point due to genetics. In other words, I have a mood disorder. I've sought for methods to smooth that out and have a more normal and even happy life. Sonja is dedicated to helping all people, not just those with mood disorders. I saw from her work, which I devoured in just a few days, that I could potentially achieve increasing levels of happiness beyond what I had ever had before.
I transcribed her twelve areas of activity into Goalscape, a tool I use to set and achieve goals. Goalscape uses concentric circles to display goals and sub goals. Twelve areas fit around the circle like numbers on the face of a clock. At the center is my central goal, "A Happy You". I realized perhaps for the first time, that happiness was more dependent on what I did than a chemical from a bottle. Certainly good medication or supplements can be important, but there is only so much they can do.
So much of happiness depends on what we do with our lives. Sonja gives suggestions that can guide goal setting and help me get (and stay) happy that much faster and inexpensively. She does not advocate a particular faith, but she explains the role of religion and spirituality in increasing happiness. She talks about how we become inured to good things around us and need to overcome that through gratitude and savouring joys. If we don't take time to slow down and be mindful, we can miss joys in our lives. Over the past year I've started practising meditation, and she explained how this practice can promote happiness, which gives me incentive to continue and make it more regular. I've also started a daily practice of Bible reading.
She explains that many of her suggestions sound like common sense and have been around for millennia but have only recently been supported through scientific experiments. She herself is involved in happiness research which gives her voice that much more credibility. I have yet to experience the full benefit of her work because many of the practices she advocates work over a period of time. In our current world, it is sometimes difficult to be optimistic, but she fully explains the benefits of predicting a favourable outcome. I have decided to make happiness my number one value.
Material things can bring short term benefits, but we quickly become inured to improvements in our circumstances. However, a change in our daily activities can produce a great and quick change in our level of happiness. Sonja explains how building relationships and social interaction can help promote happiness. Being a loner, I've struggled with this. A new romance started early this year has budded into a relationship that has the potential to be lasting.
For the past year I've programmed an app that analyses daily activities from check lists. I have noticed that when I score and analyse my daily check lists, it promotes my happiness. I was not sure why. After reading Sonja's book, I discovered that many of the items on my check lists were activities she suggested from the scientific literature that promote happiness. When I do more of them in a day, a greater level of happiness is achieved. So I am dedicating myself to continue with my check lists, even on days I don't feel like doing them. For awhile this past year, actually several times, I let my check lists slide. Upon encouragement from a friend who has seen how much of a difference my check lists make, resuming them has almost instantly restored me to happiness and my former activity level. Committing to goals itself is one area Sonja mentions in her book.
Sonja leaves it up to the reader to select specific activities and choose which areas of the twelve to work on. Some attention to each of the twelve areas is beneficial, but of course it works to prioritize what gets focused on first. Action is the key. With my check lists I can keep more things in scope and can work on most of the twelve areas simultaneously. I may sound too analytical about being happy, but I have discovered that happiness is best not merely left to chance. I want to consistently produce happy feelings and am willing to implement what science has discovered about the human potential for producing those feelings.
You may wonder if I have become happy. I am discovering tools that help me produce happiness more consistently, more often, and more deeply. I am discovering tools that bring me back when I dip into depression. Have I fully beat depression? No. I would love to say that I have. I still have a mood disorder. But I am optimistic about my ability to deal with it. The fear of being overcome by it is much less. I think my optimism will increase as I continue to apply the principles I've learned in Sonja's book. More and more, I tell myself, "I am happy!" Thank you, Sonja, for your dedicated efforts to help as many people as you can.
As Lyubomirsky explains in the chapter "The Fifth How: Habit," the successful practice of Positive Psychology requires establishing positive habits. Because of our internal resistance, however, habits aren't easy to create. Not included in Lyubomirsky's book are two exciting discoveries in psychology that can help us overcome this resistance: The first technique is to commit ourselves to only a *tiny step* toward the desired behavior, which surprisingly often dissolves our resistance and leads us to spontaneously continue performing the positive action. Harvard instructor Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., said that this approach is the single most important technique to emerge from research on procrastination.
The second technique is to track the "chain" or "streak" of days on which we complete the desired habit (or at least the tiny step toward that habit). Our reluctance to break the chain forms a second level of motivation to help us establish the habit.
To help busy people create happiness habits, and to translate happiness theory into practice, I created a free iPhone app called "Mini Steps: End Procrastination, Build Good Habits" ( tinyurl.com/GoodHabitApp ). I think the app is a great companion to Lyubomirsky's book, and I'd love to get your feedback on it.