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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
1) Hooray that Sonja is putting a dent in one of the greatest insanities of our culture: The lack of intentional focus on happiness in education and science (a slight oversight for the last 2,000 years).
2) How wonderful that some money has actually been spent in research on life's most important quest.
3) It's great that we are coming to understand the value of happiness on all levels such that it is considered important to study and do research.
4) The scientific lens is a valuable lens to turn on just about any topic and this appears to be the most comprehensive effort in that direction so far for the general reader.
5) Lots of good ideas.
6) Some valuable counter-intuitive information.
7) It has already changed my life for the better.
8) It brought happiness to read.
In short, how could anyone go wrong reading anything even slightly useful about increasing happiness? Read the book.
Kindle cons: Questionnaires were hard to fill out on kindle. I'm building a website for myself and others to interactively and easily DO and record and even measure happiness consistent with many of the books features. The index lacks page numbers.
1) As valuable as statistical research data is, it is incredibly blind to the complexity of the individual. You have NO information about how and why, on an individual level, the trend was set:
Person a) got happier simply because they love attention and were getting more attention in some experiment.
Person b) got happier because an experiment gave them some flow and focus, enabling them to feel productive and our culture teaches that we are more valuable if we are productive so they felt more valuable and this made them happy.
c) got happier because the double-blind was thin and they picked up the researchers confidence that this approach would make them happier and decided to prove them right on some level.
d) got happier overall but the writing part of the experiment was annoying while the thinking part was exhilarating. e) got happier because she had a crush on the researcher and WANTED to look happier for their next encounter so she would look better.
I would consider the research twice as valuable if it was partnered with a personal explanation by each person in the experiment that could be dipped into online so that the subjective information could be gathered and matched more to the situation of the individual reader, who is not a statistic. This is where intuition trumps science in personal choices sometimes. And less scientific and subjective socially acceptable stories leave an incomplete picture, why not add in some data gathered through hypnosis to see how that diverges from the socially acceptable reasons people give (someone may not want to SAY that they were happier because they felt sexy around one researcher and wanted to look good, but it may have had far more bearing than the experiment).
2) You can learn so much reading about group results and suggestions but also continue one of the biggest trends in our unhappiness inherent in the culture: separation from our moment to moment experience and awareness in favor of external information about what we ought to be feeling and doing to be happy.
3) The author placed an enormous emphasis on how everything in the book was scientific at the beginning but in doing so discounted the 30% of anecdotal stories she shares about her own life, which in some cases is more informative than the science done so far. I may have missed it, but since double-blinds are considered so vital, it also was not clear in many cases if a double-blind was present in the experiments done in a classroom etc. If you are in a happiness course with a happiness expert trying to be happy that in itself is an environment predisposed to happiness. And so in some cases the lesson may be to spend more time in a happiness class experimenting rather than doing any one thing in particular.
So much of what she finds HAS been common wisdom anecdotally for a long time. Which perhaps suggests that scientists need to learn to be less confident when dismissing things that cannot YET be be proved just because they don't have the measuring devices or budgets to explore the subjective terrain of consciousness with the same precision they can design a bridge. Given how vastly ignorant science remains in so many subjective areas it seems appropriate not only to invest a LOT more money in developing the science that can catch up to our internal nuances but also for scientists to be humble to the fact that there are many ways to know something without measuring it in a double-blind experiment that is very crude and still completely subjective when it comes to creating a story about WHY a certain cause had a certain result in a majority of people (but never everyone).
Overall, I found the book a great use of my time.
One thing not addressed in the book is the 20% of the population that is HSP, as defined by Elaine Arron. It turns out that 20% of every species thrives by taking a contrarian stance relative to the rest of the herd and has an uncommonly sensitive nervous system, making environmental control more important than it is for the other 80% of the population. This twenty percent of people may greatly distort data for the rest of the population in some experiements so it would be interesting to see how results differ when groups are first sorted into HSPs and non HSPs.
As part of that 20% I find that my environment physically plays a role in my happiness much more than 10%. I also want to share, for those who do have more time and money, that it is quite possible to boost happiness 20-30% for years by constantly adjusting, improving and redesigning life and environment in small and fun ways specifically to increase happiness (I use my own subjective one to ten scale) through travel, many small home-improvements, joy-based shopping, hobbies (I've taken up radio control planes) etc. And finally, I think that happiness strategies may be cyclical. At one time my happiness, joy and pleasure came 90% from exploring romantic relationships. At another time it came 90% from inner growth and meditation. And now it is coming 90% from exploring and creating a beautiful life materially in hundreds of small ways. It's coming from living in the question: "What is the most exciting day I can imagine and how can I create that day NOW?" When I did not have any money that would have been a depressing question and meditation was exhilarating. Now that I do have the money to fly to Vegas for a Cirque du-Soleil show later in the evening that question wakes me up and engages me fully in flow - one of the states conducive to happiness. And I have no doubt that what brings my happiness will shift again within five years. All of this points to the blind-spots in research and the importance of understanding each of us as unique individuals who are not static, and do not respond statically to the same stimuli, but on a journey in which our values and what brings us happiness changes.