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The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does Hardcover – January 3, 2013
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Amazon Exclusive Essay: “Happiness at Work,” by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Recent surveys show that more Americans than ever are dissatisfied with their jobs. Some are burned out or bored, while others feel that professional success has eluded them. Stress over financial well-being--which for many is synonymous with professional success--is a primary source of discontent. Indeed, when people are asked if they could have anything in the world right now, most report wanting "more money. " Professional unhappiness can cause us to question our judgment, industriousness, or motivation. The lure then of finding a new job can prove irresistible--but will a new job really make us happier?
A seminal study suggests that the answer is no. Researchers followed high-level managers for five years to track their job satisfaction before and after a voluntary job change, such as a promotion or a relocation to a more attractive city. The managers were mostly male and white, with an average age of 45 and a $135,000 annual salary. They were doing well. What the researchers found, however, was that although these managers experienced a burst of satisfaction immediately after the job change, their satisfaction plummeted within a year, returning to their original pre-move level. In other words, they experienced a sort of hangover effect. By contrast, managers who chose not to change jobs during the same five-year time period experienced negligible changes in their satisfaction.
We get used to the cities where we live, to new houses and new cars, to relationships, and even to sex. This capacity to adapt to positive changes in our lives is both formidable and biologically hard-wired. Even the events we are certain will bring long-term fulfillment--landing a coveted professional position, or winning an award--tend to disappoint. We feel an immediate thrill, but that thrill is often followed by satiety, elevated expectations, and even letdown.
This is true even of monetary rewards. In the beginning, greater wealth brings us a higher standard of living, and the extravagances bring extra pleasure. But economists have found that two-thirds of the benefits of a raise in income are erased after just one year, in part because our spending and new "needs" rise alongside it and because we begin to associate with (and compare ourselves to) people in a higher income bracket.
With so much seemingly working against long-term professional satisfaction, it’s important to focus on where our chance for happiness truly resides. When we feel we’ve "had it" with our jobs, should we look for job satisfaction elsewhere or is there a different path?
Research suggests that instead of fantasizing about some dream job that doesn’t exist, we focus on pursuing meaningful goals in the here and now. Typically, our professional lives are focused on material goals--more money, wider recognition--but numerous studies have shown that those of us who are striving (and not necessarily achieving) are happier.
When it comes to our careers, if we enjoy the struggle along the way, we will derive pleasure and satisfaction by simply working on our goals. By doing so, we will ideally stretch our skills, discover novel opportunities and challenges, grow, strive, learn, and become more capable and expert. In this way, simple goal pursuit will provide us with opportunities for appreciation, for delight, and for satisfying our innate need to use our potentials to the fullest. Whether our valued goal is inventing something special or finishing school, it will give us something to work for and to look forward to.
Why is goal pursuit so intrinsically rewarding? Because it imparts structure and meaning to our daily lives, creating obligations, deadlines, and timetables, as well as opportunities for mastering new skills and for interacting with others. Because it helps us attain a sense of purpose, feelings of efficacy over our progress, and mastery over our time. All of these things make people happy. And once we accomplish a step along the way (e.g., completing an internship or an article), we would do well to savor that accomplished subgoal before moving on to a new goal. Instead of focusing too much on the finish line in the first place, we should focus on--and enjoy as much as possible--carrying out the multiple baby steps necessary to make progress. The perfect job may not be the position offering the highest rewards, but rather the place where the daily work--the moments between the big promotion or industry triumph--offers the greatest personal returns.
"Informative and engaging….The author examines how the 'shoulds' of happiness not only undermine well-being, but also make it hard for individuals to cope with the sometimes difficult realities of adulthood."
"No matter what your personal world is like, The Myths of Happiness will change the way you approach your daily life. Lyubomirsky's thorough research and practical solutions will not only add joy and contentment to your life, but will also allow you to take on issues that you may have been sweeping under the rug for too long."
"In her new book, The Myths of Happiness, Dr. Lyubomirsky describes a slew of research-tested actions and words that can do wonders to keep love alive."
—Jane Brody, New York Times
- Publisher : Penguin Press; 12.4.2012 edition (January 3, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594204373
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594204371
- Item Weight : 1.18 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.25 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #346,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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This is a well researched dissertation on the classic myths associated with happiness. This book actually might make you sadder or even more frustrated as it tears away all the coping mechanisms we have for surviving through a bad situation. If you are an academic and it’s your first self help book it may be enlightening. The author makes important, salient points and backs them up with research studies. This book does a good job telling you why you’re miserable and dissatisfied, not that great of a job of finding you happiness. Basically, unless you can find happiness where you are, you won’t find happiness elsewhere either. Certainly there is a large cross-section of the American/western/first-world population that needs to hear this.
As with everything - to each his own.
Top reviews from other countries
The Myths of Happiness addresses that most modern world problem of "when I...". Many people seem to live under the illusion that they will be happy "when I...have the right partner/family/job/home/money/health in my life". Yet as this book so ably demonstrates if we follow this approach to life we will spend out lives seeking the end of the rainbow only to be disappointed. This effect is often known as the hedonic treadmill because no matter how much we have do or achieve happiness remains at least one step or more out of reach. Sonja provides us with with numerous proven ways to step off the treadmill and enjoy what we have now.
This is a book aimed at anyone who wants to be happier in their own life and has an accessible and practical tone rather than a pure emphasis on research - and is all the better for that approach. All the research is listed for those who want to look more deeply at the studies referenced.
A few of the counter intuitive actions that make us happy include:
- maintaining novelty (doing new and exciting things together) can revitalise our current relationships and jobs rather than looking for a fresh start which tends to fade more quickly as we adapt to the new conditions.
- progress toward an important goal is more satisfying than achieving the goal itself.
- money can't make us happy but how we spend money can help, especially is we buy experiences rather than things (also see the excellent Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton for more detail on this).
- Our ultradian rhythm helps explain why our energy and enthusiasm peaks and dips about every 9-120 minutes throughout the day.
- Those who focus on internal desires and motivation are happier than those who use social comparison and external motivators.
Sonja stands out in the field of happiness because she acknowledges and draws on her own childhood experiences that real life can be tough and present seemingly endless challenges. She is clear that no money can be miserable but also that so many of us do not seem to appreciate just how much we do have.
Above all Sonja has a remarkable gift in making proven research accessible and practical for all and the world a happier and more compassionate place as a result.
I am no expert and neither do I claim to be one, but I can say with certainty that this book helped me making sense of my own expectations about certain things in life. I now try and take a step back before judging a decision that would have affected my mood a lot more negatively otherwise.
Some of the advice did come in handy in my marriage and other passages make for great donner conversations with friends and family.
Overall, I think this is an excellent read and I gladly recommend it to not only the experts, but also the casual reader.