Thursday, January 31, 2008
Book Review: The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
In the spirit of the Oscars, I nominate Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want for best single book about positive psychology to have on the shelf. There are many great books
around these days, including books that go into specific topics in more detail. But if you are going to read just one, pick
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Part 1 addresses the questions, “Is
it possible to become happier?” and “Why does it matter?” When I was growing up, my mother frequently commented
that happiness was lagniappe — that’s a Cajun word that roughly means the 13th in a baker’s dozen.
The baker may choose to throw it in, but doesn't have to. So I grew up thinking that the pursuit of happiness was a silly
(I'm going to call the author 'Sonja' here because
she was one of my MAPP instructors and because Lyubomirsky is hard for most people to pronounce.)
Sonja explains why taking action to be happier is not a silly goal, though she thinks construction
of happiness is a better description than pursuit of happiness. Happiness is determined by three things:
- Genetics account for about 50% the differences in happiness
among people. This is sometimes called the happiness set point.
circumstances account for only about 10%. These include the things we normally pursue in the
name of happiness, including wealth, possessions, occupation, living conditions, family relationships, belonging to groups,
- Our own behavior and thought patterns account
for the remaining 40%. We can directly address these with intentional action.
Sonja includes a very reasonable argument that it is much more fruitful to address the 40%
associated with our own behavior than it is to pursue the 10% associated with life circumstances.
Happiness is not a silly goal for another reason. Sonja explains that happy people tend to be healthier,
more effective at work, more energetic, and of greater benefit to the people around them.
Part 2 contains 12 specific activities for raising happiness through intentional behavior:
- Practicing gratitude and positive thinking - (1) Expressing gratitude, (2)
Cultivating optimism, and (3) Avoiding overthinking
- Investing in Social
Connections - (4) Practicing acts of kindness and (5) Nurturing social relationships
- Managing Stress, Hardship, and Trauma: (6) Developing Strategies for Coping and (7) Learning to forgive
- Living in the Present: (8) Increasing Flow experiences and (9) Savoring life’s joys
- (10) Committing to goals
- Taking care
of body and soul: (11) Practicing religion and spirituality, (12) Taking care of body through meditation, physical activity,
and acting like a happy person
Some of the 12 activities have multiple
variations that make them adaptable to individual circumstances. You may say “Ho hum” when you see a strategy
such as “Celebrate good news,” or “Hug frequently,” but she includes research information that can
make you look at these strategies with new eyes.
Not every activity
works for every person. Sonja devotes a chapter to selecting activities that fit your interests, values, and needs,
including a Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic to help you select the four activities that you are most likely to do and that
will have the most benefit for you.
Part 3 addresses
the secrets to abiding happiness. Any one of the 12 activities is good while it lasts, but how do we make it last? She discusses
timing and variation, social support, and motivation, as well as the science behind turning happiness-inducing behaviors into
One caution, in her words: “I should stress, however,
that although a program to become happier can positively be attempted by those who are depressed, relief from depression is
not what this book promises.”
To conclude, this book contains
a very practical program for putting many aspects of positive psychology into daily practice.
S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.
Associated Web site: http://chass.ucr.edu/faculty_book/lyubomirsky/index.html
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
3:12 pm est
In my blog, I have been musing about feedback that we give others, both positive
and negative, including the following topics:
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
New Year's Resolutions
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It's New Year's Day, a time for reflecting on the year just completed and
planning for the one just begun.
My family has a custom that the
way you live New Year's Day sets the pattern for the year. So we started with good fellowship and stories at breakfast
-- with a guest who stayed over in order to be off the roads after a party finished long after midnight. Then the day
went by in a flash with making things clean, working puzzles, writing, and an interesting telephone call about writing.
I experienced flow multiple times during the day -- being totally absorbed in what I was doing.
I looked out the window and admired leafless trees and birds - finches, woodpeckers, doves, chickadees, junkos and more.
One of my resolutions is to create a meditation habit. One of the
tricks of building a habit is to practice consistently. In a minute, I will practice.
On Keeping a New Year's Resolution has more ideas for keeping resolutions.
Happy New Year!