The How of Happiness | Sonja Lyubomirsky

Summary of: The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want
By: Sonja Lyubomirsky


Embark on an enlightening journey to discover the true science behind happiness with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book ‘The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want’. This summary distills vital insights and practical methods that draw upon extensive research to illustrate how personal circumstances, genetics, and our thoughts and behaviors impact our happiness levels. Learn how to boost your happiness using powerful, scientifically proven strategies such as practicing gratitude, committing acts of kindness, and embracing physical and mental exercises. Begin exploring effective ways to adapt these key techniques to fit your unique personality and lifestyle, enabling yourself to cultivate lasting happiness and well-being.

The Myth of Personal Circumstances and Happiness

We often think that changes in our personal circumstances, such as getting a new job or a better relationship, would lead to greater happiness. However, research shows otherwise. Personal circumstances account for only 10% of variations in happiness levels, and the boost in happiness from major positive changes is short-lived. This is due to the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation, where we human beings get used to changes and revert to our previous levels of happiness. While there is evidence that personal circumstances have some effect on long-term happiness, the difference is minimal. Therefore, we should focus on cultivating our internal states rather than relying on external factors for happiness.

Our Genes and Our Happiness

Happiness levels may depend on our genes, but they don’t tell the whole story. Our personal circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness, which includes factors such as income, health, and major life events. Researchers have compared identical twins with fraternal twins, who either grew up together or were separated at birth, to conclude that genes play a role, but they can’t explain everything. While our genetics may predispose us to be happier or more gloomy, our environment, mindset, and behaviors also contribute significantly to our overall happiness. Thus, finding our missing 90% requires looking elsewhere beyond just our genes.

The 40 Percent Solution

Genes and circumstances may explain 60 percent of our happiness, but we can control the other 40 percent through our thoughts and behaviors. Our genes determine our happiness set point, but through effort, we can rise above it.

The Science of Happiness

Discover how intervention studies can help identify the thoughts and behaviors that increase our happiness.

Have you ever wondered which thoughts and behaviors make us happier? It is easy to assume that the happiest people just think and act differently from their unhappy counterparts. However, it’s more complicated than that. Researchers have a trick up their sleeves that helps with this – intervention studies.

Intervention studies are experiments that allow researchers to take a group of participants and actively intervene to see if they can produce a certain result – in this case, an increase in happiness. One such study involved gratitude journaling. The study’s participants were split into three randomized groups. The first group recorded five things they were grateful for three times a week, the second did the same thing once a week, while the third group was a control group that wasn’t required to do anything.

The researchers measured the self-reported happiness levels of the participants before and after the six-week intervention period to see if the gratitude journaling actually made anyone happier. Interestingly, the second group – the one that wrote in their journals only once per week – reported a significant increase in their happiness levels compared to the control group. This result was consistent with other intervention studies that showed gratitude exercises produced an array of positive emotions such as feeling optimistic, excited, joyful, and satisfied with life.

The key message here is intervention studies enable researchers to identify the thoughts and behaviours that increase our happiness. Through these studies, we can conclude that specific activities could improve our well-being, and gratitude journaling is one of them.

Timing and Frequency Matter

The effectiveness of happiness-boosting activities is hinged on the timing and frequency of practice, according to an author’s intervention study. The study compared the benefits of a gratitude journal written once a week with that written three times a week. Surprisingly, the once-a-week group reported more happiness than the thrice-a-week group. The same applies to performing acts of kindness. A group that performed five acts of kindness in a day for one day a week experienced more happiness than another that performed the same acts spread over an entire week. The explanation is speculative, but it might be because spreading the acts of kindness over a week doesn’t make them seem significant enough. The study shows that if you repeat an activity too often, it may become a chore, and the joy would be sucked out of it.

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