In How To Be Happy: Understanding the Myths of Happiness, I reviewed Sonja Lyubomirsky’s latest book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, But Does. Parts of that article were also drawn from an interview I attended (long distance) between Lyubomirsky and Ben Dean (MentorCoach.com).
Today’s article picks up some of the interview points I didn’t include in the article as well as some excellent summary points Dean provided in his pre-interview material.
First, for those unfamiliar with Lyubomirsky, she’s probably the leading expert on happiness, what it is and how to get more of it into our lives. Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD., is Professor of Psychology at the University of California-Riverside. Sonja currently teaches courses in social psychology and positive psychology and serves as the Department of Psychology’s graduate advisor. Her teaching and mentoring of students have been recognized with the Faculty of the Year and Faculty Mentor of the Year Awards.
Sonja’s research has been awarded several research prizes and has been written up in hundreds of magazines and newspapers, while she has appeared on multiple TV shows, radio shows, and feature documentaries around the world.
Validated How to be Happy Tips
The importance of all of the above is that she isn’t simply putting together advice and recommendations based on a few personal experiences and anecdotal observations. Her research is well documented, peer reviewed, and subjected to the stringent publication rules of scientific journals. She draws from her own research and the research of others in her field to provide information that is validated and useful.
Now, what are her messages? As her book title indicates, she’s attempting to put to rest the myths we have about happiness—that some positive events will make us happy forever, and other negative events will ruin our lives forever. Neither is true. Humans are amazingly resilient. We adapt to new situations quickly, assimilating the new and rather quickly accepting the changed circumstances as our lives.
So the great promotion you’ve dreamed of and worked for over several years becomes old-hat after a few months. Ditto the hoped for positive of a new love or the dreaded negative of a disease diagnosis.
For more of this very useful book’s content, see How to Be Happy: Understanding the Myths of Happiness. You may also enjoy my own book on happiness, The Happiness Workbook: Take Control of Your Happiness – Dozens of Proven Ways to Be Happier.
Now for some interesting tidbits from Lyubomirsky’s interview on January 25, 2013.
Lyubomirsky on Happiness and How to be Happy
Following are bits of wisdom from I gleaned from her interview, in no particular order or priority, just as they came up in the discussion.
- Lyubomirsky indicated her definition of happiness aligns well with colleague Ed Diener’s, indicating that happiness is a state of experiencing frequent positive emotion, more frequent positive than negative emotion. Also, the overall feeling that life is good.
- Asked the point of this latest book, she responded that there are misconceptions about happiness that can lead to poor life choices and decisions. An example of this might be someone believing that she must be married or in a romantic relationship to be happy, causing her to form a relationship or even marry someone whom she doesn’t really love. As you’ll see below, the happiness aspect of marriage is part myth.
- She described the myths of happiness as feelings of “I’ll be happy when…” When I find my true love, When I get rich, When I have a child, When (fill in the blank). She explains that many of these feelings that “I’ll be happy when…” or on the flip side, “My life will be ruined if…” are myths that fail to take into account a phenomena termed hedonic adaptation.
- Hedonic adaptation is a scientific term for the human ability to adjust quite rapidly to new circumstances, causing bursts of happiness to fade more quickly than we think they will and blankets of despair to also fade quickly after the onset of bad news/circumstances.
- To aid people in making good choices regarding happiness, she arranged the book around the common major turning points of life. Positive turning points include marriage, children, professional satisfaction, and wealth, while negative turning points include remaining single, divorce, financial ruin, and illness. For each turning point she covers the myths, exploding them with examples, as well as interventions anyone can do to smooth the transition to a new life situation.
- She observed that nothing can permanently keep a surge of happiness going, but appreciation, gratitude, and variety can slow the adaptation.
- People have a base-line or set-point of happiness, part of which is genetic, but the set-point can be changed, allowing one to become, on average, happier than before.
- Happier people are more successful, more generous, more productive, and more helpful to others.
- Happier people are more likely to get married.
- Married people are happier than divorced, separated, or widowed people, but not happier than lifelong single people.
- Relationships are THE most critical determinant of happiness. Or as psychologist Chris Peterson said, “Other people matter.”
- When asked her favorite book on relationships, she responded with John Gottman’s, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
- She recommended Gottman’s book to anyone who is or wants to be in a romantic relationship.
- In discussing the role of money in happiness she indicated if you’re poor, money makes a huge difference in your happiness, but once you have enough money above being poor, the more you have can make you happier, but it’s not as big a contributor to happiness as we might expect it to be. For example, two-thirds of the happiness benefits of a raise in income is erased after just one year.
- Interestingly, she described ways to spend money that can lead to greater happiness. These three ways are :
- Anything leading to personal growth,
- Anything contributing to your community and the world, helping others,
- Anything that contributes to your relationships and connections to others
- Lyubomirsky suggested that we can extend the happiness benefits of positive events by re-experiencing the memories as we re-visit them. On the negative events side, she suggested refraining from ruminating on negative memories, instead reflecting on what you learned from them.
- Regarding unfulfilled dreams, confront the dream and re-frame who you are with respect to the unfulfilled dream. Don’t ruminate, but think of your life long term back and forward and place the current situation in perspective to your total life.
How to Find Happiness in Life
Finding happiness is behind nearly everything we do, so a book such as The Myths of Happiness, which is loaded with practical and validated tips for how to be happy is priceless. This book is well written, easily understood, and tailor-made for helping you deal with specific happiness-damaging life events such as divorce or layoff, as well as equipping you to set practical expectations for the happiness you’ll experience with the new job, the promotion, or finding the love of your life.
Books from Personal Growth Resources
What is Life all About? How do I Find my Purpose? is the latest in the Personal Growth Resources series of personal growth books. Other books in the series include:
- The Happiness Workbook: Take Control of Your Happiness – Dozens of Proven Ways to be Happier ,
- Sample Personal Development Plan and Workbook, and
- 5 Keys to Balancing Work and Life: Get Back to Basics and Balance Your Life.
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Jerry Lopper – Personal Growth Resources
Build your life on a foundation of purpose