Happiness is not some magical state of mind that we’re born with, blessed with, or lucky enough to stumble upon—but rather a way of being in the world that each of us can attain. No matter what your external circumstances, you can choose to be happy by changing and managing the way you think and feel. This is the simple, yet extraordinarily powerful, concept at the heart of psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s ground-breaking new book.
Dr. Lyubomirsky knows for a fact makes us happy and what doesn’t because she has spent her career testing, calibrating and quantifying all facets of the subject. What makes The How of Happiness unique is not only the depth with which Dr. Lyubomirsky explores the subject, but the rigorous science on which her conclusions are grounded. The truth about happiness is both challenging and surprising. If you think that having more money, a bigger house, your dream job, or even the ideal mate will make you happy, think again. Studies have proven that sooner or later we grow accustomed to all of these —even the bump in happiness from marriage disappears on average after two years.
So what does make us happy? Dr. Lyubomirsky answers this first by examining the traits, behaviors, habits and values of happy people. Research indicates that happy people are optimistic, forgiving, caring, involved in the lives of others, passionate about what they do and able to savor the moment. They tend to be committed to lifelong goals, they maintain deep friendships, and they are likely to be in touch with life’s spiritual side. But what if none of that describes you? If you’re not happy, how can you share in the strength, the confidence and positive outlook of happy people? Genetics and circumstance are limiting factors on happiness, but as Dr. Lyubomirsky demonstrates, fully 40 percent of happiness is within our control. We can, in fact, not only decide to be happy, but practice making ourselves happier. Activities as simple as smiling more, hugging people we care about, and expressing gratitude have been proven to boost happiness, even in those suffering from depression. Through a regimen of tests and exercises, we can profoundly alter our outlook on life. In The How of Happiness, Dr. Lyubomirsky explains how to assess what makes you happy and then design a happiness program that fits with your personality, lifestyle, and individual needs.
The secret of happiness is that it lies within ourselves and within our grasp: we just need to know where to look for it and how to bring it forth. This groundbreaking book holds the key that has been proven to work in countless studies. The How of Happiness is at once a lucid, practical program for how to change your life—and an eye-opening exploration of the sources of life’s joy.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., 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.
- Define exactly what happiness means to you. To what extent does your personal definition of happiness match with that in the book? How does it depart? Is there an aspect of happiness that the author misses?
- The author asserts that The How of Happiness differs from other self-help books because it distills empirical research and avoids conclusions based on anecdotes or hunches. Do you agree that there is something fundamentally unique about this book—and if so, do you think its uniqueness flows from the solidity of the research or is there some other factor at work?
- Which of the book’s insights or revelations into the nature of happiness struck you as truly new, surprising or even revolutionary? What surprised you most about the nature of happiness? Were there any assertions or findings with which you strongly disagree?
- Studies indicate that more money, a bigger house, more fabulous vacations, and better jobs don’t really make us happier in the long run —nor do disabilities and hardship make us less happy. Do you agree based on your own experiences and those around you? If not, talk about some of the external things that have made you happy and why.
- The author writes at length about the thinking and behavior of happy people—their personal relationships, their comfort expressing gratitude, helpfulness, commitment to lifelong goals, etc. Do you actually know anyone who fits this description? Are these individuals in fact extraordinarily happy? Compare your own match with this happiness profile.
- Choosing to be happy is at the heart of the author’s recommendations for increasing the “40 percent” of our happiness that we have control over. Do you think this approach is adapted to a certain personality type—that some people are just too cynical, self-conscious or set in their ways to influence their happiness? What about you?
- Researcher Robert Emmons describes gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” This is fascinating since it goes well beyond the standard definition of gratitude. Share your thoughts about this definition and add your own take. While on the subject of gratitude, what are each of you grateful for and why? Assess whether talking about gratitude has helped you as individuals and as a group.
- In her discussion of friendship, the author say that three is the magic number of friends you can “really count on.” Is this true for your experiences? Open the discussion to a general consideration of the relationship between friendship and happiness.
- Let’s say you were a research scientist charged with measuring happiness. How would you design your experiments, questionnaires, interviews, criteria, etc.? What do you think about the various studies that the author describes or conducts—how effective, thorough and insightful do you think these are? What would you do differently and why?
- Do you find the approach and style of the book well-suited to the subject? Did you complete the tests and try out the exercises—or did you find yourself resisting the author’s hands-on directions? If you did complete the tests and exercises, share your findings and feelings about their usefulness. Which interventions worked best, least well for you? If didn’t try any, talk about reasons why you chose not to use this aspect of the book.
- The author frequently advises writing and journal keeping, for example, as a way to come to terms with trauma, hurt feelings, stress—but she advises against journal-writing for “savoring or relishing the present.” Discuss journals you have kept, how you have used them to enhance your happiness, and whether you agree that in general journals are better for dealing with negative experiences than savoring positive ones.
- In the Afterword the author describes herself as “the ultimate reluctant subject” and recounts her surprise how writing the book changed her life. Who among you considers him/herself a reluctant subject and why? Did any of you have reactions similar to the author while reading the book and doing the exercises—surprising surges of happiness, gratefulness, connection with others? Did the book really make you happy and if so, in what ways?