Book Review: The How of Happiness

Posted by 29 January, 2009 (11) Comment


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” -Aristotle

The How of Happiness was written by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book took me a while to get though, but not for the wrong reasons. One of the major appeals for me to this book is that it’s chock full of references and data. I’m not normally an avid note-taker while reading a book, but I took 14 pages of notes due to the volume of useful information.

Sonja begins by clearly demonstrating that you have a lot to do with how happy you are in life, 40% to be exact. This number is of course backed up by references and data so you don’t have to take her word for it. I particularly enjoyed the happiness myths that she detailed in her book. In fact, I think one of the most significant things I learned from this is that happiness can’t be found. I knew that, but it didn’t really click with me until I read her book. For example, my wife and I have often fantasized that moving out of the country or to Austin, TX would make us happier, but that is certainly not the case. She then lays out a number of happiness activities that you can employ in your life to become happier. Some of the happiness activities were common sense for me, but others were not, such as developing strategies for coping, learning to forgive, meditation, and increasing flow. I actually didn’t know what flow was prior to reading this book, but it is “the complete absorption in what one does”. She gives examples like painting, reading, fishing, and other activities people tend to lose track of time while doing. To ensure that you are efficiently applying your time wisely towards becoming happier, Sonja provides a person activity fit diagnostic test. I really like this diagnostic test. In a world where people are running around 24/7, we need efficiency and Sonja realizes that. Based on this score from the diagnostic test, you will be able to prioritize which happiness activities best suit you in your pursuit of happiness. I have to say my happiness activities were spot on, but that is for a future post!

Happiness Activities:

1. Expressing Gratitude

2. Cultivating Optimism

3. Avoiding Overthinking

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness

5. Nurturing Social Relationships

6. Developing Strategies for Coping

7. Learning to Forgive

8. Increasing Flow Experiences

9. Savoring Life’s Joys

10. Committing to Your Goals

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality

12. Taking Care of Your Body (Meditation)

12a. Taking Care of Your Body (Physical Activity)

12b. Taking Care of Your Body (Acting Like a Happy Person)

Before beginning your happiness journey, you need a starting point. In other words, you need to know how happy you are right now. There’s actually a way to give this a value and one method is by taking the Oxford Happiness Questionaire. The scores range from a 1 to a 6. The average is a 4.30. I actually scored a 4.10. That makes me unhappy (just kidding).

Once you have found out the happiness activities that best suit you and your happiness score, it’s time to begin your journey to a happier you. I like that she goes into each of the happiness activities in detail, but not too much as to bore the reader. There is a wide variety of activities within each happiness activity so there is bound to be something that suits you best.

One of the more interesting references in the book was that religious or spiritual people tend to be happier. Sonja addresses that there is no definite conclusion as to why this is the case, but I found it interesting nevertheless.

From my perspective, the book is laid out in a logical and useful manner. It’s probably one of the more useful books I’ve read in terms of being a good reference guide. It was not a quick read for me, but not taking notes would have helped speed that along. If you want to learn how to be happier, this is the book for you. It gives you a step by step plan on how to increase your happiness level. A lot of books give you a few tips, but I haven’t seen a guide like this. It’s comprehensive and gives many references with great data, should you want to explore a topic further. In fact, there are over 40 pages full of references in the back of the book.

For other reviews of this book, be sure to check out: Positive Psychology News Daily or Reflections by Gurmeet Singh Manku

Other Posts:

The 3 Myths of Happiness
Is Happiness Viral?
What Determines Happiness?
10 Simple Ways to Overcome Disappointment
What Would Happen if More People Were Financially Independent?

Categories : Book Review,Happiness Tags : ,

The 3 Myths of Happiness

Posted by 18 December, 2008 (14) Comment


I recently wrote about What Determines Happiness that may be a companion article to this post. In the book, The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, she determined that you have the opportunity to improve your happiness by as much as 40%. That almost sounds like a random figure, but fortunately she has a TON of references to back up her research which is why I find the book to be of high value. The other 60% of your potential happiness is made up of a genetic set point and circumstances (married or single, high paying job or low paying job, fit or not fit). Only 10% of your happiness is determined by your circumstances and the other 50% is determined by your genetic composition.

No matter your current happiness level, I think these happiness myths will certainly help you in your journey to finding happiness.

Myth #1

Happiness Must Be Found – Happiness must be found means that you will not be happy until you find your dream job, find the perfect spouse, or move to your ideal city. This myth may or may not be a no brainer for you. For me, while I know that buying a BMW M3 won’t make me happier, this is a nice reminder. One of my goals is to be financially independent by age 40 ( I have 9.5 years left). One thing I need to keep in mind is that why this is an ambitious goal and a financial situation that seems like nirvana to me, I need to ensure I enjoy the journey. In other words, I need to make sure I’m happy now and through my journey to and after financial independence. I need to make sure that I’m happy whether I’m financially independent or not.

Myth #2

Happiness Lies in Changing Our Circumstances – This refers to the statement that Sonja calls “I will be happy IF ______” or “I will be happy WHEN _______”. One of the examples that my wife and I point to as potential circumstances that we think will make us happy is going back to college or moving abroad. The fact of the matter is that while we may get the initial “rush” from going back to school to relive our college years or moving abroad, these circumstances will only increase our happiness by 10% and I bet the affects would wear off shortly after going to school or moving abroad.

Myth #3

Either You Have It or You Don’t – Have you met the person that is always optimistic and always happy about everything? I know I assumed that they were born happy. Perhaps they were born with a higher genetic set point, but through research, it has been determined that you are able to control 40% of your happiness. Happiness is inside all of us. You just have to decide you want it.

I’d love to hear your comments!

Photo By: MiniDriver

External References

The Happiness Myth – NY Times Book Review

The Happiness Myth @ Amazon

The Happiness Myth – Mental Interface Book Review

The 10 Biggest Myths of Happiness by 10 Biggest Myths.net

The Happiness Myth – Washington Post Book Review

Other Posts

17 Ways to Save the Planet
The Biggest Bailout Ever
Is Happiness Viral?
What Determines Happiness?
10 Simple Ways to Overcome Disappointment

Categories : Happiness Tags :

Is Happiness Viral?

Posted by 8 December, 2008 (4) Comment


We know videos can go viral. Other people can catch a sickness or a cold from you. Recent research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that happiness can be viral too. Above is a picture of a social network of people. The circles represent females, the squares represent males and the lines between them indicate relationships. Colors of the circles or squares show the average happiness of a person and all of his or her social relations. The lighter the square or circle, the happier the person. Here is a link to the NY Times picture. Ewen Callaway at New Scientist has a graph shown following this link that nicely displays how a happy friend, coworker, or spouse would affect your happiness. The graph also displays how the distance you live with a friend will affect your happiness. As one might expect, a happy friend that lives closer is much more likely to make you happy.  In fact, a friend with three degrees of separation can increase your happiness by 6%!

It’s truly amazing what friends can do for you or friends or friends of friends in some cases! In fact, James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego states that “Even people we don’t know and have never met have bigger effect on our mood than substantial increases in income.”

Below is a video provided by CNN that gives illustrates the point that happiness is indeed viral.

Photo courtesy of James Fowler/ UCSD and the NY Times
Other Posts:

What Determines Happiness?
Bad Medicine is What You Need
5 Ways to Soften the Financial Impact of the Holidays
10 Reasons Why I Want You to Be Financially Independent

External Resources:

Friends Quit Smoking? You Probably Will Too by MSN
James Fowler Home Page
Your Happiness Could Be Contagious by MSN
Find Yourself Packing It On? Blame Friends by NY Times
Viral Happiness

Categories : Happiness Tags :

What Determines Happiness?

Posted by 4 December, 2008 (5) Comment


Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. -Aristotle

I think what we all really want is to be happy, right? We go to college to get the right job we want to have the life style we want so we can be happy. We get married because we think that’ll make us happy. We work long hours to get promoted because we think that’ll make us happy. We have kids and treat them well because that makes us happy. We do all of these things to make ourselves happy. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. So, why isn’t the U.S. also the happiest country in the world? According to TheHappinessShow.com with reference to: A CROSS-CULTURAL SOURCEBOOK BASED ON THE 1999-2002 VALUES SURVEYS (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2004), the U.S. is only the 15th happiest country as shown below.

1. Puerto Rico
2. Mexico
3. Denmark
4. Colombia
5. Ireland
6. Iceland
7. N. Ireland
8. Switzerland
9. Netherlands
10. Canada
11. Austria
12. El Salvador
13. Venezuela
14. Luxembourg
15. U.S.
16. Australia
17. New Zealand
18. Sweden
19. Nigeria
20. Norway
21. Belgium
22. Finland
23. Singapore
24. W. Germany
25. France
26. Argentina
27. Vietnam
28. Chile
29. Indonesia
30. Philippines
31. Taiwan
32. Brazil
33. Spain
34. Israel
35. Italy
36. Portugal
37. E. Germany
38. Slovenia
39. Japan
40. Czech Rep
41. S. Africa
42. Croatia
43. Greece
44. Peru
45. China
46. Morocco
47. S. Korea
48. Iran
49. Poland
50. Turkey
51. Bosnia
52. Uganda
53. Algeria
54. Bangladesh
55. Egypt
56. Kyrgyzstan
57. Hungary
58. Slovakia
59. Jordan
60. Estonia
61. Serbia
62. Tanzania
63. Azerbaijan
64. Montenegro
65. India
66. Lithuania
67. Macedonia
68. Pakistan
69. Latvia
70. Albania
71. Bulgaria
72. Belarus
73. Georgia
74. Romania
75. Moldova
76. Russia
77. Armenia
78. Ukraine
79. Zimbabwe

*Note that not all countries in the world were included in the survey*

According to GNN, “Government policies that promote economic growth, while shortchanging workers on things like vacation time, family time and health insurance, will not produce happy citizens. Since World War II, the per capita income in the U.S. has tripled, but life satisfaction has stayed the same. The same thing has happened in Japan and Western Europe. One reason may be that a rising economy, and the aggressive advertising that accompanies it, makes people desire even more things; therefore, they remain discontented.”

Jason Zwieg in Your Money and Your Brain found that rich are indeed not happier than those of us fortunate enough to be above the poverty line. When a study was conducted from various groups on a scale of 1 (not at all happy) to 7 (extremely happy), the results were striking. Jason points out that on “average, members of the Maasai ethnic group who herd livestock on the arid high plains of Kenya and Tanzania, score 5.7 on this scale. The Inuit, who live in the frigid wilds of northern Greenland, average 5.8. The Amish, with their antiquated rural lifestyle, also score 5.8. When members of the Forbes 400, the famed “Rich List” of the wealthiest people in America took a similar test, their average response was 5.8.”

So, if money doesn’t determine happiness, then what?

Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, suggests

1. 50% of happiness can be accounted for by their genetic set point

2. 10% of happiness is explained by the difference in life circumstances or situations (i.e. whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced.)

3. 40% of happiness is determined by our behavior

Now, think about what Sonja has put together. Of the amount of happiness we hope to achieve, we can increase or decrease our happiness by 40% if we decide to be happy. I’ve always had that thought, but Sonja really does a nice job of putting all together. The part I like about her research is that she backs everything up with references.

What are some of your thoughts?

Photo by SpiritHands.net

Recent Posts:

10 Simple Ways to Overcome Disappointment
Bad Medicine is What You Need
What I’ve Learned From College Football and the Presidential Election
What Would Happen if More People Were Financially Independent?
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Categories : Happiness Tags :

10 Simple Ways to Overcome Disappointment

Posted by 1 December, 2008 (12) Comment


Everyone is disappointed at some point in their life. Perhaps you didn’t receive the grade you were hoping for on your math test. Maybe you didn’t perform as well as you had hoped for in the big championship soccer game.

My recent disappointment is that despite a good amount of effort, my wife and I have not secured our first real estate investing deal that I put into my goals for 2008. We’ve had quite a few that were very close to going through, but we haven’t quite made it over that “hump”.

Disappointment can be an ugly thing. Disappointment can be a temporary feeling for some people or it may drag others to depression depending on the severity of the disappointment and the mental state of the person. Disappointment has actually been classified as a type of mental stress (see reference).

So, what are some ways to overcome disappointment!


1. Exercise – If something is bothering me, I exercise. I don’t exercise to try and forget about the problem necessarily. I exercise and work through the problem in my head and I seem to always come to a solution. Perhaps it’s the endorphins helping out, but I seem to always come to a resolution.

2. Focus on the Future – There’s a reason why the rearview mirror in a car is small, but the front windshield is large. Focus your attention on what’s in front of you. Sure it’s good to know about the past, but DON”T DWELL ON IT!

3. Be with Friends – It’s amazing what being around friends will do for a person. If you are disappointed about something, find and friend and go talk about your disappointment. A lot of times people think their situation is unique when more often than not, many people have been through the same situation. Plus, it’s good to talk it through and a lot of times you’ll realize that it’s probably not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

4. Focus on What Makes You Happy – If you are feeling disappointed and watching a comedy makes you happy, go down to the store and rent a comedy from a DVD rental center. If you have kids and they make you happy, go play with them. It won’t take long before you forget about your disappointment.

5. Go Read – Reading can be a great tool to get your mind off of what’s bothering you and allow you to focus on the story in the book. Who knows, perhaps you’ll find that reading is a new hobby for you if you are not already an avid reader.

6. Go Walk Your Dog – If you have a dog, walking them is a great way to keep your mind off of your disappointment. A lot of the dogs I’m around are soi friendly, it’s hard not to forget about your disappointment.

7. You Have Your Health – Despite your disappointment, you have your health. I know I get caught up in sports, goals and activities, but instead of focusing on the fact that we came up short in a soccer game or didn’t quite complete a goal, I focus on the fact that I have my health. I have a lot of friends that are not able to play soccer due to their health so I am certainly thankful for the opportunity to still play.

8. Be Alone – This my seem counterintuitive to some of the other ways to overcome disappointment, but sometimes and for some people, it’s good to be alone. I know I sometimes enjoy being alone so I can have some quite time to myself without the distraction of the television of other noises.

9. Motivation – When I am disappointed about an outcome, it motivates me to not to want to feel that way again. For instance, I’m disappointed that I will probably not make my goal of purchasing our first real estate investment. Instead of hanging my head low over the fact that I didn’t accomplish that goal, I’m going to regroup and double my efforts!

10. Forgive Yourself – Just as you are taught to forgive others for their wrongdoings, you must live to forgive yourself and realize that you are human and not perfect. Things don’t always fall the way you want them do, but if you plan and put enough effort into your goal, you’ll definitely give yourself a good chance at realizing that goal.

What other methods or tricks do you use to overcome disappointment?

Photo by Diabloooz, The-O

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Categories : Happiness,Personal Development Tags : , ,