Jul 11, 2019 in Book Review

Sonja Lyubornirsky "The how of happiness"

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a Professional Psychologist at the University of California. She resides in United States, but her original homeland is in Russia. She has received a PhD and her A.B., summa cum laude, from Stanford and Harvard University respectively. In her PhD, she specialized in Personality/Social Psychology. She currently acts as an advisor of Psychology in the department of graduate. She also teaches courses in positive psychology and social psychology. Her mentoring and teaching of students were brought to recognition through the Faculty Mentor and Faculty of the Year Awards. Through her research, she was awarded with a Science of a Generosity grant also a grant of one million dollar. The research involved a finding of the possibility of a long term increase of happiness. Lyubomirsky’s research has been written and recognized by various newspapers and magazines, and she has been heard in multiple radio stations, appeared in Television shows, also she has been popular in Europe, Asia, Australia, South and North America. She has toured many countries around the world lecturing various groups of people that include the educators, military officers, life coaches, retirees, scholars and students. The book, The How of Happiness is published and translated in nineteen languages.

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Lyubomirsky’s research work has mainly focused on happiness through developing it scientifically. She tries to find the benefit of happiness, the things that make people happy and the ways of making other happier. For example, she is currently trying to explore the potential of activities that sustain happiness e.g., expressing gratitude, acting kindly to other, visualizing a future that is positive, and doing reflection of happy moments – to durably raise one’s happiness level even above one’s set point. She has done the research about happiness for over 20 years and has contributed much to its publication. She lives happily together with her children and husband in California.

More money or more time can’t make one substantially happier. Although, these two things are the most prioritized in pursuit of happiness, the Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, the how of happiness, surprise us much by proving that money and time can’t buy true and lasting happiness. It is a motivational and realistic goal oriented book that enables the reader in finding the fulfillment and happiness in their lives – ‘having a goal towards a happy life is not unrealistic or naïve’. The biggest mistake we always do as the book explains is seeking for happiness in the wrong places. As we look for solutions towards happiness, we always tend to overlook the real sources of well being and personal happiness. As a scientific research suggests, ‘what is believed to make a big difference in one’s life only makes a quite small difference’. Whereas happiness is probably critical for people who are for now low or depressed, it is much valuable for everyone.

The author of the book intends to show us why happiness and our desires towards getting happy aren’t just a pipe dream or goals that can’t be achieved. Although the book tries to reach out for everyone in pursuit of happiness, one may pick it through believing that he/she is not living to the fullest potential towards his/her working or personal life. Or maybe one is not fulfilled and happy as he would like to be. According to samples given by National representatives of American adults, shows that above 50 percent of the people are mentally healthy yet do not flourish. They are not enthusiastic and are not productively and actively involved with the world around them. This helps to explain why the desire of happiness is popular from clinically depressed people to those who are not much happy as they would want to be, those who feels like they are not much flourishing  also those who may be doing quite better but still yearns for more good relationships, joy, meaning of their lives and stimulating jobs. Nevertheless, one may have known what true happiness is in the past but feel weak to bring it to a present life.

The "How of Happiness" challenge the reader to think of those things that can make him or her to become more happy.At this point, one may feel a little more skeptical about the program of being happy that the book describes. One may wonder if that the long lasting happiness is so within reach and attainable why then one seems so poor at it? Why is that every time it is tried you get to fail. The main reason, as the author puts it is that; people have been made to believe in wrong things in finding long term happiness. Even the psychological experts have come up with evidences of people trying to find fulfillment and pleasure in ways they think are right, only to find themselves working to make things happen that in a real sense don’t make them any happy. It looks like some of the mistake individuals make is that they assume that positive things, whether it is, hot dates, promotions at work, victories by the teams they support or their presidential candidates, or clean bills of health, brings about more happiness than they actually does. For instance if one takes materialistic things, the pursuit of possession and money, why then does it seem so hard to believe that money does not offer happiness that is always thought to bring.

In considering of what makes one happy, the author views of people belief of money and happiness. It is not that money does not make one happy, but it is always misunderstood in bringing about long lasting kind of happiness. People tend to consider that, once they obtain the money they will have a long and lasting happiness. Actually, as one happiness researcher concluded; ‘money brings a little happiness for a short period of time’. More often as we struggle towards finding happiness in life, we always ignore other ways which are more effective routes towards our well-being.

The book, on how to happiness, contains interviews of people who realized that things like: fame, wealth and beauty, things that we think bring happiness, don’t really matter in pursuit of satisfying happiness. One of the interview the author shares with us is that of rock star, Neil. By the time Neil was a young boy, he had made up his mind that he wanted to become a rock star. Despite the odds he had to face in pursuit of his dream, he actually achieved it. By being a drummer for a successful and promising folk-rock group he appeared on a major television show – Saturday Night Live, made himself a fortune, got nominations for Grammy awards, and, for a long time travelled different countries from various continents along with the band he was working with. Despite having all kind of things one would ask for maybe for happiness – successful career and a good family, his world collapsed unexpectedly. By band breaking up, there were no more touring, he lost his big house, and later his wife left him.

The author spent the whole afternoon at a humble ranch – style house interviewing Neil that was his new house. Now he is a single father of two children and they live near Winnipeg, an area that was sparsely settled.  School and the shops were miles away and it was always hard to manage for a play date or a trip for milk as the place was always very cold. Also there was another thing of concern for Neil just like every parent that of his children walking along all that distance towards school especially on cold days.

But even after going through all that kind of odds, Neil seemed more comfortable and at peace with him. He represented a good father figure by being genuine and at ease with his kids. He still continued to engage himself with music. And while asked if being a rich rock star made him happy, Neil said that even after losing money and fame that he  had, his happiness is all the same like  nothing have  happened.

Another true story the author of the book shares with us is that of Denise who resides in St. Petersburg, Florida. This woman used to teach in high school specializing with students who had learning disabilities. Later on she quitted her job to stay with her three kids that were schooling. It wasn't an easy task to spend the whole time as a mother. Moreover, as she approached forty, Denise started feeling ashamed of   herself to the extent that she stopped wearing makeup, felt tired all the time and lacked attitude towards work. She rather developed an attitude that made her believe that she was older than she really was. By spending several years in Florida, a place with the hot sun most of the time, it made her face to look wrinkled.

As time went by, Denise decided to apply for an Extreme Makeover which to her delight made on the show. The surgery that took a total of twelve hours, involved Denise’s eye lift, a lower an upper forehead lift, also a whole face lift. Her face was resurfaced with laser, liposuction was done beneath her chin and there was a bump to be taken out of her nose. An extreme make over was so perfectly done that, one could not notice Denise’s reconstructed face. She looked more beautiful and much younger.

Denise felt all again much confident as she received much attention from the media, friends, strangers and her family. She felt like a movie star. Almost over confidence with her new look, she wanted a new life for her leaving behind her husband. But later on she came to know that it was a mistake to consider breaking up with her husband and to give up her marriage. The question that remains is; if the plastic surgery made Denise happier. She confessed that wrinkles are not that bad and it is good to have less of them. Again the plastic surgery didn’t make her happier as she would later tell that the makeover is not much a thing in comparison to real and true happiness.

As a matter of fact, Neil and Denise’s case proves that not even being beautiful, famous or rich can make one happy. And by relating to these cases and combining them with evidences from various researches the author has been able to come with theory about what really matters in pursuit of happiness.

The book describes strategies important in boosting the feelings of wellbeing, even if one is deeply despondent. To continue ensuing the benefits of happiness – booster, one need to get on a program which takes a long period of time. The good thing of building and sustaining happiness through this plan is that the ability to do so is greatest when the new practices and behavior you will learn are yet to come naturally, but as time goes by the effort required diminishes, as those strategies become self- reinforcing and habitual.

This book, The How of Happiness talks about a step-by-step program on how to enhance happiness that one may choose to begin any time and embark on it for the rest of his life. It challenges and motivates the reader that the only person who has got the power to make it happen is oneself. The book also have a word to those diagnosed with depression; that the program on happiness is not intended to replace the treatments that they are undertaking such as antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. The happiness program should rather be taken as a potent therapy, and might help the patient feel better soon and feel stronger.

Part one of the book talks about the possibilities of becoming happier and the necessities of being happy. Sonja gives an explanation of why taking a step towards a happy life is an important goal that everyone should pursue and that its construction is a better description than its pursuit. Her argument is that 50% of our happiness set point is determined by our genes. 10% of our happiness comes from the things we think they are important having or doing in pursuit of it. These includes; occupation, possessions, living conditions, church memberships and family relationships. The rest percentage of our happiness which is 40% is always determined by our behaviors, habits and thought patterns which we can always directly with actions that are intentional.

Sonja argues that it is much beneficial if one addresses 40%, the percentage in association with our behaviors more than addressing 10%, the percentage in association with life circumstances. She explains that people that are always happy tend to be more energetic, healthier, more productive at work and more beneficial to the people close to them. This message is of great benefit to community at large.

The part two of the book contains more than ten specific activities that can be done to raise happiness through behaviors that are done intentionally. She has advised readers about positive thinking and practicing gratitude, avoiding over thinking and Cultivating optimism. She goes on advising how to manage trauma, hardship and stress through coping with situations strategically also forgiving. It still talks of social connections investment through practices of nurturing our relationships and showing kindness to one another.

It is also in this book where Sonja talks of savoring life’s joy, living in the present and commitment to goals. As she has wrote, taking care of our bodies through meditating, exercising and acting like happy people always contribute to our happiness. Moreover, practicing spirituality and religion is much of benefit to our soul.

Sonja achieves her purpose of the book not because she has come up with something new in positive psychology, but because she has put all the features together in a unique way that is very accessible to all readers. She has included references to other sources for everyone who would like to go deeper. Some of the activities she has recommended have multiple variations that make them adaptable to circumstances of each and every individual. Most come with concise descriptions of the research that make them shows a lot of difference.  She has included research bits of information in strategies like; hugging frequently and celebrating of good news, and make them seem worth some. She has also addressed limitations of different approaches. She also advices Journaling may be valuable for coping with challenges, committing to goals and practicing optimism, but it can be a challenge while trying to take pleasure in more.

To make the book more purposeful, Sonja has written on how to select activities that fit one’s values, needs and interests. She has provided the reader with a choice from various fitting activities. She has also mentioned some experimental validation of the efficiency of the diagnostic tool. The tool may seem immature than a few of the individual activities, but then, it is much successful.

The part three of the book explains the secrets of long lasting happiness. The activities she has advised about are worthwhile if they last, but the challenge is of maintaining them. She discusses variation and timing, motivation, social support and the science behind making behaviors that induce happiness into habits. In this part of the book she advises those who are depressed to stick to the program of becoming happier. She has also included important information to encourage those who are depressed to seek help elsewhere.

‘The how of happiness’ is a remarkable book that contains a good practical program that can help anyone who makes an effort to read it to put a lot of positive psychology in practice on a daily basis. Though it does not have all of positive psychology, it has got practical suggestions, descriptions of research and engaging examples. It is a book worth read by anybody who aspires to lead a happier life.

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