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Sonja Lyubomirsky and "The How of Happiness"

The postman delivered piles of post-holiday letters and parcels yesterday. In amongst the late Christmas presents and even a late Christmas card, was a book I had ordered called “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. I spent half an hour browsing through it in the evening. It looks good. Quite “worthy”. Fascinating too how it emphasises the sheer bloody-minded hard work that is likely to be involved in racking one’s happiness level up and keeping it up (not unlike dieting successfully?!). The book also makes a lot of its scientific underpinnings. The whole field of positive psychology though is still very much in development. Initial findings from smallish controlled trials are simply initial findings. Hopefully we’ll know much more in five years of further research.

That said, this book definitely looks one of the most interesting to have emerged in the plethora of books on happiness that are currently sitting on booksellers’ shelves. If you’re interested in being happier, I recommend Lyubomirsky’s book and I can see myself giving it to several of my friends … and having a go at some of the ideas myself. Her website is great too, giving good background information on her work and access to a whole series of freely downloadable PDF’s of many of her research articles and book chapters. I counted 40 to 50 PDF’s on the webpage including – at the bottom – a bunch of articles that are still “in press”, waiting to be published. I think it’s brilliant that access to research is so often now hugely much easier than it was a few years ago.

Lyubomirsky – with her regular professorial co-author Ken Sheldon – argues that approximately 50% of our happiness level is genetically predetermined, that only 10% is due to life circumstances, but that about 40% depends on our “intentional activity”. Examples of such activities that she discusses include expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, avoiding over-thinking and social comparisons, practising acts of kindness, nurturing relationships, developing coping strategies, learning to forgive, doing more personally engaging activities, savouring life’s joys, committing to goals, practising religion and spirituality, and taking care of our bodies. There’s nothing very surprising in these recommendations, but her advice is based on hard data. It is described well, and I find it gently inspiring.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). "The how of happiness: A practical guide to getting what you want." London: Sphere. [AbeBooks] [Amazon UK]
Lyubomirsky, S. Website at University of California, Riverside. www.faculty.ucr.edu/~sonja/index.html. Accessed January 5, 2008.
Sheldon, K. Professional Profile at University of Missouri. http://sheldon.socialpsychology.org/ Accessed January 5, 2008.
Sheldon, K. Home Page at University of Missouri. http://web.missouri.edu/~sheldonk Accessed January 5, 2008.

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