May 17

Happiness: Quotes from the Experts

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, on finding happiness

Finding happiness is a preoccupation for many. The following quotes from various authors and experts may help point you in the right direction.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

Matthieu RicardHappinessHappiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? in an interview with Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic: On the one hand, we are hard-wired to focus more on negative things. But at the same time, we are also all hard-wired to be seeking a sense of happiness and the desire to flourish, and to be the best we can be. Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Paul Dolan, Happiness By Design: Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy.

David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness ProjectThe belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: To be sure, most of us do become happier at some point during our lives. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, people actually get happier with age.

Daniel M. Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness: We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Jul 13

Happiness Research: Books by Sonja Lyubomirsky

The happiness research of Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, But Does, has revealed some interesting facts. For instance, in an interview with Bret L. Simmons she named the biggest myths about happiness:

…(1) that happiness is genetic (i.e., you either have it or you don’t) and (2) that happiness can be found in circumstantial changes (i.e., I’ll only be happy when X happens). Research shows that a large part of happiness is explained by what people do and how they think. So even when X changes, if you’re an unhappy person, you’ll still remain an unhappy person, unless you change the way you think and the way you act.

One of her main theses (see her website) involves learning how to change one’s mindset:

The Myths of Happiness empowers readers to look beyond their first response, sharing scientific evidence that often it is our mindset—not our circumstances—that matters. Central to these findings is the notion of hedonic adaptation, the fact that people are far more adaptable than they think. Even after a major life change—good or bad—we tend to return to our initial happiness level, forgetting what once made us elated or why we felt that life was so unbearable.

Ten of the book’s best happiness research findings (culled from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s website):

  • “Marital satisfaction decreases after the first baby is born and soars after the last child leaves home.”
  • “…(P)arents reported more meaning and purpose in life when spending time with their children than during the rest of their days.”
  • “Is the saying true that ‘A mother can never be happier than her least happy child’? Yes. Psychologists have shown heartache from one child easily overwhelms pride over another.”
  • Every 90 minutes we have an “ultradian dip” (“20-minute periods of fatigue, lethargy, and difficulty concentrating.”)
  • “Money does make us happier (at least a little), but it does not lift our day-to-day emotions.”
  • “Having people in our lives we can rely on is as important a protective factor from chronic disease or death as are smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.”
  • 90% of us have deep regrets. “People typically regret more the things they haven’t done than the things they’ve done.”
  • “Happy people make a point of noting how much better the present is than the past, while unhappy people do the opposite.”
  • The unhappiest time of life? Youth and emerging adulthood.
  • The older we get the more likely we view past things positively and overlook bad things.

Her book The How of Happiness (2008) similarly has important nuggets. A selection also taken from her website:

  • “Studies show that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities.”
  • Wealth and being married are two things that, contrary to popular opinion, don’t significantly increase happiness.
  • If marriage brings you happiness, those effects erode by the end of two years.
  • “Satisfied and stable couples are relatively more likely to idealize each other.”
  • “Hugs make people happier.”
  • “The practice of repetitively replaying your happiest life events serves to prolong and reinforce positive emotions and make you happier, whereas systematically analyzing your happiest life events has the reverse effect.”
  • “Exercise lifts depression just as well as medication.”
  • “Half of us feel worse, not better, when we exercise.”
  • “It’s maladaptive to be too happy.”
  • “Contrary to popular belief, most people who repeatedly try to kick habits are successful.”