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.”