The How of Happiness Book Summary - The How of Happiness Book explained in key points
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The How of Happiness summary

Sonja Lyubomirsky

A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

4.6 (207 ratings)
27 mins
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    The How of Happiness
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    Our personal circumstances affect our happiness much less than we think.

    If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? A new job, relationship, or place of residence? More time, money, health, or beauty? 

    Most of us dream about something like this – some change in our personal circumstances that we imagine would make our lives much better than they currently are. We go around thinking, “If only such-and-such would happen to me, then I would be happy.” 

    But according to scientific research, these fantasies are mostly just that: fantasies. 

    The key message here is: Our personal circumstances affect our happiness much less than we think. 

    Averaging out the data from a number of different studies shows that personal circumstances appear to account for only 10 percent of the variations in people’s levels of happiness. In other words, if one person is happier than another, only 10 percent of that variation can be explained by differences in the incidental details of their lives, like their income or marital status. 

    That might seem counterintuitive. After all, most of us would enjoy a big boost of happiness if we got married, became rich, or experienced some other major, positive change in our circumstances – right? 

    Yes – but the boost would probably be short-lived. That’s because of a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation. It turns out that we human beings have an incredible knack for getting used to changes in our lives. Think of how you feel when you buy a shiny new gadget. At first, it’s exciting – but then the novelty wears off, the pleasure fades, and you go back to feeling the same way you did before. 

    Research shows that a similar thing happens when people get married or become rich. One study found that couples enjoyed a boost of happiness after they tied the knot, but it only lasted two years. Another study found that lottery winners experienced an even shorter-lived boost of one year. 

    Now, none of this means that circumstances don’t have any effect on our long-term happiness. A third study found that married couples reported being “very happy” at a higher rate than singles. But the difference was surprisingly small: 25 versus 21 percent, respectively – a difference of merely four percentage points. 

    If that’s true of something as big and meaningful as getting married, how much happiness do you think that new job or house will really bring you in the long run? 

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    What is The How of Happiness about?

    The How of Happiness (2007) provides a completely scientific guide to becoming a happier person. Drawing from a wide array of empirical research, it explains how we can increase our levels of happiness by changing our thoughts and behaviors.

    Who should read The How of Happiness?

    • Self-help fans looking for advice on how to be happy 
    • Self-help skeptics wanting a more scientific approach to the topic
    • All those who wonder what they can do to improve their mood

    About the Author

    Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She is an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology and the recipient of many academic grants and prizes. These include a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped to fund some of the research upon which The How of Happiness is based.

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