The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

I wonder who else would have written this book better than Sonja Lyubomirsky – the Ivy league educated professor of the University of California in the department of Psychology.

With a worldwide wave of positive psychology sweeping through, it is no surprise that psychologists are focusing on being happy and staying that way rather than curing mental health issues.



Author : Sonja Lyubomirsky

Originally Published : 2008
Publication :Penguin Books

Pages :384

Genre(s) :
Non-Fiction, Psychology, Mental Health, Self-Help

So here we have someone who has received the Templeton prize for Positive Psychology. What eggs psychologists to delve deeper into the realm of positive psychology now than ever before? Isn’t curative psychology not good enough? Well, yes, but like medicine, preventive psychology (my term) would be much better than the other way round.

Are we really happy?

Sonja starts out by answering how happy Americans are? But firstly, what amounts to happiness? Sometime I feel that people have forgotten to realize those small gems of happiness in our daily lives. That joy when we get a good co-passenger on a long flight. The feeling of viewing a rainbow with kids in tow, being able to reach home in time for piping hot dinner, meeting friends after a long time, knowing your parent is completely cured of an illness.

Happiness cannot be found, it must be created is what we understand from this book. So when you ask people to list out the things that made them happy throughout the day, they will get into a habit of spotting moments of happiness. They’re just there, we need to spot them. That is sustainable happiness.

In a mad rush for instant gratification, we have kind of forgotten that happiness derived from buying that coveted gadget, the expensive car you buy yourself, admitting your kids to the best schools and gifting someone a solitaire is nowhere near lasting happiness that comes from helping the needy on a long term, volunteering, letting go, forgiving or even smiling despite a harsh day.

A measure of happiness

The book’s first chapter looks at whether it is possible to be happier. Which means happiness is a subjective state, dependent on something and can increase or decrease based on something. Isn’t it possible to maintain a sustainable level of happiness all the time? What do people who are happy always do, then?

  • They cherish relationships
  • They are always grateful
  • They are optimistic
  • They help others
  • Choose to be mindful
  • Demonstrate resilience
  • Stay healthy
  • Have long term goals and work towards achieving them

Too many times, says Sonja, we pitch our happiness in relation to others’ levels of happiness or some major life event that will then result in us being happy. Why can’t we be happy and let life’s event happen like flowing river?

She suggests three strategies for sustainable happiness-

  1. Fix the reasons for unhappiness
  2. Play to your strengths
  3. Find activities that complement your lifestyle

Sonja’s Person-Activity fit diagnostic helps people choose activities that suit their personalities and helps them stay happy for long

She gives a list of activities for that purpose like being grateful, optimistic, avoiding overthinking and social comparison, being kind, developing coping strategies, forgiveness, living in the present, having life’s goals and being spiritual.

She doesn’t stop at that and tells us how to achieve all that she has listed. It makes for some interesting read to understand that all the while we literally thrive on being unhappy, so much that sometimes I feel many people look at unhappiness as a dope- they’re so addicted to being and showing that they are unhappy. That spreads the unhappiness among family, friends and colleagues. So even if someone is genuinely happy, he/she would hesitate to express and tell so, just because most of the people around don’t seem to resonate that feeling.

Sonja’s book comes as an eye opener for those who feel that happiness is a mirage. It isn’t, it’s just where you stand right now.

Key takeaways

  1. Happiness cannot be found some-where, it is to be created with conscious effort
  2. Making some changes in life’s perspective creates happiness in small things
  3. Life must be lived as if we are bystanders and it’s happening through us, not to us. That way, we can sustain the happy state of mind forever

Why I recommend this book

We all really cringe in the company of people who look and feel unhappy. It makes me feel the same way. Sonja’s book made me realize that happiness is not dependent on someone or something but is a state of mind. Other things in life happen and can be dealt with as much as possible. I recommend that we all follow this advice. I’m sure a lot of the baggage of unhappiness that we all carry (and Sonja says more than 50% of that is genetic) could be done away with.

Read this book for yourself as also to help others who may be thriving in being (and making others) unhappy. Stay happy folks, that is all we can do!

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