Gavin’s Friday Reads: The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Lyubomirsky is a professor and a researcher at the University of California Riverside.

All human beings want to avoid pain and suffering and we all want to find happiness.  How do we find happiness?  This book is about 20 years of scientific research around finding sustainable authentic happiness.

In her book she shares her research and the research of others in the field of Positive Psychology.  Sustained authentic happiness does not mean that you can do something once and be happy forever.  It means that if you continue to practice these things you will continue to maintain a higher level of happiness.

There are three contributing factors to our happiness.

  1. Our present circumstances.  Did you just get a puppy?  Did your cat die last week?  Did someone unfriend you on Facebook?  These are the somewhat random things that happen to us that we spend a lot of time obsessing about.  We think if only I had this pair of shoes, or if only that person would… then I would be happy.  These things only account for 10% of our overall happiness.  We need to spend less time on these things.  A new big screen TV will make us happier for a while but it will quickly fade.
  2. DNA.  Our genetic coding is responsible for a whopping 50% of our happiness.  (at least 50% of our personality also but that is another book) We all live on a spectrum and have a happiness setpoint we naturally gravitate back to.  This is called hedonic adaptation.  We all know some people who are like Tigger.  They bounce out of bed in the morning and are ecstatically happy nearly all the time.  We also know people like Eeyore.  They could have won the lottery yesterday but today, paying the taxes on their winnings is all they can think about. These people can’t help the DNA hand they have been dealt and neither can we.  Just recognizing the impact of our DNA and accepting ourselves for who we are is the best we can do on this.
  3. The good news is that the remaining 40% of our happiness is within our control.  This 40% is what the book is about.

“Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances… but in our daily intentional activities.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Lyubomirsky explains proven strategies for sustained authentic happiness; Gratitude, Cultivating Optimism, Avoid Over Thinking and social comparison, Acts of Kindness, Relationships, Coping Strategies, Forgiveness, Living in the present/flow experience, Savoring life’s Joys, Authentic Goals, Religion and Spirituality, Care of your body, and meditation.

As she explains not all of these are for everyone. She suggests that you just try the ones that feel right for you. 

She goes into each one in depth. She shares the research and findings and her own experience.   

As an example, here is a quick look at Gratitude.

Due to the exhaustive, exacting research, we know that practicing Gratitude really works.  However, research shows that while writing a gratitude list is good you can do better. Optimally you should not count your blessings every day. The optimal frequency for most people is once a week.  Ideally you should do this with a gratitude partner. Someone who you team up with (like an exercise partner). You would each collect the things you are grateful for over the week and then the two of you share them with each other. 

Even better is a Gratitude Round, a practice we began at work first in our maintenance department years ago.  Each week on Friday morning after we had discussed the plans for the day, about 10 mechanics and I would do a Gratitude Round.  There is no pressure, it is entirely optional (I just explained it and I held the space open for it to happen).

Sure, it can feel a bit awkward at first but someone will start and eventually it can become a regular expected thing that people look forward to.

People who wanted to could thank someone else in the group for something they did during the week.  Maybe someone shared their knowledge, maybe someone gave a helping hand, or brought in a birthday cake, or cleaned the shop, or reorganized the parts or accomplished a particularly difficult job for the first time.  This weekly practice took just a few minutes once a week but gradually changed the dynamic between mechanics.  People became more generous with their knowledge and looked out for each other more.  It became more of a caring community.  People would freely volunteer to try to fix something they had no prior experience with.  (psychological safety) Others would quickly share some tips, or volunteer to help them out in case they got stuck.

We did other gratitude related things, we had a “Compliments and Accomplishments” white board in the lunch room so that people could write a note to someone thanking them for something or sharing an improvement that had been made.

If you read the “Book of Joy” you would immediately see the perfect overlap of Lyubomirsky’s research and the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s 8 pillars of Joy; Perspective, Acceptance, Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude. 

When multi millennium old religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions align perfectly with modern scientific research it is a good sign we have discovered the truth of Authentic Sustainable Human Happiness.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

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