Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The How of Happiness

by Sonja Lyubomirsky
I love popular science books. For instance, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness was a fascinating look at the reasons so many people are bad at finding happiness. But Gilbert was very clear: this was not a self-help book, and was not designed to actually help the reader find happiness. Okay... So.... And then there are hundreds of self-help books out there, full of enthusiastic advice and dozens of anecdotes to back it up: "If it worked for Suzy Peterson, it just might work for you!" Actual scientific research rarely enters the picture.

Along comes Sonja Lyubomirsky, a respected scientist who has unashamedly written a self-help book. As a research psychologist and University of California professor of psychology, she has tested thousands of people to determine how much of our happiness is within our control (as opposed to hereditary or circumstantial) and what, exactly, we can do to become happier people. Some of her book will be familiar to those who read Gilbert's book; she talks about what happiness is, and what it isn't, and why it's important. But then she goes on to present 12 "Happiness Activities" that have been rigorously tested. Most of them are nothing new: keep a gratitude journal, get regular exercise, savor life's joys, commit to your personal goals, etc. But what's new is the "How." She stresses that not every approach works for every person, and helps you to customize your happiness program to fit your personality and lifestyle. And, because she's tested all this, she can get very specific; for instance, writing in a gratitude journal once a week is much more helpful for most people than doing so once a day. Lyubomirsky seems to sincerely want to share her research findings with the general public, and with very good reason: it's important stuff. Highly recommended.

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