Kirkus Review of The Myths of Happiness

Lyubomirsky (Psychology/Univ. of California, Riverside; The How of Happiness, 2008) dismantles culturally generated myths of happiness and offers strategies to help people “reach and exceed [their personal] happiness potentials.”

The author examines how the “shoulds” of happiness not only undermine well-being, but also make it hard for individuals to cope with the sometimes difficult realities of adulthood. She divides the book into three sections, addressing the situations or conditions in which adults are most likely to encounter setbacks: relationships, work/finances and middle to old age. When individuals don’t achieve what they think will make them happy, crisis—along with the fear and anxiety it generates—follows. Even when they do get what they believe will bring them happiness, people often experience profound discontent, which can also lead to upheaval. Lyubomirsky argues that however painful these turning points are, they can also present “opportunities for renewal, growth, or meaningful change,” which can result in greater happiness in the long term. The author further maintains that what prevents individuals from making the most of these opportunities is how they choose to react. These responses are in turn influenced by received myths of happiness. She suggests that people can help themselves deal more effectively with trauma by cultivating an awareness of happiness myths and then developing a more reasoned approach to these challenges, which are really just rites of passage along the path of personal evolution. Her approach is well-researched and eminently pragmatic, but like the pursuit of happiness itself, it requires commitment and discipline since “there’s no magic formula” for achieving bliss.

Informative and engaging.

Publisher’s Weekly Review of The Myths of Happiness

In this thought-provoking volume, Lyubomirsky (The How of Happiness), psychology professor at the University of California–Riverside, examines happiness and conventional notions about how it’s nurtured in relationships, at work, and in one’s own psyche. Many of these beliefs are damaging myths, she opines: while society leads people to believe that happiness will necessarily accompany the achievement of certain life goals—like marriage or the birth of a child—such misconceptions can lead to depression when the expected euphoria fails to arrive. Additionally, the author argues that phenomena that are traditionally viewed as negative (e.g., divorce, illness, job loss) can in fact promote the development of crucial life skills that can lead, in the long run, to a more sustainable form of happiness—one that can cope with adversity rather than break down before it. “We must stop waiting for happiness, and we must stop being terrified of the potential for unhappiness,” she notes. “[N]othing in life is as joy-producing or as misery-inducing as we think it is.” While remaining sympathetic to her readers’ pain, Lyubomirsky demonstrates that positively reframing life events can mine the best out of even the darkest situations. Provocative and fresh. (Jan. 7) ”

The Star Review of The Myths of Happiness

Are you happy? What would make you happier? Many of us have long been trying to figure this out, especially since a Gallup poll published in December on happiness levels in 148 countries ranked poverty-stricken Paraguay tied for first place with Panama, just ahead of war-damaged El Salvador and tsunami-walloped Thailand. Canada, with the best-educated population in the world, placed only 11th, the United States 35th and wealthy Singapore dead last.

With excellent timing, here comes The Myths of Happiness to help explain such paradoxes and to detail, as the subtitle says, What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t; What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does. Author Sonja Lyubormirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside and the author of the 2008 bestseller The How of Happiness, has made a career of studying well being in connection to marriage, divorce, work, wealth, illness and other major turning points of adulthood.

Drawing from hundreds of research studies from around the world, including some of her own, Lyubomirsky has produced a smart, lively read that interprets the science for lay readers and offers advice for building a more satisfying life.

Refreshingly, she busts some of our long-held misconceptions about happiness, such as avoiding adversity or achieving lofty goals. She says recent research shows people who have experienced some adversity are ultimately happier and less stressed than those who’ve experienced none at all. Accomplishing a series of goals — even winning the Nobel prize — offers only short-term thrills, often followed by increased expectations and letdown. She even assaults the American dream, saying homeowners report less happiness than renters.

Much of our happiness depends not on our circumstances, Lyubomirsky writes, but on our unrealistic expectations. It’s completely natural for even a good marriage to settle into long periods of ordinariness within a couple of years, but if we’re unprepared for that, we become dissatisfied, bored or restless.

We tend to overestimate how a particular positive event, such as marriage, a promotion or winning the lottery, will throw us over the moon, she says. Because of a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation, we quickly get used to every positive event — and that, Lyubomirsky writes, “is a formidable obstacle to our happiness.” As a colleague once told her, very few things in life are all they’re cracked up to be.

Depressing? Not at all. She describes how people with lower expectations derive more satisfaction from life. As one content husband explains, he had no expectations whatsoever of the first few years of marriage. “That way, when my wife did anything wonderful — or nice or even ordinary — I was happy.”

Lyubomirsky also explains why small daily annoyances like a broken dishwasher can cause us more misery than a major calamity like a bad diagnosis, why experiences bring more satisfaction than things and why spending money on others instead of ourselves brings us joy. She offers dozens of practical recommendations that we can start implementing immediately. For example, since small, frequent positive experiences create more long-lasting happiness than one intense experience, she suggests spreading our restaurant budget over several modest dinners instead of one big blowout.

She also highlights the importance of anticipation, citing research showing that if given the chance to kiss their favourite movie star in three hours or three days, most people would opt for the longer wait time to heighten the experience. On this theme, she recommends we watch our favourite TV show once a week, as opposed to viewing the entire season in a single weekend. And surprising research shows we enjoy the program even more when we have to sit through the commercials, since interrupting a positive experience renders it more enjoyable.

In rejecting materialism, Lyobomirsky even recommends borrowing books from the library instead of buying them, a bracingly honest suggestion that may make her publishers less happy than her readers.

Journalist Marcia Kaye has written several magazine articles on the topic of happiness.

Jan 18, 2013

Praise for The How of Happiness

“As pragmatic as a car manual, this how-to is anything but self-help fluff. Drawn from a career of rigorous research, Lyubomirsky’s argument that 40 percent of our joy is within our control could convince the staunchest fatalist that happiness is both a choice and a lifelong endeavor. She explores 12 ways to exploit that slice, such as savoring pleasure, pursuing goals, and living in the present, and ends with a guide to sustaining your newfound contentment.”
—Liz Somes, Psychology Today

“The How of Happiness…is a hybrid of accessible research and worksheets to help diligent readers scour away sadness.”
New York Post

“Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness provides some excellent advice on improving positive moods. A social psychologist, Lyubomirsky writes with authenticity and with logical prose more fitting of a scientific journal than a New Age spiritualist…here exercises are backed by scientific study to help improve individual happiness.”

“Sonja Lyubomirsky differs from most self-help authors on at least three counts. First, she is a scholar who has herself done pioneering research on the topic. Second, she writes a delightfully elegant prose. Third, she provides practical suggestions for improving one’s life that are easy to follow. All together, this makes The How of Happiness a wonderful addition to everyone’s library.”
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Claremont Graduate University Professor of Psychology and Management, and author of Flow

“Everyone has an opinion about happiness, and unfortunately, many of them write books. Finally we have a self-help book from a reputable scientist whose advice is based on the best experimental data. Charlatans, pundits, and new-age gurus should be worried and the rest of us should be grateful. THE HOW OF HAPPINESS is smart, fun, and interesting—and unlike almost every other book on the same shelf, it also happens to be true.”
—Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University Professor of Psychology, and author of Stumbling on Happiness

“Our Founding Fathers told us it is our right to pursue happiness – but they left it vague about how to attain that holy grail of modern life. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, the result of her groundbreaking research into happiness, shows us the way to a life of purpose, productivity, and joy.”
—Arianna Huffington

“The How of Happiness is the authoritative guide to what makes us happy and how to achieve happiness, written by a world authority on happiness research, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky. Read this book, follow its suggestions, and you’ll be happier.”
—Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Yale University Professor of Psychology, and author of Women Who Think Too Much

“The How of Happiness uses cutting edge psychological research to provide a series of sound, practical recommendations to make life more satisfying. Becoming happier may take some work, but reading Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book is an effortless pleasure.”
—Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, and author of The Paradox of Choice

“The right place to look for science-based advice on How To Become Happier.”
—Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania Robert A. Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology and author ofLearned Optimism