The how of happiness with Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

The how of happiness with Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky

Written by on April 3, 2016 in Happiness with 0 Comments


Everything we do in our lives is aimed at achieving greater happiness,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky.

But how relevant is happiness as a life goal to people across cultures? The evidence shows that most people around the world want to be happy. Sonja says that where she was born, in Russia, achieving personal happiness is less important than suffering, which builds character, but if you ask what they want for their children, they say they want them to be happy – “It depends how you ask the question,” she says.

We know that money makes people happier, to some extent, but also, happier people make more money in life, over time,” Sonja says.

People who have a sincere, happy smile in their yearbooks at 21 are more likely to be married at 27, and more likely to still have a fulfilling marriage at 51.”

Sonja says that some people think that being happy is seen as self-centred, but the opposite is true. People who are unhappy are more self-focused, and being happy allows you to have the ability to extend yourself towards other people more. “Happy people are more resilient,” she says.

She talks about a study which looked at the correlation between being happy and physical health. The results show that happier people are far less likely to get a range of lifestyle diseases, find it easier to bounce back after illness, including major health issues like heart attack.

Sonja shows us another study where participants were exposed to the cold virus – researchers found that the people who were happier were less likely to develop a cold and recovered faster.

Happiness also influences work performance: happier people were more likely to perform better and be more productive.

What about a temporary happy mood? Sonja tells us about a study on creativity where doctors were given a gift of chocolate, to be eaten after a creative test. Those who were put in a happy mood temporarily were more creative than those in a neutral mood. “Even transient, positive emotions can have long-term positive consequences.”

Happy people have more friends, more social support and are more generous.” Sonja wondered whether this worked the other way around: if people were more generous, would it make them happier? She tells us about a study she did with a class in Vancouver, where students were asked to do three acts of kindness each week. Not only did the kids in the acts of kindness group feel happier, they also became more popular in their class, even when most of their acts of kindness were done at home.

Sonja asks, “Is it possible to become happier?” Scientists have been pessimistic about this for a long time. “There is a genetic component to happiness,” she says. For example, parents with several children may know that some of their kids are happier than others, despite raising them in the same environment. Sonja asks us to think about the most extroverted and the most neurotic kids in their high school – at a reunion twenty years later, they will most likely be the most extroverted, most neurotic.

She tells us about ‘hedonic adaptation,’ a process by which people adapt to whatever level of happiness they achieve. For example, when people get married they have a huge boost in happiness, which lasts about two years before they adapt to that level of happiness.

What determines happiness? Sonja says although biology plays a big role, about 40% of happiness depends on intentional activity – what you choose to do with your life.

You can practice ‘Happiness interventions’ – anything from going on a hike to practicing acts of kindness. A good intervention is to ‘count your blessings.’ Counting your blessings once a week can make you happier over time.

Sonja is interested in the ‘dosage’ of happiness strategies. For some, a gratitude journal is not going to work. Writing an email once a week to an important person, a mentor of colleague, may be better for others, for example. The happiness intervention needs to be a good fit for you.

Motivation is a very important factor – “If you want to become happier, you have to be motivated and dedicated to it.”

Sonja talks about the importance of social support for the pursuit of happiness. She has a buddy that she runs with in the mornings – this helps her to get out of bed because she knows that her buddy will be waiting for her. If your family and friends support your happiness goals, you’ll want to achieve them.

Happiness takes work, just like anything in life,” Sonja says.

The last study Sonja tells us about was one done in a Japanese firm. One group was asked to write down three things that went well at work that week. The control group was asked to write down three tasks completed. The group that wrote down the positive things felt happier, more engaged, and even had more physical energy when they were in the office.

If you want to become happier, you have to begin today. As Aristotle said, happiness depends upon ourselves.”


Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, USA, renowned social psychologist and researcher into happiness, and author of The Myths of Happiness and The How of Happiness presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.

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