Posted : 2008-03-21 16:10
Updated : 2008-03-21 16:10

How to be Happy, the Scientific Way

An employee counts dollar bills inside a moneychanger’s office in Manila, Tuesday. Contrary to popular belief, money doesn’t buy lasting happiness. In her book, Sonya Lyubomirsky details her scientific research findings on what makes people truly happy, and offers strategies to boost one’s happiness. / Yonhap

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Staff Reporter

Who doesn't want to become happier? Yet happiness seems to remain an elusive dream for most people, judging from the sheer number of self-help books on the issue.

People believe fame, more money, marriage, traveling, a new car, liposuction, designer clothes and so on will make them happy. While these could bring a temporary boost in happiness, these are not the keys to lasting happiness.

According to research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, happiness is not about more money, material things, beauty or fame.

In her book ``The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want,'' Lyubomirsky writes about what makes people happy and offers ``happiness strategies" that can potentially change your life.

Now before you start rolling your eyes at the mention of ``happiness strategies," this book is not your run-of-the-mill self-help guide. Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, has been conducting scientific research on happiness for the last 18 years. She has received numerous honors including the 2002 Templeton Positive Psychology Prize and a multi-year grant from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Lyubomirsky demystifies certain myths such as ``Happiness can be found" and ``Happiness lies in changing our circumstances." It sounds like a cliche, but she notes that happiness cannot be found elsewhere but inside oneself.

She also cites research showing there is no link between happiness and material wealth, or happiness and beauty. In fact, materialism is even seen as a strong indicator of unhappiness.

Based on her research, Lyubomirsky said 50 percent of happiness is determined by genetics (happiness set point), 10 percent is based on one's life circumstances (whether one is rich or poor, married or divorced, etc.) and 40 percent is based on intentional activity (habits, behavior and thoughts).

Lyubomirsky says people should focus their attention on the 40 percent, which is entirely within one's ability to control and change.

``If we observe genuinely happy people, we will find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements and control their thoughts and feelings. Our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances that we find ourselves in,'' she said.

It helps to read this book with an open mind, and a willingness to take several tests to measure your happiness levels. The tests include the ``Oxford happiness questionnaire'' to determine one's happiness level, and the ``person-activity fit diagnostic'' shows which ``happiness activities'' would work best for each individual.

She offers 12 happiness-boosting activities including: expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, avoiding over-thinking and social comparison, practicing acts of kindness, learning to forgive, savoring life's joys and practicing religion and spirituality.

Some of the activities might seem simple enough, like keeping a gratitude journal to write down things you are grateful for; or perform five acts of kindness each week. Yet it is usually the simple things that have a big impact in your life.

``In a nutshell, the fountain of happiness can be found in how you behave, what you think and what goals you set every day of your life. `There is no happiness without action','' Lyubomirsky said.

To help people understand the basis for these happiness activities, Lyubomirsky explains the ``five laws'' behind sustainable happiness: positive emotion; optimal timing and variety; social support; motivation, effort and commitment; and habit.

``Everyone's goal should be to turn positive thinking and behavior strategies into habits... Go ahead and forgive, savor, thrive, look on the bright side and count your blessings. Aim to do it unconsciously and automatically,'' she said.

The real challenge is how to continue being happy, and this takes a lot of time and effort. ``Becoming lastingly happier demands making some permanent changes that require effort and commitment every day of your life. Pursuing happiness takes work, but consider that this happiness work may be the most rewarding work you'll ever do,'' Lyubomirsky said.
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