The main idea of this book is to use results of author’s some 20 years of experience in psychological studies on happiness to develop and present patterns of behavior that are specific to people with high scores in happiness tests and present “to do” type of recommendations for achieving the same results. Generally these patterns are not new and even somewhat corny, but it turned out that they do work and could be used to achieve better state of well-being.
Part One: How to Attain Real and Lasting Happiness
- Is It Possible to Become Happier?
Here author analyses what people mean by happiness and how to obtain it. Then she provides results of research that indicate that it mostly comes from two sources: DNA and Personal effort, with circumstances of life giving some marginal addition:
So author suggests concentrate not on wishful thinking about change in circumstances, but actively work on doing things that make people happy. Helpfully she provide results of research that itemizes what happy people do:
- They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
- They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
- They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
- They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
- They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
- They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
- They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values). Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies.
- They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I; but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.
At the end of chapter author asks somewhat strange question:”Why Be Happy” and replies about happy people: “they actually show more flexibility and ingenuity in their thinking and are more productive in their jobs. They are better leaders and negotiators and earn more money. They are more resilient in the face of hardship, have stronger immune systems, and are physically healthier. Happy people even live longer.
- How Happy Are You and Why?
Here author states that happiness, as everything else, is continuum, rather than discreet states Author also reviews methods of evaluation and provides questionnaires used to identify levels of happiness and/or depression. Next she defines and trying to debunk myths about happiness:
- Myth: Happiness must be “found”. Reply: “happiness, more than anything, is a state of mind, a way of perceiving and approaching ourselves and the world in which we reside.
- Myth: Lies in Changing our Circumstances. Reply:” Beyond minimally satisfactory level it is not important”.
- Myth: You Either Have it or you don’t. Reply:“ Happiness is teachable and learnable and this book will help”.
After that author goes through detailed explanation of why it is so for the following items:
- Material Wealth and cost of materialism
- Phenomenon of Hedonic Adaptation
- The Altar, the Lottery, and a House in the Burbs
Then author discusses research and anecdotal evidence of genetic component, inferring that it would constitute 50% of final level, providing set point for happiness, but after that human action could move it up or down depending on whether these action promote or depress happiness.
- How to Find Happiness Activities That Fit Your Interests, Your Values, and Your Needs
To find happiness author recommends using strategies that fit with source of unhappiness, one’s strengths, and lifestyle. In order to define what are these fits, author provides test questions for 12 activities that could bring happiness.
Part Two: Happiness Activities
Before going into details of activities’ application author provides The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire to identify current level of happiness.
- Practicing gratitude and Positive Thinking
This is about expressing gratitude and the ways in which it boosts happiness:
“First, grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences.
Second, expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem. When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and efficacious.
Third, gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma.
Fourth, the expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior.
Fifth, gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones.
Sixth, expressing gratitude tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others.
Seventh, the practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.
Last but not least, gratitude helps us thwart hedonic adaptation.
This is followed by “How to” recommendations.
The second Happiness Activity discussed in this chapter is “Cultivating Optimism”;
Number 3 Activity is “Avoid Overthinking and Social Comparison”. Author provides data from laboratory experiments, some real life anecdotes, and recommendation s how to do it mainly by “Letting it go” and looking at the big picture.
- Investing in Social Connections
Here comes activity number 4: Practicing Acts of kindness. Author’s important point here is to do it in bulk rather than small staff daily, so that it could not become boring routine. Similarly number 5 is Nurturing Social Relationship. Here author makes a list of benefits from relationships from social support to minimizing hedonic adaptation and provides recommendation on how to obtain and maintain such relationships.
- Managing Stress, Hardship, and Trauma
The activity number 6 is strategy of coping with adversities. The main point here is that problem-focused coping works much better than emotion-focused coping. Author discusses 3 outcomes from making stronger to barely survival:
One interesting point is discussion on the use of writing as method to overcome adversity.
The activity number 7 is forgiveness. The main point here is that forgiveness is important for victim as method to overcome concentration on damage, which prevents overcoming it and moving on.
7 Living in the Present
The activity number 8 – Increase flow experiences, which comes with concentration on present, especially during work or other meaningful and challenging activities that match individuals’ abilities at the level that allows increase of these abilities. Author provides recommendations on how to increase flow experiences.
The activity number 9 is about savoring life’s joys including ordinary experiences that come and go but will be missed when they passed. It is also useful to recollect good things in the past.
8 Happiness Activities No. 10: Committing to Your Goals
This chapter starts with very true statement that happy people have objectives that they are in process of working on to achieve. Author lists psychological benefits of commitments and defines what kind of goals could lead to more happiness. It should be intrinsic and authentic goals. Actually author expands this and comes up with simple table what kind of goals lead to happiness and what kind does not:
- Taking Care of Your Body and Your Soul
Author here discusses psychological benefits of religiosity and spirituality, which she designates as activity number 11. She analyses when and why it is so beneficial, but also some specific cases when it is not. The final activity number 12 is taking good care about body by exercising, mediating, and, also important, behaving like a happy person. There is plenty of evidence that such behavior as smiling for no reason makes people happier. There is a link between facial expression and behavior which makes reinforcement loop in both directions so it is not only that happy person smiles, it is also true that smiling person becomes happy.
Part Three: Secrets to Abiding Happiness
Here author summarizes her recommendations on haw to achieve happiness or at least improve one’s psychological conditions.
- The Five Hows Behind Sustainable Happiness
The First How: Positive Emotion
The Second How: Optimal timing and variety
The Third How: Social Support
The Fourth How: Motivation, Effort, and Commitment
The Fifth How: Habit
The Promise of Abiding Happiness: An Afterword
Here author discusses how the writing of this book impacted her own condition quite positively and that she noticed that this impact was much more obvious in areas where she had some deficiencies specific to her personality, while a lot less obvious in areas where she already was acting as recommended. In short the main point here is that happiness is learnable and trainable condition that could be achieved if one is willing to learn and to work on it.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this presentation of positive psychology quite interesting and potential useful for anybody who would like to improve quality of his or her perceived condition of being. Interestingly enough I find some 90% of recommendations consistent with what I am doing in my own live with results that one would expect according to presentations in this book. Another interesting thing is that being of somewhat similar background with author, coming from USSR, albeit at different ages, I have similar attitude in some areas that I find as difficult implement as author. Author reports that when she tried to apply it despite her internal resistance, it did work and she did felt happier than before, but I think that my soviet background is so much entrenched in my psyche, that it probably does not even worth trying. Anyway it is nice to know that the way one lives his live is highly consistent with the way contemporary psychological science recommends to live in order to be happy.