As a psychotherapist, one of the things I do often is read to keep myself abreast of all developments and ideas in my field. thanks to the lockdown, I’ve been reading quite a lot. Blessing in disguise indeed.
One of the books I read recently is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. To those who read books on the self-help/ mental health genre, Sonja’s name and her work are often quoted. She is highly regarded as one of the best authors in achieving happiness.
What gives her the edge over others? Sonja’s book is based on scientific evidence- she herself is a scientist. Her data is based on experimental data and so as a reader, I know that whatever she’s saying is backed with scientific data and evidence, which lends her a great deal of credibility.
The 40% Solution
The other thing I appreciated was her honesty in showing the readers that realistically, 40% of our self can make that effort to change our circumstances to achieve happiness. The other 60% is what life has dealt us with. There are lots of things in our lives we are not in control of, so keeping that in mind, Sonja and her team have seen that it is 40% of our lives where we have the freedom to make an effort to achieve happiness.
In her words, “this is a book about how to become a happier person…- for the matter or way to get there and for how to choose the strategies that fit you best. Further understanding the precise reasons that the strategies are successful is just as important as knowing what they are and how to apply them optimally. Finally, the meaning and effects of being happier is another vital theme.”
The book is full of strategies and tips and helpful advice that can help you maneuver through your own life. The good thing is that you can pinpoint that part of your life you feel you need to work on most and just jump to that section of the book.
I have summarised below what the book covers and what stood out for me. The book clearly has lots more details/ tips/ suggestions/ advice/tips for each section and have applied many of them, I can testify that these really do work.
A. Expressing Gratitude
Multiple studies and research has shown how the expression of gratitude can help one achieve happiness. There are various ways to express gratitude: (a) Journalling, (b) Count your blessings, (c) express to others.
B. Cultivating Optimism
We have to make an effort to stay positive minded– positivity will not come running to you. We can do this by keeping (a) a diary where we record our best selves, (b) a goals diary, and (c) a record of our barriers to thoughts.
C. Overthinking and Social Comparison
The root of many evils: social comparison. Lots of helpful tips on (a) cutting lose and (b) looking at the big picture.
D. Social Connections- Acts of Kindness
“If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Buddhist saying. Paying it forward, being charitable can help us achieve happiness.
E. Social Relationships
Nurturing social relationships are important to help us maintain happiness. Lots of helpful ideas here on how to )a) manage conflicts, (b) manage finances, (c) making time to communicate, (d) being loyal and supportive, (e) simple act of hugging, and (f) making time for others.
F. Strategies for Coping
Very important chapter for those dealing with grief or loss, with tips to help you with (a) emotional coping and (b) problem-focused coping.
Again, a very important act to help us overcome negativity and enabling us to move on. (a) Appreciating being forgiven, (b) write a letter or call, (c) cultivating empathy, (d) overthink less, and (e) make contact.
H. Increasing Flow Experiences
How to live in the present
I. Savoring Life’s Joys
How to experience the joys of being in the Here and Now
J. Commitment to your Goals
How to maintain your intrinsic goals
K. Religion and Spirituality
(a) Pray, (b) gratitude, (c) beliefs and (d) groups will help you achieve happiness should you be oriented towards religion.
L.Taking Care of Body
Various tips and ideas on how to look after your physical health with tools like (a) meditation, (b) exercise, and (c) acting like a happy person.
The book doesn’t just end with these chapters. There is a very important chapter in the end which helps the readers to maintain and sustain happiness. Of course, Sonja does acknowledge that happiness cannot be a constant and we will go through periods of ups and downs, but even in those down moments, she offers sage wisdom on how to keep a level headed approach to life.
In addition, there is an extended chapter for those who are dealing with depression.
In my opinion, The How of Happiness is one of those few books on the self-enrichment genre that stands right at the top primarily for the reason that all of Sonja’s wisdom is backed with evidence and scientific data.