The How of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomrisky

The How of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomrisky

 Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes 

The How of Happiness

“All of us want to be happy, even if we don’t admit it openly or choose to cloak our desire in different words."   

"Whether our dreams are about professional success, spiritual fulfillment, a sense of connection, a purpose in life, or love and sex, we covet those things because ultimately we believe that they will make us happier."

"Yet few of us truly appreciate just how much we can improve our happiness or know precisely how to go about doing it."

"To step back and consider your deep-seated assumptions about how to become a happier person and whether it’s even possible for you—what I hope this book will spur you to do—is to understand that becoming happier is realizable, that it’s in your power, and that it’s one of the most vital and momentous things that you can do for yourself and for those around you.”

Everyone wants to be happy..  but how?

First we need to know it's possible!

There is a large portion of our happiness that is directly within our control..  

Start watching this video knowing that!

Next we need to look at what we're currently trying..  And where it is and isn't working!

Most of us have an 'object' in our life that we think 'will make us happy' when we accomplish it.. 

I'll be happy when I get this new job!

I'll be happy when I make $X a month!

I'll be happy when I find that new relationship!

How is that working out for you?

If you're anything like me (and a lot of the people I talk too) not so well..  

Maybe you've noticed that even when you do accomplish that thing the happiness is only fleeting!

Inside this book we're going to examine why that is and what to do about it..  Happiness is in our control!  But maybe not in the way you think.


“In sum, across all the domains of life, happiness appears to have numerous positive by-products that few of us have taken the time to really understand."  

"In becoming happier, we not only boost experiences of joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe but also improve other aspects of our lives: our energy levels, our immune systems, our engagement with work and with other people, and our physical and mental health."

"In becoming happier, we bolster as well our feelings of self- confidence and self-esteem; we come to believe that we are worthy human beings, deserving of respect. A final and perhaps least appreciated plus is that if we become happier, we benefit not only ourselves but also our partners, families, communities, and even society at large.”

Think being 'happy' isn't important?  Think again.

Some entrepreneurs actively say 'I don't want to be happy because I won't be motivated'..

  • First I think this is a false assumption that if you're happy you're unmotivated!  More on that later.
  • But second..  Look at all the things happiness brings you!  Is a little bit of professional success and status worth not being happy?

What if you want to be happy but have given up trying?  

  • Look at all of the things happiness brings into our lives..  That might push you to keep trying.
  • Self Confidence
  • Self Esteem
  • Better Relationships

Why wouldn't you focus on being happy first?

  • Some people are trying to 'hack' self confidence, self esteem and relationships..  
  • Finding tips and tricks to make them better at these particular 'skills' which might not be a bad thing long term.. 
  • But as we see here; if you're trying to make a serious change to your life..  Start with happiness!  It's going to shortcut the process.


“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.’ If feelings of passivity and futility overcome you whenever you face up to your happiness set point or to your circumstances, you must know that a genuine and abiding happiness is indeed within your reach, lying within the 40 percent of the happiness pie chart that’s yours to guide.”

“What makes up this 40 percent? Besides our genes and the situations that we confront, there is one critical thing left: our behavior. Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances (i.e., seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues, which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities." 

"With this in mind, our pie chart illustrates the potential of the 40 percent that is within our ability to control, the 40 percent for room to maneuver, for opportunities to increase or decrease our happiness levels through what we do in our daily lives and how we think.”

Happiness all comes down to pie!

But not the delicious food..  But this chart!

  • 50% of Happiness is Genetic
  • 10% of Happiness is Life Circumstances
  • 40% of Happiness is Intentional Activities

Most of us spend our time focusing feverishly   on the 10% slice of this pie; money, status or material..  

  • Again.. How is that working out for you?
  • Sonja points out here that not only is there less bang for our buck in that piece of the pie but it's less likely to lead to long term happiness.. 
  • *Quick note that while I do believe that a base amount in this 10% piece is important.  However, I also believe that when we focus on the 40% the 10% naturally follows.  
  • Anytime in my life I've ben the happiest the money followed.  Unfortunately once the money followed I tended to follow it.  Not focusing on my 40%. 

Imagine..  Increasing your happiness by up to 40% simply by changing your thoughts and actions!

  • More on the 'how' of this later!
  • But first..  Let's take some time to reflect.  What piece of the pie have you been focusing on lately?
  • How is that working out for you?
  • Are you willing to try something different?

The Work

“It may be obvious that to achieve anything substantial in life—learn a profession, master a sport, raise a child—a good deal of effort is required."   

"But many of us find it difficult to apply the notion of effort to our emotional or mental lives. Without effort, we might ‘get lucky,’ but like a long-forgotten New Year’s resolution, the success will be short-lived."

"Consider how much time and commitment many people devote to physical exercise, whether it’s going to the gym, jogging, kickboxing, or yoga. My research reveals that if you desire greater happiness, you need to go about it in a similar way. In other words, 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.”

How committed are you to happiness?

This whole thing is going to take work!

  • Doing something different than you have already done..  
  • Doing things that sometimes feel hard, being consistent in your efforts and choosing the right action in the moment!

That's why commitment is important.. 

  • First we must understand that THIS IS POSSIBLE!
  • Second we must know it WILL TAKE WORK!
  • Third we need to COMMIT TO OURSELVES!

What if that feels scary in the moment?

  • That's okay!  Try this on for size.
  • Commit just to making the next right action..  
  • Don't think about the future just yet!  Get some wins under your belt first.


12 Happiness Activities That Have Been Scientifically Proven to Increase Levels of Happiness!

This is where we get into the 'How of Happiness' so to speak.. 

These are good activities to strive for, notice where you're doing well and understand where you could improve.

12 Activities:

1. Expressing Gratitude

2. Cultivating Optimism

3. Avoiding Overthinking and Social Comparison

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness

5. Nurturing Social Relationships

6. Developing Strategies for Coping

7. Learning to Forgive

8. Increasing Flow Experiences

9. Savoring Life’s Joys

10. Committing to Your Goals

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality

12. Taking Care of Your Body: Meditation + Physical Activity + Acting Like a Happy Person


“People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report experiencing more frequent positive emotions." 

"They also tend to be more helpful and empathic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving, and less materialistic than others who are less predisposed to gratefulness

"Furthermore, the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.”

Have you heard this before?

There is SO MUCH research out there that gratitude makes us happier..

  • Some people are naturally inclined to gratitude!  (Lucky Buggers). 
  • For others it can seem difficult to find things to be grateful for!

This is where Commitment and Effort comes in!

  • People who aren't naturally grateful can certainly learn how..  
  • The book talks about people who used a gratitude journal for 10 weeks!
  • They noted 5 things each day they were grateful for and they were significantly happier than those who didn't..

Let's steal this exercise!

  • What are your grateful for?
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.


“Write down your barrier thoughts, and then consider ways to reinterpret the situation." 

"In the process, ask yourself questions like.."

"What else could this situation or experience mean?"

"Can anything good come from it?"

"Does it present any opportunities for me?"

"What lessons can I learn and apply to the future?"

"Did I develop any strengths as a result?”

Barrier Thoughts: The way that you negatively interpret a situation.

What do these look like?

  • I won't be able to this because...
  • That's not worth trying because...
  • There is no way I could do that...

What do we do about them?

“Essentially, all optimism strategies involve the exercise of construing the world with a more positive and charitable perspective, and many entail considering the silver lining in the cloud, identifying the door that opens as a result of one that has closed." 

"It takes hard work and a great deal of practice to accomplish effectively, but if you can persist at these strategies until they become habitual, the benefits could be immense. Some optimists may be born that way, but scores of optimists are made with practice.”

Optimism therefore is a skill that can be learned via deliberate practice!

Try these questions next time you're experiencing barrier thoughts..

  • "What else could this situation or experience mean?"
  • "Can anything good come from it?"
  • "Does it present any opportunities for me?"
  • "What lessons can I learn and apply to the future?"
  • "Did I develop any strengths as a result?”


“The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic." 

"Research shows that people who ruminate while sad or distraught are likely to feel besieged, powerless, self-critical, pessimistic, and generally negatively biased.”

“I have found that truly happy people have the capacity to distract and absorb themselves in activities that divert their energies and attention away from dark or anxious ruminations.”

Do you ever get caught in negative thoughts?

The cycle of being upset about something and spending your time (consciously or unconsciously) ruminating on it can be painful!

  • This is something myself and a lot of coaching clients have (or are) dealing with..  
  • The painful rumination of things we did wrong, things we wish we did or things we're upset about!

Most people deal with this rumination through negative distancing habits.. 

  • Drinking
  • Video games 
  • Food
  • Work
  • *Note that these aren't bad in and of themselves..  But when they are used as a way to get away and escape they quickly become compulsive and problematic. 

So what should we do about these rumination?

  • Step one: notice and name the emotion you're feeling in the moment.  
  • Step two: attempt to feel that emotion fully without blocking for 90 seconds. 
  • Step three: have an activity like hiking, petting a dog or listening to music that can be healthy and help distract you. 

Social Comparison

“We found that the happiest people take pleasure in other people’s successes and show concern in the face of others’ failures." 

"A completely different portrait, however, has emerged of a typical unhappy person—namely, as someone who is deflated rather than delighted about his peers’ accomplishments and triumphs and who is relieved rather than sympathetic in the face of his peers’ failures and undoings.”

 “You can’t be envious and happy at the same time. People who pay too much attention to social comparisons find themselves chronically vulnerable, threatened, and insecure.”

Does other's success effect your mental/emotional state?

This is part of the vicim and zero sum mindset that is so prevalent now adays. 

  • Someone has a success on social media and instead of being happy for them people comment something negative.. 
  • (Don't think just because you don't comment you're any better). 
  • Look at how you react when someone around you has success. 
  • Are you happy for them?

This is a great exercise:

  • When you see someone with something you want in life; relationships, business or material things. 
  • Instead of putting them down in your head.  Cheer them on!  Say nice this to and about them. 
  • Don't hang around people who bring successful people down and expect you can become successful!


“In 1932, weighed down by the sorrows and agonies of his self-absorbed and aimless clients, an Australian psychiatrist named W. Béran Wolfe summed up his philosophy like this:"

"‘If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.’"

"He was right. People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”

Do you have a project?

Science shows that when we pour our energy into something it makes us happy.. 

  • Specifically when we strive for mastery in the domain..  Leveling up our skills!
  • This pushes us into the Flow state more often and that's one of the main determinants of happiness..

Project is a very good word.. 

  • Something being accomplished over a long period of time..  
  • Something the require skill and attention..
  • Something that doesn't need to be defined by outcome moment to moment..  

How about you..  What's your project?

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