The Myths of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomirsky

The Myths of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomirsky

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes  

The Myths of Happiness

“Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness—beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain adult failures or adversities (health problems, not having a life partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy."

"This reductive understanding of happiness is culturally reinforced and continues to endure, despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does not operate according to such black-and-white principles."

"What I hope this book will make singularly clear is that although it may appear that some of these major challenges will definitively and permanently change our lives for better or for worse, it is really our responses to them that govern their repercussions."

"The message of The Myths of Happiness is that, ultimately, we each can identify the steps to take to forge our way to a fulfilling life and help ourselves reach and exceed our happiness potentials.”

What truly makes us happy?

Well.. We've all got an idea!

Generally a path is laid out in front of us from a young age and we accept that it's the path to happiness!

Everyone's will be a little different depending on your culture, life circumstances and upbringing!

Generally it hit's these points:

  • Go to college
  • Get a good job
  • Have a family
  • Buy a house

But how well backed is that idea by science?

Turns out..  A lot of what we think will makes us happy is actually not true!

The science says that a lot of what we're all chasing on a day to day basis has little or no effect on our lasting happiness levels!

Creating our own path..

That's what this book is all about!  

1. Understanding what will truly make us happy. 

2. Finding the steps we can take to get there.

3. Continuing to follow the path of true happiness instead of the culturally installed one.


"One of my primary scientific interests is in the area of hedonic adaptation - namely, the fact that human human beings have the remarkable capacity to grow habituated or inured to most life changes."

"A hot topic today in the fields of psychology and economics, hedonic adaptation explains why both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat abate with time. What is particularly fascinating about this phenomenon, however, is that it is most pronounced with positive experiences."

"Indeed, it turns out that we are prone to take for granted pretty much everything positive that happens to us. When we move into a beautiful new loft with a grand view, when we partake of plastic surgery, when we purchase a fancy new automobile or nth-generation smartphone, when  we earn the corner office and a raise at work, when we become immersed in a new hobby, and  even when we wed, we obtain an immediate boost of happiness from the improved situation."

"But the thrill only lasts for a short time. Over the coming days, weeks and months, we find our expectations ramping upward and we begin taking our new improved circumstances for granted"

Hedonic adaptation..  One of the most powerful psychological forces!

We've all heard the story before:

  • Lottery winners a year later are no happier than their non-winning counterparts..  Hard to believe but it turns out to be true!
  • The other side is also true..  People who were paralyzed turn out to be equally as happy as their non-paralyzed counterparts a year later!

Hedonic adaptation is strong..

  • Think about the first time you bought a house and how excited you were..  How excited are you now?
  • Think about the first date you ever went out on how important it was..  Not quite as thrilling now right?
  • What about when you first got a promotion and everyone was congratulating you..  Still another day at the office now?

Now it may seem like all success is futile..

What's the point of striving for something if you're just going to feel the same at the end of a year?

More on this later..  But the main takeaway of hedonic adaptation is this:

The idea that 'I'll be happy when I get ________________' is false!

No change in your life is likely to make you happier long term..  Feel a little morbid?

No!  Now we can shift the focus to where you CAN actually make lasting changes..  

Namely: focusing on the principles inside this book instead of the promotion or the new car.


“Whether our optimism is big or little, many of us waver in our expectations of the future." 

"Fortunately, numerous research-tested activities have been shown to boost positive thinking."

"The most robust strategy involves keeping a journal regularly for ten to twenty minutes per day, in which we write down our hopes and dreams for the future (e.g., ‘In ten years, I will be married and a home owner”), visualize them coming true, and describe how we might get there and what that would feel like.  This exercise - even when engaged in as briefly as two minutes - makes people happier and even healthier.”

Seeing a better future for yourself..

A big part of happiness is believing that you have access to this better future!

  • Having this belief gives you motivation to continue working towards that future..
  • Continually looking forward and seeing the ways in which you can grow as a person is motivating and makes us happy..

Enter Optimism!

  • Seeing a better future for yourself requires that you have an optimistic outlook..  
  • When you see yourself you see the potential ahead of you and not the failures behind!

What's the #1 way to become optimistic?

  • Journalling about your hopes and dreams for the future!
  • Step One: Sit down for 10 minutes with a notepad.
  • Step Two: Write down your dreams and hopes for the future.
  • Step Three: Visualize them coming true and describe how you might get there.


“Most of us have heard of circadian rhythms—daily cycles that regulate when we feel sleepy (close to bedtime and throughout the night) and when we feel alert and awake (upon waking and throughout the day)." 

"The word circadian means “about a day,” so a circadian rhythm occurs once in a twenty-four-hour period. The circadian rhythm is essentially our internal biological clock, which is sensitive to light and dark."

"Few of us, however, have heard of another type of bodily cycle, called the ultradian rhythm. We cycle through ultradian stages every 90 minutes or so (no longer than 120 minutes) during sleep.  What's more, we continue to experience these 90 to 120 minute cycles while we are awake as well." 

"Practically, this means that for about an hour and a half to two hours after rising in the morning, we feel particularly vigorous and focused—able to sustain concentration and energy throughout our activities. At the end of that interval, however, we experience a twenty-minute period of fatigue, lethargy and difficulty concentrating.  This is the 'ultradian dip.'"

How's your rhythm?

Personally I'm not much of a dancer..

  • But following the rhythm of my day has been a gamechanger for me!
  • Understanding that I really have 90 minute cycles of focus during the day and then need a break allows me to get a lot more work done!

Plan your work day around the rhythms!

  • First thing in the morning for 90 minutes you've got a ton of energy.. Don't use it scrolling!
  • Then a little coffee break and into the second 90 minute cycle of the day..  Before you know it you're already 3 hours into the work day!

Another Pro tip:

  • Don't force yourself to stay strict to this schedule..  
  • Sometimes you'll get 90 minutes, others 120 and others 60 minutes!
  • The main idea is to be aware of your energy.. And understand that taking a break is required to play at your highest level!
  • The breaks really only need to be about 20 minutes long and then you're cycle should renew!


“Why are materialistic tendencies important to identify?" 

"A mountain of research has shown that materialism depletes happiness, threatens satisfaction with our relationships, harms the environment, renders us less friendly, likable, and empathetic, and makes us less likely to help others and contribute to our communities."

"Not everyone who is prosperous is focused on fame, power, and riches; not everyone catches the so-called affluenza virus.  But it's a risk that threatens our happiness as we sit surrounded by conveniences and luxuries."

"As philosophers, religious figures, and humanistic psychologists have long contended, the pursuit of money and reputation redirects our energies and passions away from deeper and more meaningful social connections and growth experiences and prevent us from achieving our full potentials. As we spend more of our time making money, the opportunity ‘costs’ of reading poetry, playing catch with our child, or taking a walk with a friend become so high that it becomes ‘irrational’ to do such things."

"All the more reason to learn what research has to say about how to avoid the excesses of consumption and materialism and spend money in ways that make us happy.”

Materialism depletes happiness? 

That's not what the commercial said!

  • Almost all of them are saying if you buy this X then you can finally be happy..
  • But most of us know this is just a marketing tactic..  
  • We discussed before that not only will the high of getting something new not last very long..
  • But focusing our attention on it brings that attention away from what truly matters!

So what truly matters?  

  • That's going to differ for everyone!
  • Do you love poetry, live music or traveling?  Those are all important to you and you should spend time there..  
  • The idea is to be sure you're not consuming material items because that's what someone on a commercial said would make you happy.

Spend your money where it counts!

  • 1. Don't spend your money on material items along..  Experiences are longer lasting!
  • 2. Spend money on others via gifting or charity.
  • 3. Spend money to give yourself free time!

Goal Pursuit

“One of the surest ways to focus on the future without dwelling on a seemingly idyllic past is by working toward significant life goals."

"There is no happiness without action; there is no happiness happiness without goal pursuit."

"However, as I mentioned earlier, it is important to choose our goals wisely, and to develop the ability to redirect our goals in ways that can bring us even greater happiness."

"The goals we select, if you recall, must be intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated (prompted by our own sense of meaning and enjoyment as opposed to that of our parents or culture); they must be harmonious (rather than conflicting with one another); they must satisfy innate human needs (such as the need to be an expert at something, to connect with others, and to contribute to our communities, rather than simply desiring to be rich, powerful, beautiful or famous); they must be aligned with our own authentic values; they must be reachable and flexible; and ideally they should focus on attaining something rather than evading or running away from something."

"The pursuit of all these types of goals has been found to be associated with greater happiness, fulfillment and perseverance."

"Furthermore, although we can (and should) reach for our loftiest dreams, we need only to begin by breaking the goals down into subgoals and daily aims.”

Choose your goals wisely..

The ones that make us truly happy:

  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Harmonious with other goals
  • Satisfy an innate need
  • Align with our true values
  • Flexible and attainable
  • Move us towards something not away

Break the big goals into daily habits..

  • This is something we talk about a lot on the channel!  
  • One of my favorite books is 'No Sweat' by Michelle Segar
  • She talks about taking our grand goals and bringing them into the moment..  Focusing on instant gratification vs long term reward!
  • Instead of getting a promotion at work you would focus on showing up each day ready to learn and grow..
  • Instead of focusing on losing 20 lbs you would focus on how good it feels to move your body and fuel accordingly..

These daily habits stack up not only to make us happy in the moment.. But also for a lifetime!

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