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Sonja Lyubomirsky's 12 Happiness-Enhancing Strategies

Wednesday, 16 Jul 2008 | 7:41 PM ET

By Sonja Lyubomirsky

It is a truism that how you thing – about yourself, your world, and other people – is more important to your happiness than the objective circumstances of your life. “The mind is its

own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven,” John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost. The three happiness-increasing activities in this chapter all aim to transform the way we think about our lives: making a heaven of hell, finding something to be glad about, and not sweating the small stuff.

Philosophers, writers, and great-grandmothers of times past have long extolled the virtues of the three happiness activities I describe here, expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, and avoiding overthinking and social comparison. Such exhortations as “Try to be more optimistic,” “Don’t dwell on it too much,” and “You’d feel better if you were more appreciative” have been around for generations. So what makes them important for us today? Why should you spend your valuable time and energy in learning them, in turning them into habits? Furthermore, how do we know, first, that these habits are even learnable (as opposed to inborn) and second, that even if you could train yourself to do them, you’d be happier? The answers to these questions are found within these pages. I have selected for this book only those activities (from among many) that have been shown to be successful through science, rather than conjecture. What’s more, I describe why these strategies work and how precisely they should be implemented to maximize their effectiveness using evidence from the latest research. In every grandmotherly bit of advice lies a kernel of truth. I’ve chosen the biggest kernels, established what the data show, and sought to determine for whom these truths might work best and how and why. Apply these activities to your own life, and you will harness the promise of the 40 percent solution, for such is the amount of wiggle room you have to remake yourself.

The 12 Happiness Enhancing Strategies

(1) Counting your blessings: Expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately – through contemplation or journaling – or to a close other) or conveying your appreciation to one or more individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. (CHAP 4)

(2) Cultivating optimism: Keeping a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself, or practicing to look at the bright side of every situation. (CHAP 4)

(3) Avoiding overthinking and social comparison: Using strategies (such as distraction) to cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others. (CHAP 4)

(4) Practicing acts of kindness: Doing good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned. (CHAP 5)

(5) Nurturing Relationships: Picking a relationship in need of strengthening, and investing time and energy in healing, cultivating, affirming, and enjoying it. (CHAP 5)

(6) Doing more activities that truly engage you: Increasing the number of experiences at home and work in which you “lose” yourself, which are challenging and absorbing. (CHAP 7)

(7) Replaying and savoring life’s joys: Paying close attention, taking delight, and going over life’s momentary pleasures and wonders – through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. (CHAP 7)

(8) Committing to your goals: Picking one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them. (CHAP 8)

(9) Developing strategies for coping: Practicing ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma. (CHAP 6)

(10) Learning to forgive: Keeping a journal or writing a letter in which you work on letting go of anger and resentment towards one or more individuals who have hurt or wronged you. (CHAP 6)

(11) Practicing religion and spirituality: Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spiritually-themed books. (CHAP 9)

(12) Taking care of your body: Engaging in physical activity, meditating, and smiling and laughing. (CHAP 9)

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FROM Lyubomirsky, S. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Press
www.thehowofhappiness.com