Happiness habits

Here’s a short summary from this insightful – interview on practical habits to increase happiness

Sonja Lyubomirsky is an American professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, a book of strategies backed by scientific research that can be used to increase happiness. In this 50 minute interview she shares some really helpful tips so if you don’t have the time to watch I’ve summarised the juicy bits here:

Are we in control of our happiness?

Happiness by Anna Vital. 3 factors: genetics, life circumstances and daily actions and behaviours.
50,40,10 model

Sonja explains yes absolutely.  In her book she shared a model that explains what determines happiness, it was called the 50/40/10 model. There are 3 key determining factors:

  • Genetics
  • Life circumstances
  • What we do every day – our actions and behaviours

She caveated the numbers applied to the model 18 years ago were very approximate, but the three factors remain relevant.   So if roughly 40% of what makes us happy is based on our actions and behaviours, it’s really important that we ensure those actions and behaviours are serving our sense of well-being and happiness.

What evidence based actions and behaviours contribute most effectively to our happiness?   

Sonja explains there are three ‘happiness interventions’ that her lab focus on for their proven benefits to our sense of happiness:

  • Gratitude
  • Acts of kindness/generosity
  • Engaging in social interactions/ developing connections

The three are also inter-connected with Connection to others at the heart as it makes life worth living.  Both gratitude and kindness are activities that make us feel more connected.  

She explains there are hundreds and hundreds of strategies and actions and it’s really important to find what works for you.  They should fit your personality, values and goals.  She highlights that exercise for example can have a hugely beneficial impact on your happiness and there are numerous others. It’s finding what works for you. 

Can you share some practical tips for finding the right action for you?

Sonja suggests 3 questions to ask yourself when taking up a potential new habit such as meditation:

Do I think it will be enjoyable? 

Do I think it will be meaningful? 

Do I think it will feel natural?

She caveats that taking up any new habit or action can feel ‘unnatural’ or a little ‘uncomfortable’ to begin with but bearing that in mind – ask yourself those questions first. 

There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to happiness. Can you bust some happiness myths?

The pursuit of money, fame, beauty and material things are all extrinsic goals. There’s a saying:

‘Money doesn’t make you happy but everyone wants to find out for themselves’ Zig Ziglar

‘Hedonic adaptation’ explains why this pursuit is futile.  Human beings are very good at getting used to new things in their lives. We buy a new car or handbag and it makes us happy but then we slowly adapt – it’s no longer new and shiny and so the boost goes away.  Then we want the boost again, so we buy something else.  More ‘stuff’ doesn’t make us happier but the new purchase does temporarily, so we seek the boost. Good to be aware of that!

How do you think Covid has impacted happiness?

Real life connections have been hugely limited.  We are inherently social animals that benefit from face-to-face human interaction.  This significant reduction in exposure to others will have had a detrimental impact for most.  However, some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts so not everyone will have felt the loss as acutely.  Introverts still crave quality connections, they may just want them from fewer people in more one-on-one circumstances. 

On the plus side, Covid has given some of us more time.  More time to reflect on what matters.  Sometimes it takes a crises for us all to re-evaluate what we really want and what’s really important to us.  This is a great time to wake-up and re-prioritise – the chance to start a new chapter.  

Within ‘self-determination theory’ there are 3 basic human needs that are critical for happiness. When you reflect on what really matters it’s likely it falls into one of these buckets. First is connecting to others (relationships), the second is how you contribute to your community and society, thirdly, your personal growth – a sense of learning, challenging ourselves, a desire to improve how we are as parents, cooks, gardeners, crafters etc. Most people finding a new sense of meaning or purpose will be searching for things that sit within these buckets.

We live within turbulent times, how can we feel more in control and connected?

Let’s first acknowledge that some people have very little control in their lives.  But many of us are fortunate enough to be able to be change agents. Through our daily actions and choices we can make a positive difference to the world around us.  Through acts of kindness to our neighbours and strangers we’ll change someone’s day.  Start with your own neighbourhood and sphere of influence.  You can have a positive impact on the world one small action at a time.

Also, have gratitude towards the people you don’t even know. Towards people who don’t look like or sound like you.  Have gratitude towards people who have helped make your life possible those that have taught you or made the clothes your wearing or provided the food the shops can supply.

Society seems to be less tolerant currently with a fear of the ‘other’. There is an evolutionary explanation for this; we survive by belonging to a family, a group, a community. But we also feel threatened by people who don’t share our opinions and beliefs and simply don’t look like us. Yet, as ‘Broaden and Build theory’ explains, the more we cultivate positive emotions within us, the more expansive our thinking and tolerance becomes, leading to greater opportunities for happiness.  

A great way to foster closer connections is to share mutual vulnerability.  If you have a goal of deepening a connection with a friend – have a go at asking the ’36 questions to fall in love’.  This has even been conducted as a test among people from opposing political and societal contexts and has been proven to break down barriers and foster connections.  Try it at dinner!

What does Sonja do to lift her sense of happiness if she’s having a bad day? 

Some of the strategies such as gratitude don’t always work right away, but you know they do overtime. So when I wake up and just feel down I first of all accept the feeling and reassure myself ‘this too shall pass’.  William James – the father of psychology and philosopher said: ‘Experience is what I agree to attend to’, by that he means our experience is determined by where our attention resides.  Am I thinking about a test I’m nervous about, the beautiful flowers in front of me, an argument I had this morning.  We have control over our current experience because we have control over what we pay attention to. So be conscious of what you’re paying attention to as it’s having an enormous influence on how you feel. 


I hope you found this as insightful as I did, make an intention to implement one of these strategies today and develop your own happiness plan.

#SonjaLyubomirsky #happinesshabits #wellbeing #positivepsychology #actionforhappiness #zenergyactive #holistichealth

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