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The How of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky Summary

Most people believe that our happiness is determined by our genes and what happens to us in life. A lot of research reveals that only 10 percent of our happiness depends on our circumstances, and 50 percent is determined by our genes. The remaining 40 percent rests entirely in our hands. In the book, The How of Happiness, the author suggests that we can make ourselves happier by changing our thought patterns and behaviors. In this summary, I’ll share with you three key lessons on how we can increase our happiness.

Key Lesson #1: Life situations have a very small effect on long-term happiness.

Most of us think that if I just had that job, or that girl or that car, then I would be happier. But there is a lot of research that confirms our circumstances don’t have that much of an effect on our happiness. This research shows that only 10% of our happiness is determined by life circumstances. So, if one person is happier than the other, only 10% of it can be explained by their life situations, like their income or whether they are married or not. But does it mean that if I find my dream girlfriend or my dream job, I won’t get happier? No. That’s not what it means. Let me explain. There is a phenomenon in psychology they call hedonic adaptation, and it says humans have incredible abilities to adapt to changes in their lives. Like when you get married, you’ll obviously have a boost in happiness, but unfortunately, it will not last long. Just ask your married friends. But this doesn’t mean that circumstances don’t have any effect on long-term happiness. In a study, researchers found that married couples are slightly happier than singles. But it was just a slight difference. And if this is true for something as big as marriage, how much do you think a new job or house will make you happier in the long run? Not much.

Key Lesson #2: Even though genes control much of our happiness but they don’t tell the whole story

It’s no wonder that our genes have a great impact on our happiness. Some people are designed to be happier. You probably know people who are almost always cheerful even when they face adversity. But even genes control only so much of our happiness and they are only part of the equation. There is a lot of research where they study identical twins. They have all the same genes. They take such twins who were separated in childhood and grow up in completely different environments. For example, one may grow up poor and the other rich. It turns out that identical twins separated at birth tend to have almost similar levels of happiness, but there is still quite a bit of variation. That’s why genes can’t explain this entirely and they account for 50 percent of the variations in people’s happiness. So there must be some other factors.

Key Lesson #3: What we think and do has a great effect on our happiness

If you do the math, you’ll find that 40% of our happiness doesn't depend on our life circumstances or our genes. This is the part that is in our control. What we do and what we think can determine 40% of our happiness. Now to me, that’s huge. And this is such good news. Because I can’t modify my genes and so many things in life are out of my control. But I can change what I do and what I think. So even if you have a low set point of happiness, you can still rise above it by working on your thoughts and behavior. There are so many things you can do to boost your happiness. The most important ones that you can choose from include: Practicing gratitude, committing acts of kindness, physical exercise, practicing meditation, engaging in some form of religious or spiritual stuff, working on your relationships, forgiving people who have hurt you, and having worthy goals. You don’t have to do all of these, just choose a couple of them that you feel comfortable with and incorporate them into your daily life.

So in summary, only 10 percent of our happiness depends on our circumstances, and genes determine only 50% of our happiness. The remaining 40 percent rests entirely in our hands. We can make ourselves happier by changing what we do and what we think. These are very small simple things that we all can do to boost our long-term happiness.

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