Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happiness Strategies

Many people often assume that having more money brings greater happiness. In September 2010, Ryan Law wrote the MU Financial Tip “Happiness at What Price?” ( and talked about a study that found having a certain amount of money helped people feel safe and satisfied with life overall, but that having money did not always make a difference for the day-to-day level of happiness.


I am reading a book called the How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a researcher who has studied happiness for over twenty-five years.  People often wish for more time, more money, a different job, etc.—thinking that those things will make them happier.  But they do not find lasting happiness in those things.


So, what makes people happy in the long term?  Through many studies, Lyubomirsky has found that:


• 50% of happiness is determined by our genetics

• 10% is determined by circumstances or situations (health, wealth, age, where we live, life events, etc.)

• 40% is within our control—we determine that part


You may be asking questions like I did.  Why doesn’t what we buy or where we live or where we work make us happy?  Lyubomirsky explains the concept of “hedonistic adaptation.”  These things may make people happy for a short time, but the happiness does not last. 


People tend to rapidly adapt to any circumstantial change in life.  A person may get a new job, like the change for a few months, adapt to his new surroundings and then start wishing for something more or different again. So the person gets into a cycle of wanting something, getting it, adapting to it and then wanting the next better thing.


Lyubomirsky outlines 12 happiness activities with strategies of maintaining happiness.  The strategies focus on developing relationships (friends and family) and changing our intentions (what we do and how we think).


Here are a few ideas to try:


Cultivate optimism (a belief that one’s goals can be accomplished or that the future is positive)

One strategy that the author recommends is a “Best Possible Selves” activity.  You think about yourself in the future and write about all areas of how you will be your best—family, work, accomplishments or other areas.  The act of writing helps people, because they learn about themselves, helps them organize thoughts and give meaning to life, and helps people look at who they are today so that they can be their best in the future.


Increasing optimism is not to say that bad things do not happen, because they do.  It is more of a feeling that if something bad does happen, a person can get through those times.


Practice acts of kindness

Find one day of the week and do one new big act of kindness or three to five little ones.  These can be done at home, school, work or when you are out.


If a person already does kind things on a daily basis, picking one day and doing something extra special will increase the happiness boost.  Maybe a person decides she will volunteer at a school or food pantry for an hour. Maybe for a small act, someone will let cars ahead of him in line for the day to help others get through traffic.


At a recent training, a mom shared with that her family does pay-it-forward Fridays.  Everyone, including the kids, has to do one kind/helpful thing for each person that Friday.  Maybe it’s leaving a note in a lunchbox, cheering a person on at a game or setting out the person’s coat that morning.  Her kids grumbled at first, but now look forward to doing little things for each other that day. And she notices a difference in how they all treat each other.


Invest in relationships

In successful relationships, people spend time together and talk.  In our busy lives, trying to find more time to be together can be difficult.  Start small and add time here and there—one idea is in the morning, find out one thing each person is going to do that day.  Then sometime later that day or evening, have each person share how that activity went. 


Another way to have stronger relationships is to think about your family and friends.  What is one good thing that each person brings to your family or friendship?  The next time you see that person, say “thank you’ for what he or she does.  Sharing positives and gratitude lets people know you care and appreciate them.  They are more likely to want spend time with you and create a better relationship.


It takes time and effort to engage in happiness strategies.  It doesn’t always happen overnight. Not all strategies work for each person.  Individual personalities and styles play a part in which strategies work, so try different things and see which ones give you the biggest happiness boost. 



Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


Sonja Lyubomirsky - the how of happiness (from a 20/20 interview)



Lucy Schrader

HES Associate State Specialist and

Building Strong Families Program Coordinator

University of Missouri Extension

162 Stanley Hall

Columbia, MO  65211


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