Micael Widell

The How of Happiness

/ books

During the past week, I've begun reading books on happiness. It is a subject that interests me and that I want to dive deeper into. The first book I read is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

The book is very scientific in its approach, with lots of numbers and interesting facts about happiness, all with thorough references to sources, which most of the time are scientific studies.

Basically the book lays down that 50% of your happiness is genetically predisposed – you have a set level of happiness since birth that you can not do anything about. This is evidenced by studies in which scientists have studied monozygous twins who were separated at birth to grow up in totally different circumstances.

The identical twins were extremely similar to each other in their happiness scores, and remarkably, the similarity was no smaller if the twins had been raised apart! The happier one identical twin was, the happier the other was—no matter whether they grew up under the same roof or on different coasts.


The most famous case is that of two men—both named James—who encountered each other for the first time at age thirty-nine. The day they met, both were six feet tall and weighed exactly 180 pounds. Each smoked Salems, drank Miller Lite, and habitually bit his fingernails. When they discussed their life histories, some incredible coincidences emerged. Both had married women named Linda, had divorced them, and then remarried women named Betty. Each James enjoyed leaving love notes to his wife throughout the house (though perhaps both Lindas didn’t appreciate it enough). Their firstborn sons were also named James, one James Alan and the other James Allen, and both men had named their dogs Toy. Each James had owned a light blue Chevrolet and had driven it to the same beach in Florida (Passa-Grille Beach) for family vacations.

Then about 10% of your happiness level is circumstances, stuff like if you are rich or poor, if you have a partner or not, what town you live in, if you are good looking or not etc. Surprisingly low with 10% for this one, eh? I think most of us would assume that getting rich and beautiful would make us more than 10% happier.

The remaining 40% is the stuff that you can affect through your daily habits, how you choose to think about life, and the stuff you do. The bulk of the book explains in depth twelve things you can do to improve your happiness, ie. the 40% that you have control over. All the twelve suggested activities have basis in scientific studies, and are considered proven tactics to become a happier and more fulfilled person.

The 12 things that will make you happier (and that each have a chapter in the book) are:

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Cultivating optimism
  • Avoiding overthinking and social comparison
  • Practicing acts of kindness
  • Nurturing relationships
  • Developing strategies for coping
  • Learning to forgive
  • Doing more activities that truly engage you
  • Savoring life’s joys
  • Committing to your goals
  • Practising religion and spirituality
  • Taking care of your body

Pretty good book, I liked it. Also a perfect first book to read on the subject of happiness, as it gives you good scientific background and introduction.

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