Pursue What Matters
Episode 17: The How of Happiness
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you ever have those moments? When you look at your life and from the outside you think, you know, I should be happier than I feel? I have a great life, a great relationship, great work great family. Why am I not happier? You might feel really guilty that you’re not happier. Wonder what will it take to make you happy are worried that this is as good as it gets. And you just need to find a way to be more grateful? Well, if these thoughts and feelings sound familiar, you’ve got to listen in, because today, I’m going to help you answer these questions and more, as I talk all about the how of happiness.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:52
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Everyone wants to be happy, right? You work so hard to be happy to support those around you to build a great life for your loved ones for those who lead. So why does it feel so hard sometimes. Today, I’m going to talk about why happiness can feel elusive, even when it seems like you might have it all. And I’ll share with you the details of how happiness happens. It’s probably not what you think. Let’s jump in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:52
Okay, so 1000s of books have been written about happiness, whether they’re self help books, memoirs, or books by the latest gurus or experts. There’s definitely no lack of books out there on the topic of happiness. Clearly, we all want to be happy. Some even argue that this is one of our most important drives as humans. So Aristotle, right? He’s been around for a while, he said, happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. So right, it’s pretty darn important. Happiness certainly makes life more enjoyable. But sometimes when clients or loved ones lament some version of, I just want to be happy. I am really tempted to respond to them the same way that Wesley responded to Buttercup in the Princess Bride, when he said, life is paying princess. Anyone who says different is trying to sell you something. But alas, I usually don’t. I mean, I don’t say it out loud. But I do say it in my head sometimes. So, you know, life is hard. And learning to cope with life is hard. Let’s add leadership, and family and friendship to all of that. And is it any wonder that happiness sometimes slips right out of the picture? So because life is hard, having resources to cope with life can be really very helpful. So this is really where the book the how of happiness by Dr. Sonia. Okay, I’m really gonna slaughter her last name, so I apologize in advance. So the howl of happiness by Dr. Sonia. Luber moravsky comes in. Sorry, Dr. Sonia. So I’m gonna call her Dr. Sonia, throughout the podcast, because I really cannot pronounce her last name, I’m going to spell it. And of course, in the show notes, I will link to the book because I really want you to be able to get your hands on this excellent book. But it’s lubra miski LYUBOMIR s ki k y. But I’m just going to refer to her as Dr. Sonia to the book through the podcast today. So this is where her book The howl of happiness comes in. And I’m really excited to share this book with you today. So we’re going to do a review of this book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:24
So first of all, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Sonia. She is a professor of psychology at University of California Riverside. Having earned a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Stanford. She’s received many honors for her work, including the Templeton positive psychology prize, and a multi year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, which in the research world is a pretty big deal. And as I mentioned, there are 1000s of books out there about happiness. So why did I choose to share this one with you today? Because right, there’s a lot to choose from. So there are five main reasons that I chose to review this book. So first of all, I want to give you actionable resources that you can start implementing today. That’s really important to me, when we think about book reviews. There is much you can do to create more happiness in your life. So it doesn’t depend on a bigger bank account. A trip to Fiji although you know, that would be nice. more obedient children, but happiness is well within your grasp today. And it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. So you can’t do it all. But there is something that you can do today to help yourself. And I think that that is really empowering. And so Dr. Sonia, his book is very actionable. So there, there are several things that you could take action on today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:35
Second, I want to challenge common notions about the factors that lead to happiness and direct your attention to the factors that really will lead to the highest return on investment. So unfortunately, most of us are focusing on the wrong factors when it comes to happiness. So I really want to help focus your attention on the factors that matter, let go of guilt and help you cultivate more happiness in your life today, right? We should, we should really pursue what matters. That’s what the podcast is all about. And let’s not waste our time on the factors that are not going to be effective or an efficient use of our time. Third, why did I choose this book?
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:50
Third, I want to give you resources that are based in research, because we should only be focusing on what works. And really that’s been one of my overarching commitments to you with the podcast, that I’m going to be giving you resources and solutions that are grounded in the research. And this book is absolutely based in really stellar research. And that’s very important to me. So you don’t have time for things that don’t work. So first of all, this book is entirely based on solid research. It’s not based on somebody at Melba second cousin, and what worked for helping her get out of the funk. anecdotes have their place, which is mostly inspiration and hope. But when it comes to specific skills, interventions and daily practices, you really want to choose resources that are based on sound research findings, this book is that book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:12
So another reason I chose this book, okay, fourth, I want to give you resources that you can tailor to your specific needs. So Dr. Sonia identifies specific coping skills based on needs, interests and preferences. So you can choose the best fit based on where you might be struggling. So it’s really nice, because you can really mix and match the resources to best fit your needs, which I think is cool. And then fifth, I want to save you time. This is why I’m reviewing the book. So as a psychologist, I’ve reviewed this book, I’ve used it extensively. And I’m really, really familiar with positive psychology and the principles addressed in this book. And so I can confidently convey the research to you in a hopefully user friendly way. So that you can incorporate some or all of these resources into your life easily. And I really want to make your life easier, and help you thrive in your life and leadership. And you know, with this podcast, book review, you know, maybe some of you will decide that you want to read the book. And I think that’s awesome. And for some of you, you, you know, the recommendations that that we make in the podcast based on this book review will be really helpful for you. And that’s great. But I really want to give you some options and save you time and strengthen your leadership. And so I feel very strongly committed to that. And so if I can save you time by reviewing some of these books and help you pursue what matters in your life and in your leadership, then I really would like to do that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:51
Okay, now before we jump into the meat of the book, I just want to share a couple of reviews related to the book. So here’s what others have to say about the book. And these are reviewers. So this one I just absolutely love. And this is by Daniel Gilbert, and he’s a Harvard University Professor of Psychology and author of Stumbling on Happiness. He’s a very highly respected researcher and author on the topic of happiness. I’ve heard him present and he’s he’s pretty cool. He’s done some PBS specials on the topic of happiness. And this is what he had to say about this book. “Everyone has an opinion about happiness. And unfortunately, many of them write books. By now finally, we have a self help book from a reputable scientist whose advice is based on the best experimental data, charlatans pundits, and New Age gurus should be worried and the rest of us should be grateful. The How of Happiness is smart, fun and interesting. And unlike almost every other book on the same shelf, it also happens to be true.” So I love that and it really just makes the point of it. You know, go to the research and go to what, what has been shown to be effective rather than gurus and self proclaimed experts who are telling you how to be happy. And one more review. This is by Arianna Huffington. “Our founding fathers told us it is our right to pursue happiness, but they left it vague about how to attain that holy grail of modern life. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s, The How of Happiness, the result of her groundbreaking research into happiness shows us the way to a life of purpose, productivity and joy.” And so, you know, I agree with both of these reviewers. It’s a really great book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:41
So let’s jump into the main points of the book. So Dr. Sonia opens with the question, is it possible to become happier? Or, you know, do we just need to learn to be content with our law in life and kind of where we’re at? And this, you know, certainly speaks to the question I asked at the top of the podcast, from the outside, you may look like you have at all and you may recognize that you have a pretty great life, that question to yourself, why you’re not happier. This can so often happen when you are surviving, right? Like trying to keep all the balls juggling in the air. Or maybe you’re striving you’re pushing hard to achieve, perform, and reach that next level in your life and leadership.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:27
So in these times, it is so easy to feel disillusioned. And to ask, you know, first of all, is it all worth it? And second, is it possible to be happier? You know, especially if you feel guilty and ungrateful for not being happy with the life you currently have. This one hurts I think people feel a lot of guilt about this one. And I know I’ve certainly struggled with some of these questions before. So the answer to the question, is it possible to be happier is yes. But the things we believe will make us happier, in reality do not make us happier. And this is based on extensive research. So most of us tend to look for happiness in the wrong places. So we think more money more time, a better job, a better relationship, a bigger house, a baby looking younger, losing weight, you know, children achieving relief from pain, parents who are proud of you, that we think all of those things will make us happier. How many of us have fallen into those traps? Right? I know, I have, like, you know that some of those things would make me happier. The good news, indeed, the happy news is that there are things you can begin doing today to increase a sense of well being, even if you’re deeply despondent. And I think that’s a really important finding from her research that like, even if you’re struggling with some depression, there are things you can do to help increase your sense of well being. And that’s remarkable. So you’ll need to consistently engage in the activities that have been tied to happiness in order to reap the long term benefits. But as you do, you’ll find that they become self reinforcing. And the Power of Habit starts to set in. So over time, these activities become easier to do. And so you kind of get the snowball rolling downhill. And so you start to build momentum. And over time, they kind of start to take on a power of their own, and so they get easier over time. And so that’s cool.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:39
So one of the things you need to understand about the research on happiness, and it’s kind of one of the foundations of the book, and it is this so Dr. Sanju found that the key determinants of happiness are as follows. So she thinks about this as a pie chart, right? So that, that we all have an individual set point for happiness. And this is genetically determined, and that our individual set point accounts for 50% of our happiness. So it’s a key determinant of our happiness, and it accounts for 50%. And then our circumstances account for 10%. So this is what we would think about in terms of wealth, health, beauty, marital status, that sort of thing. And then intentional activity. So our behavior, our choices, accounts for 40%. So think about that as a pie chart. So individual setpoint or genetically determined, set points, accounts for 50% circumstances, wealth, health, beauty, marital status, that sort of thing, accounts for 10% and then intentional activity accounts for 40%. So I want to take a minute right now and just mention that along with this podcast, I’m going to have a really great freebie for you, it’s going to be the howl of happiness resource. And with that, I’m going to have a pie chart that includes this breakdown of the key determinants of happiness. And I will also have the specific activities that you can utilize to help increase your happiness because of course, that’s what we’re after. That’s what we want to work on. And so at the bottom of the podcast, I will include the link to the show notes. And also, the show notes will also include the place where you can download this excellent resource that you can utilize to help you increase your happiness. And it’s a great support for those you lead as well. But it will include this pie chart.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:53
So first of all, so this is from Dr. Sonia from the book, this is terrific news. It means all this could be a great deal happier, if we scrutinize carefully, what precise behaviors and thoughts very happy, very happy people naturally and habitually engage in. So right, there’s 40% of our happiness is determined by intentional activity. Right. So that’s a really big chunk that we have control over. And and that is what Dr. Sonia’s research is all focused on, is that 40% what activities help to move the mark on happiness. And so that is the that is the focus of the book, that is really the how of happiness, and I do think it is really good news. So her research is focused on the intentional activities that lead to greater happiness. But before we get there, I do want to talk about one more phenomenon that relates to this topic, and it can be really powerful. It’s known as he donek adaptation. And isn’t that like a great 25 cent term that is a psychological term, and psychologists love to throw it around. So hedonic adaptation, and it can really undermine long term happiness and is part of why it is essential to have consistent happiness practices. So it is the idea that As humans, we adapt quite rapidly to hedonic shifts. So hedonic shifts are those life experiences that result in short term up swings in happiness, but they’re only short lived. So hedonic shifts include new jobs, new relationships, or relocation, etc. So think about purchasing a new car that you’ve wanted for years, for the first week or two, it may make you marvelously happy. But after the first week or two, that happiness boost disappears. And what we what we see with the research is that people go back almost immediately, to their baseline happiness. So you know, you purchase this car, or this dream house, and the first couple of weeks, you do get a boost in your happiness. But after the first couple of weeks, your happiness goes back down to your baseline. So it’s as though you never bought that house, or you never bought that car. And same thing goes for being in a new relationship or a new job. So for instance, if one of your complaints is I got to get out of this lousy job, and I just really want a better job. And then you get a better job, you might have a short term boost in your happiness. But within just a few weeks, typically, your happiness would go back down to your baseline and that’s known as hedonic adaptation. And it is a psychological phenomenon that we as humans, as humans have the tendency is that
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:16
in order to sustain happiness, you have to be really consistent in cultivating happiness activities, because the the path of least resistance is towards less happy as is toward less happiness. Right? So, so the path of happiness is an uphill battle. Okay, so how can this book strengthen love and work? How can it strengthen your leadership? So just like anything in life, you will get more benefit based on the amount of effort you devote to these intentional activities. So if you’re casual about it, you will get minimal results. But I do think one of the things that keeps us from starting is a belief that we have to do it all. So I’d much rather you start small and do something I mean anything, even one thing, then to do nothing at all, because you can’t do it well, or you can’t do it all so, so even just starting with one habit. So I’m going to be sharing all of the main categories from Dr. sanyes research. And I don’t want to overwhelm you, I just want to make sure that I’m addressing all the categories, but it’s okay for you to just choose one activity in one category, if that is most helpful for you. And of course, I’m going to have this great freebie with all of the categories listed, and the different activity ideas. And so you’ll have this resource for you that you can always refer back to, so there’s absolutely no need to be overwhelmed. So the book is chock full of activities to choose from, and Dr. Sahni recommends that you choose activities based on three approaches. So first, you want to fit with the source of your unhappiness, you want to fit with your strengths, and you want to fit with your lifestyle. So keep these three keys in mind as you hear about the activities and choose what will work best for you. And definitely, like I just said, Don’t feel like you need to do everything. Because of course, that will be a recipe for overwhelm. Okay, so now I want to cover the different solution categories. And then with each category, I will give you some of the different happiness activities. So you just have some ideas. And then I might give you a couple of examples in the different happiness activities. So solution number one, practicing gratitude and positive thinking. So happiness activity, one expressing gratitude. This is a big one, we hear about it all the time. And that’s because the research is really powerful. Happiness activity number two, cultivating optimism. And so having an optimistic outlook on life can make a really big difference. If you’ve spent any amount of time with a pessimist, like it can really take a hit on your sense of happiness, happiness, activity number three, avoiding overthinking and social comparison.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:32
Okay, so I’d like to talk a little bit in more detail about this happiness activity because it totally ties into my topic for the next episode, which is all about comparison. And, you know, overcoming overthinking is also really important, so, Dr. Sonia and her students conducted a series of studies to test the theory of overthinking in the laboratory. And so they found that some of the participants tend to ruminate or worry a lot about bad experiences and that the overthinking harms their concentration and performance at demanding everyday activities like reading and writing. But the advice that Dr. Sonia gives is to cut loose and to stop ruminating because when a person is distraught or stressed or nervous or insecure, no insight is gained from overthinking. So overthinking and ruminating, really, it it kind of has diminishing returns like it does not help. So did you hear that no insight is gained from overthinking. So that can be a really great relief, to just let go of the ruminating. So to let things go and learn to be in the present. So you can perform rather than to ruminate and suffer because of something that happened. And so this is where self talk can be really helpful. And so sometimes, you know, if I find myself ruminating about something or, you know, going over and over a difficult conversation or decision that I made, I will just say I’m going to respect the decision that I made. Or you know what the conversation is over, I did the best that I could. Or I need to learn what I can from the situation and move on. And sometimes I’ll just say it’s time to move on from that situation. So I think all of those things can help you to stop the rumination to redirect yourself and to move on because as Dr. Sonia taught, there’s no additional insight to be gained from the overthinking and the rumination.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:57
Okay, so now let’s move on to solution two, which is Investing in social connections. And the research is really clear on the importance of social connections for happiness. When we’re isolated, alone, and lonely, which aren’t the two aren’t the same thing, lonely and alone. They’re related, but they’re not the same thing. But we suffer. So social connections are really important, a really important part of happiness. So happiness activity number four is practicing acts of kindness, and happiness activity five is nurturing social relationships. So making sure that we’re cultivating social relationships, that we have some structured social connections in our lives, whether it’s with faith groups, whether it’s part of school, whether it’s part of work, whether it’s part of a meetup group, or whether it’s dating or other hobby or interest groups, but we need to be nurturing social relationships. Maybe it’s volunteering in your community. But that’s a really important part of investing social in social connections.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:15
Okay, solution three, managing stress, hardship and traumas. This is a big one, many of us are stressed out and overwhelmed. Happiness, activity six, developing strategies for coping, this is really, really important coping skills for stress. And trauma is really critical. There are a lot of coping skills out there. So we think about cognitive behavioral skills. So sometimes that’s shortened as CBT. We’ve got dialectical behavioral therapy. Sometimes that is shortened as DBT skills. We’ve also got acceptance and Commitment Therapy, sometimes that is shortened as act skills. So AC T. But if you just did a Google search of coping skills, you would find a whole list of coping skills, not all of them what I recommend, but I think it’s a good place to start to just start looking at coping skills for stress. So that can include anything from using a breathing app, using meditation. taking a walk around the block using us to do Sudoku puzzle, doing a regular puzzle, drawing in a coloring, book, journaling, there are all sorts of coping strategies out there. And it’s really important to have some strategies that you can turn to when you are feeling stressed and struggling to cope. Okay, happiness activity number seven, learning to forgive. And this, this is a big one, whether you have a faith tradition or not. Forgiveness is an important part of being human. Because, you know, we all have relationships with people. No one’s perfect, people mess up people are in need of forgiveness. And so learning to forgive others is an important skill that we need in relationships.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:24
Okay, solution four: living in the present. So happiness activity, a increasing flow experiences. So flow is a really well researched phenomenon that we see related to creativity and innovation. And Dr. Sonia talks in more detail about flow experiences. It’s something that that hinges on being able to be present to be in the moment, it can happen. When you’ve you’ve kind of got this focus concentration, whether you’re writing whether you’re performing, whether you’re doing our whatever it is, you’re engaged in, whatever the pursuit is, it’s this intense, a lightness and this intense here and now. Focus pretty cool. Happiness activity nine savory life’s joys. This is a great one. So I want to give you a little highlight of one more happiness activity that Dr. Sanju provides. And it’s savoring life’s joy. So to begin the activity, Dr. Sonia provides a quote, my advice to you is not to inquire why or whether but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate. So that’s from Thornton Wilder. And so it’s this idea of savoring and taking note in the moment of this is a good moment. The other night, I was out with my husband and my daughter and we went and got a gelato. It was like, Oh, this is a happy moment. So right, like savoring that moment, or sometimes at night when I’m on a walk with my pup. And you know, the sky is this beautiful purple because of the sunset, and the heat and the mountains and just being able to take note and savor like, Oh, that is a beautiful sunset. And that is a moment of joy, that is a moment of gratitude. And often, those are small moments. And so I think sometimes the mistake that we make is that we go looking for really big moments. And the truth is that most of life’s joys, are in small moments, right? Like, they’re moments when everyone’s around the dining room table, or a moment where, you know, you’re on a road trip, and everyone’s laughing at an inside joke. And I think one of the wisdoms of happy people are being able to recognize and savor those small moments and recognize that those small moments are actually the really, really big moments. And the only moments that actually matter. And that’s, that’s a wise person right there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 31:20
So this is actually the next thing that she talks about. So relish ordinary experiences. So you know, the same enjoy the little things for one day, you may look back and realize they were the big thing. So this is true. That’s exactly what I was just talking about. And it is true. And, you know, the older, the older I get, the more that is true, the more I recognize that so maybe I’m developing a little bit of wisdom, I don’t know. Okay, so savor and reminisce with friends and family. So Dr. Sonia talks about the research behind savoring and reminiscing with others. And, you know, researchers have found that mutual reminiscence is accompanied by abundant positive emotion such as joy, accomplishment, amusement, contentment, and pride. And, you know, I’ve got to tell you, so I just did a big family vacations with my kiddos and husband, in England, so like, right, like, we were all in a station wagon in England for two weeks together. And it was, you know, quite a trip, literally and figuratively, but I gotta tell you, like my favorite moments of that trip, were all of us laughing together in the car. I like we had beautiful views we had, you know, we saw a lot of cool things. And we loved our visits with friends and family. But my favorite moments were our inside jokes and our nicknames for each other, and just the time together in the car. And that was a pretty cool thing. And you know, this next, coming up, I’ve got my family reunion. And it’s it’s actually really funny, because when I was young, I used to complain about like, our family reunions, we just sit around and like people just sit around and talk all the, all the aunts and uncles just sit around and talk. And I gotta tell you, like, that’s what I love about family reunions, sitting around and reminiscing and telling family stories and sometimes telling the same family stories that there’s a real power in that and savoring and reminiscing. And that that, you know, it’s certainly how I learned my family history. And it’s how my kids are learning their family history. And I actually think my kids really enjoy it. I actually did really enjoy it. I like to complain about it. But I also love hearing the same stories every year because, you know, they were great stories and my family members were great storytellers. So that made it even more exciting and more enjoyable.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:11
So be mindful Dr. Sanya talks about a series of studies conducted at the University of Rochester that focused on people high in mindfulness and found unsurprisingly, that such individuals are models of flourishing and positive mental health. So right your ability to be present, to practice mindfulness will really help you flourish and have more happiness in your life. So no big surprise there. Okay, happiness activity 10 committing to your goals. So this is certainly consistent with everything we’re focusing on with the podcast, which is all about pursuing what matters. really commit to your goals. Identify what matters to you have clarity. About your purpose, be consistent on your path, stick to your goals and follow through on.
Dr. Melissa Smith 35:09
Okay, solution, five, take care of your body and your soul. And of course, this is really important. This is a really important part, finding balance and taking balance in your life. And so she talks about happiness activity 11, which is practicing religion and spirituality. And, you know, this is a really important part of building resilience is spirituality is really a foundation of resilience. And so even if you’re not religious, find a way to cultivate spirituality, because it will help you to be more resilient, and it will help you to build a solid foundation for happiness. And then she talks about, let’s see, three, three different options that are all encompassed in Happy Happiness activity number 12, which is taking care of your body through meditation, physical activity, and that I like this one, acting like a happy person. So sometimes you got to fake it until you make it, you know, act as though and that’s actually a principle that I do talk about with some of my clinical patients is sometimes you have to act as though and that there can be real value to that physical activity is also really essential foundation for happiness. So we know that exercise is a key component for happiness. Meditation is a component of mindfulness, which is also really important to happiness. And so each of those activities are really important part of taking care of your body and soul. So there you go, we’ve got all of these gray happiness activities across five different solution areas. And they’re really helpful. And of course, don’t forget, I’ve got this awesome freebie that outlines all of these activities for you, will give you some great ideas, so that you can get going on creating more happiness for yourself today. And really, like these don’t have to be difficult, so you don’t have to do them all. But maybe you can choose one thing that you’ll start incorporating into your life. And so I really hope that you will download the freebie and that you will you’ll do something for yourself. So all of the happiness activities are great. And I really, really love this book. So if you if you want to grab this book, it’s really great it is it’s it’s research dense, right. It’s a great book, though to keep on your nightstand where you could practice an activity every two or three weeks. So you can definitely just download the freebie use that as your guide. But this book is a good resource. So if you if you wanted to just reference the activities in the back, that would be a great way to use the book as well. But make sure to check out my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode will of course link to Dr. sanyes book will link to her website and her resources as well.
Dr. Melissa Smith 38:35
And then of course, we will have a link to the freebie I’ve got a great freebie that will include all of the happiness activities that Dr. Sonia discusses in her book, and you can find that at my website www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-17 Again, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-17. I’m so happy you join me today. I hope it was helpful for you. And thank you so much for listening. I hope that you’ll also consider heading on over to iTunes subscribing so you don’t miss an episode. You can also subscribe on my website so you get the weekly email so you don’t miss out on any of the podcasts. And if you don’t mind, I’d love it if you would leave a review on iTunes that helps other people find the podcast and finally please check me out on Instagram. @drmelissasmith, I’d love to hear what you think about the podcast. I’d also love to hear your suggestions for upcoming book reviews, or just what you’d like to hear about on the podcast because I’d love to help you Your leadership in pursuing what matters. And so give me your thoughts. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai