I’m not big on “how-to” books. I find that most are nothing but stories about how individuals managed to do whatever the book is about how to do. Authors interview a bunch of people, and write a book that is a compilation of their stories. Period.
However, I am always up for self-improvement. This week, in my latest foray into how-to, I read (OK, I only skimmed) a book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at U.C. Riverside, called “The How of Happiness,” and I think I actually learned a thing or two. For example, there are some scientific studies that back the author’s finding that the same circumstances can affect people’s happiness level very differently.
Take my friend Christa, for example. She is upbeat about 99% of the time. She’s upset like the rest of us when something bad happens, but she gets back to her happy self in record time. Whereas, when something is bothering me, it’s always been hard for me to let it go. When I was a teenager moping around the house, my mother was likely to encourage me to get over it, proclaiming “Nobody loves a sourpuss!” Easy for her to say.
So here’s the lesson I took from the book. We are born with a pre-set level of happiness. It’s in our genes. That accounts for about 50% of our happiness response. Another 10% is based on our circumstances, meaning that some of us are just plain luckier than others. But the final 40% is in our hands and the author offers many strategies to make that a happier 40%. My favorite two are “make gratitude lists regularly”, and “don’t ruminate”. The former is easier for me than the latter.
My friend Christa probably doesn’t need this book. As for me, although I’m usually happy, there’s always room for improvement.