The Secret To Happiness

September 29, 2008 at 3:14 am 32 comments

The American Dream tells us we are free to pursue happiness, but doesn’t give us instructions.  Even life-changing events such as winning the lottery have been shown (Brickman 1978) to only increase happiness in the short-term.

The secret to long term happiness is a concept that seems too sacred to be studied and dissected. However, many researchers devote themselves to this topic, and this paper by Sheldon and Lyubomirsky presents a nice theory about sustainable happiness.

This elusive goal is difficult, and may be impossible. Many past studies have shown that each person has a base level of happiness which they can only deviate from temporarily. Even more unfortunate, is that this base level of happiness is 50-80% inherited.

The researchers in this paper divided events that increase your well-being into: activity changes (intentional acts such as exercising) and circumstantial changes (such as being assigned a great roommate). They performed 3 studies on psychology students who had recently experienced an increase in well-being. These studies showed that sustainable happiness was only possible through activity changes. Intentional changes resulted in a bigger boost in happiness and more varied experiences.

After a period of time, those who experienced the increase in well-being because of an activity change retained their increase more than those who experienced the increase because of a circumstantial change. The ones who became happier by chance became accustomed to the change and were no longer affected by it.

There is no shortcut — effort and hard work are the best route to happiness.

Sheldon, K & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55 – 86. [PDF]

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32 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ashutosh  |  September 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for your new post.

  • 2. Sonja Lyubomirsky  |  September 29, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for your post about my work. You may be interested in my recent book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (2008, Penguin Press), which extends the research you cite by discussing the determinants of happiness and scientifically supported ways that people can become lastingly happier.

    –Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.

  • 3. grenda  |  October 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    hey! thought you gave up posting. thanks for the new article

    one point I was thinking is that the people that win the lottery might have more time to pursue their real interests (which they would put in effort and hard work) instead of busy work like working at burger king or waiting tables so they might end up happier.

  • 4. Power Learning 21  |  March 17, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Happiness is a choice.
    If people would learn to accept things as it is, to have an open mind about it, then certainly, soon happiness will come.

  • 5. Vaillant  |  May 13, 2009 at 2:49 am

    I found my happiness. I live with my girlfriend for 2 months now and I’m really happy. We were warned – you’ll argue all the time, you’ll have problems but none of these occurred. I found my real love and I’m just simply happy

  • 6. Zaslony  |  May 18, 2009 at 4:25 am

    i think happiness is a constant pursuit of some kind of goal .As soon as you lose your goals you lose your happiness – people need something to look for in the future or else they’re miserable.

  • 7. Fast Creative  |  June 5, 2009 at 3:52 am

    I must say that one secret of Happiness is contentment.

    • 8. ashish  |  June 23, 2014 at 4:32 am

      amazing post. Great read. This is why i love happiness page :0

  • 9. Gry Dla Dzieci  |  June 5, 2009 at 6:22 am

    You shouldn’t be chasing some weird goals all the time just to have a purpous in life. Try just finding something that makes you happy and doing it for the rest of your life.

  • 10. Tipsy  |  June 26, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Actualy winning the lottery has been shown to make people miserable. No more goals mixed with the fact that you don’t know who’s your “real friend” and who’s just after money anymore make people hate their lives.

  • 11. Nieruchomosci Gryfino  |  July 14, 2009 at 7:38 am

    There no instructions because happinness is different for everyone. You’re poor – you want money. You’re rich – you want peaceful house outside the city. You live outside the city – you’d prefer to live in the city. And so on – everyone wants something else.

  • 12. Zegarek  |  July 21, 2009 at 8:19 am

    If we had simple instructions everyone would be happy. And so noone would be. Because when there’s not one unhappy person there’s no contrast so nobody is really happy.

  • 13. wyposazenie hoteli  |  July 24, 2009 at 5:45 am

    Happiness is an individual thing. I would like to be a way for everyone to be happy but it isn’t. Plato thought he found the way to make everyone happy and now he is called the father of every single totalitarism.

  • 14. Kopertowki  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:03 am

    I think that when you feel happy or not is based not only on quality of provided life but also many other things. The most important is what do you expect and what are your abilities. If you expect to become a rock star and you don’t you could feel not very happy about that. But if you had not expected such thing you will not feel unhappy because you are not :) I think the best way is not to expect a lot, but to try a lot. In that case you can always be surprised in a good way.

  • 15. Jeffrey Stubs  |  October 19, 2009 at 2:58 am

    I think the happiness should not be thought as a thing connected to money or success. Everything depends on the inside level of self-consciousness. My opinion is that everyone who live in peace with himself, not looking for excuses for the wrong he done and trying to make world a better place could achieve happiness. There is no simple solution for that but there could be some ways of making our selves feeling better about what we do and who we are.

  • 16. leaatendido  |  December 2, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    For a long period of staying in Palm Beach. I found happiness while studying in Private Schools Palm Beach. Such a great experience.

  • 17. gry fajne  |  February 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    people should do things they like and work with some pleasure, at least without aversion and that words are so true: happiness is an individual thing

  • 18. Online  |  August 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    If people would learn to accept things as it is, to have an open mind about it, then certainly, soon happiness will come.

  • 19. Gina  |  September 25, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for the post. I found it late but its very useful.

  • 20. Jared C  |  March 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    People who have chance to get in better situation are maybe not only lucky but they also might have create their luck. By being proactive, we are creating opportunity and by creating opportunity, we have more chance to be lucky and meet right persons. I believe that chance have an impact but that you can make chance happen also. Here again the more you do the better it is, even for chance.

  • 21. FSDF  |  September 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks for your post about my work. You may be interested in my recent book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (2008, Penguin Press), which extends the research you cite by discussing the determinants of happiness and scientifically supported ways that people can become lastingly happier.

    –Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.

  • 22. Tony @ High School Life  |  January 20, 2012 at 8:58 am

    There’s this kid in my class who thinks he’s gonna “win the lottery and become the President”! Yea right!
    Some kids need a sense of reality. I think that true happiness is pride – pride in what you’ve accomplished

  • 23. Mary Madsen  |  August 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve never heard of this concept of a “base level of happiness”. It makes sense though. Some people just tend to be naturally happier than others.

  • 24. NISM  |  September 15, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Thank you so much for this type of sharing… because i always found the secret of happiness..

  • 25. Bebe Grenz  |  March 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    our Mental Energy Sphere is his latest work, and could qualify as a novelette – in that it is less than 20,000 words. Yet, to fully make use of this self-help guide, readers must allow space and time to contemplate what he is saying. Readers will benefit by reading this book slowly, at times when there are no distractions. Each sentence is valuable – no word is wasted, here. Using realistic tools such as deep introspection, evaluation and deduction, Shyam coaxes individuals to find their true happiness. Though Shyam provides the tools, he makes it clear that readers will have to take the steps that will ensure their own satisfaction in life.”

    Most up-to-date posting on our personal blog page

  • 26. Jody C. Combs  |  May 13, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Thanks for an insightful post. These comments are really helpful. I found a lot of useful tips from this post, exam dumps, It’s nice that you worked well and gave good material over here

  • 27. main page  |  July 4, 2013 at 1:14 am

    Wow, this post is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing such things, thus I am going to inform her.

  • 28. Jason Brooks  |  September 8, 2013 at 7:12 am

    I really enjoyed the post. It confirmed what I already knew to be true: hard work brings happiness. We’ve all heard that “nothing is life worth having is easy or free” and I believe it to be true. The things that drive us, that give us a sense of purpose are always the hardest yet the most fulfilling when accomplished.

  • 29. Elizabeth Goodson  |  October 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up. Thee text in your post seem to be running off the screen in Chrome.

    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something
    to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post tto let you know.
    The design and style look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon.


  • 30. Nina  |  November 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Inspirational post.I love to read this type of contents.Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • 31. Ananya  |  December 27, 2013 at 4:43 am

    Happiness lies in so much more. And is also subjective, you know. And thrives on contentment and desire to excel, without being harrowed by unrealistic expectations. Great read!

  • 32. Online education  |  May 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Happiness is a very subjective topic and totally a state of mind. It lies within and means different to different people. I think that true happiness is pride – pride in what you’ve accomplished and certainly helping out others.


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