Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness summarizes the latest scientific research into the field of Happiness Studies and how most of us can obtain happiness. It doesn't promise that everyone can be happy, as she notes, responsibly, that if your basic needs aren't met and your life is threatened and/or in an abusive situation, it's not likely that you'll achieve happiness--though there are rare people that despite their awful situations, are nevertheless happy. But that's not likely the case for most of us. It's interesting as the field of Happiness Studies, in effect, has shown that the primary goal of all societies SHOULD be eradicating poverty and violence, so that we can then move to the goal of being happy.
Further, Dr. Lyubomirsky also notes that if you're clinically depressed, and she includes a short depression scale to see if you may be depressed, to see a psychiatrist as she responsibly notes that you can't go from being depressed to being happy and fulfilled. It's like having a leg fracture, but then expecting to run a marathon. As for preparation before seeing a psychiatrist, she has an excellent section at the end of the book that describes the various antidepressants, and what to expect, so as to make your visit to the psychiatrist not scary and daunting. It's an impressive section, as I was wondering, did she read and master Stahl's Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Applications? She's not advocating the b.s. that "everyone can be happy".
However, for most of us who do have our basic needs and safety met, and don't fall under the clinically depressed range, we can be happy, rather than merely living a daily grind. She also spends part of the book going into the empirical research that shows that as long as we fit that criteria, we can be happy. The other extremely interesting thing about a lot of these happiness exercises, is that they're free or inexpensive, and some aren't time-consuming, so it's doable for us.
In other words, they are practical to implement, and not out of reach for most of us. For instance, I've literally read some self-help books that say, "write a best-seller" as the royalties will help financially (yes, we can all be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King), or travel to enjoy new, interesting experiences, as if we all have thousands of dollars to blow on exotic travels.
After discussing the above caveats, the author then outlines steps, as well as pitfalls that we may face during this journey in achieving happiness. She writes in a very clear, easy to read, and interesting manner. Martin Seligman, M.D., considered one of the fathers of the field of Happiness Studies, often refers to her work, I think because of her very clear and engaging writing style.
A lot of self-help books don't address the pitfalls, so this book is remarkable in that she adds a lot of trouble-shooting and other examples to follow if the recommendations don't seem to be helpful to you. Here are some of the pitfalls she addresses:
The first pitfall is the cynicism, as the 12 categories you can do to be happy will make most of us snicker and cringe, such as "expressing gratitude", "random acts of kindness", "nurturing relationships" and other platitudes. However, the author goes into the scientific research into why these activities increase happiness, and different ways of implementing these exercises that they no longer sound cheesy, but rather uplifting and refreshing. I found the exercise in gratitude especially compelling (that is, to me, as everyone is different) because reading my journal of appreciation, I was in tears with the realization of how fortunate I am.
The second pitfall is that there's sure to be very perfectionist/OCD people out there who will do every activity to the exact letter, thereby burning out, or if not able to implement every single step, to feel depressed and a failure. The author does a superb job in explaining the importance of choosing activities that you actually enjoy and have time to do, and to avoid doing those exercises in a duty/chore/routine manner that will fuel resentment. The goal is to be happy, after all, and not feel defeated.
I think this is one of the strengths of the book, for us to find the exercises that we enjoy and create our own ways to be happy that's individualized, rather than following a program like a robot. So, if you cringe at expressing gratitude, there are other activities that you can chose, and they're quite varied, so all personality types will find something we'll enjoy.
Lyubomirsky also includes questionnaires to help you hone in on what activities you'll most likely enjoy, and based on your likes, she cross-references other categories that you can pursue. Some of these exercises don't even take time for those who are extremely busy, such as being present in the moment, even while working.
In other words, she gives out practical, doable activities that anyone can accomplish, most of them free activities and/or not taking up time if we're strapped for time and resources.
The third pitfall is how to continue to motivate yourself as we tend to go back to our normal routine and old habits, as it does take effort to implement and be creative. Again, Lyubomirsky describes steps to help motivate yourself to get back on track, and most importantly, to be kind to yourself if you "slide".
The book was especially helpful to me in outlining the scientific studies showing that these categories do in fact lead to happiness. I also appreciate the book addressing the myths we have that make us happy, which actually don't lead to happiness in the long-run, so you can avoid these myths, and pursue the activities that truly do lead to happiness, per scientific data. You can be assured that you're not "wasting your time" doing these enriching, scientifically-backed, activities, and avoid the myths that will just waste your time, money and efforts.
I will point out a couple of examples, as it's beyond the scope of the review to outline all the myths, and the scientifically-backed happiness activities. I remember being very happy when I got my first ever iPhone, which was the 6 Plus. I took such good care of it and admired it at first. But after a few weeks (or even less?), I'm like "whatever". Fast forward 2 years later, I actually drop the iPhone with a blase attitude, and I've seen my coworkers also dropping their expensive, even new smart phones, also with a whatever attitude: not one coworker "gasped" when they dropped their phones. So indeed, one such myth that will make you happy is achieving wealth and material possessions beyond the basic necessities, as getting the coolest thing is very short-lived and un-sustaining. If you forgo the materialism, it's a true win-win situation: you save money and you can do something else that's more fulfilling.
However, it "never gets old" being with my friends, even while doing boring chores together, and it's always fun and joyful petting and playing with my cats, so the mantra of "nurturing relationships" really is a happiness activity, and is actually fun, basically free and practical to do.
Rating: A+. I would recommend going to your local bookstore and/or library to check out the book first, take notes if you find anything helpful, and to get a copy if and only if you find the book useful.