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on 10 December 2008
This book is one of the more readable "do-it-yourself" happiness books out there. By that, I mean that your average person can sit down and read the book, understand what it is saying, and come away with some practical advice. This is even more of gem when you consider that it was written by someone who has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. Many times writing can come across more technical than it needs to be when a Phd. writes for the popular read. Not the case here.

The first thing I liked about this book was the fact that it was written by someone who actually makes their living by studying happiness. Serious happiness readers like myself will be glad to know that the author is not only well-published in peer-reviewed journals, but is also an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology- the field's academic journal. What more do you want?

So we're off to a good start with this one. Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow of each chapter, I think this particular book review lends itself better to telling potential buyers some of things they can expect from it:

-you will be able to determine your current level of happiness on a scale that the author has developed and validated. The good thing about this is that you can re-check you happiness levels after doing some of the suggested activities to see if they actually boosted your happiness levels (like you wouldn't know anyway, but being a researcher myself, I like to be able to quantify things)

-you will learn what determines your happiness. The book points out three major things: circumstances, your genetic set-point, and intentional activity. Since intentional activities is the area that offers the most potential to increase your happiness, the book's strategies come from this area. This is a common theme in some of the more recent happiness book, such as Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World, simply because it makes the most sense and there has been a surge of research on intentional activities to increase one's happiness.

-you get a slew of activities to increase your happiness such as expressing gratitude, practicing acts of kindness, or increasing flow experiences (readers liking this strategy should be sure to check out the authoritative book on flow aptly titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

So I think the above represents the major "goodies" in the book, and the info that a typical reader would buy this book to get. However if its more you want, there's also plenty of that. For instance there are plenty of happiness facts cited and even a section on depression.

All-in-all, as you can tell, I really liked this book a lot. If I had to pick one thing I DIDN'T like about it though, it would be it's length. The book is well-over 300 pages and readers of my reviews know that I personally prefer short, to-the-point, practical books. But, when all is said and done, if you want some great happiness info and some practical happiness strategies, check it out. Happy trails!
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on 13 June 2014
This book delivers a great introduction to the relatively new but increasingly familiar concepts of Positive Psychology. I got this book as part of an process trying to help my daughter who suffers from an eating disorder. I believe there is an underlying unhappiness behind her condition (I am not for a minute suggesting this book is any kind of suitable treatment programme for eating disorders - that would be very irresponsible. I am just providing a context).

I read it first to vet it and passed it on to her without hesitation. She uses it as a key tool in managing her illness and it has coincided with a period of marked improvement. It is not responsible for this improvement but it has definitely been a significant component as one of the many things that have contributed to it.

The point is, like many anorexics, my daughter has a very analytical mind. The approach of this book to happiness is so pragmatic and centred on facts, research and objectively recorded experience, that it chimed with her (and with me) in a way that books which are more vague on the subject do not. The joy of this book is that it systematically details and homes in on practices which are scientifically proven to improve mood, and suggests ways of adopting them. Most importantly, this information is all couched in a writing style and language that makes it accessible and enjoyable to read. It is neither a flowery self-help book, or a dry scientific tome. It is truly a revelation, I am still using it's methods today and so is my daughter - I have recommended the book to others and yes, cliche alert, but I genuinely believe it has changed lives. This is the first book review I have ever written and at 55, I have read a lot of books over the years! - that is how much I rate it.
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I bought this book out of curiosity - not because I felt particularly unhappy, but because I wondered how I could be even happier. After reading the introduction I was hooked and expected the book to be truly interesting as it was written by an academic researcher specialised in positive psychology.

As someone with a scientific background myself, I was pleased to read in the introduction that "The How of Happiness is different from many self-help books as it represents a distillation of what researchers of the science of happiness, including myself, have uncovered in their empirical investigations. Every suggestion that I offer is supported by scientific research; if evidence is mixed or lacking on a particular subject, I plainly say so." (p.3). The author then goes on to explain that only double-blind experiments with participants chosen at random can determine whether a claim is true, which are often missing in other books and magazines providing advice on how to become happier. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to these expectations. Mrs Lyubomirsky often resorts to unscientific anecdotes and personal stories (isolated cases) to illustrate her methods. There is hardly anything scientific past the introduction. It's just another book of advice like any other one. It may be based on serious research, but unless you decide to check all the references in the notes section, very little is explained. You just have to trust her. That's not a very convincing approach.

Overall I found the book annoyingly repetitive, with lots of empty sentences stating the obvious or things that are common sense.

The book was also clearly written for an American audience, starting from the premises that the readers are inordinately materialistic and obsessed with work, money and keeping up with the Joneses. It almost feels like the author had the Desperate Housewives in mind when she wrote the book.

I will go as far as to question the reliability of the content of the book itself. When I read on page 45-46 that the weather and personal safety are not important to achieve happiness, one could wonder why so many Northern Europeans suffer from depression in winter, or why bullied children and harassed workers ever commit suicide. Mrs Lyubomirsky claims that studies comparing the happiness levels of Californians and Midwesterners didn't show that Californians were happier in average, and therefore that weather is not a factor influencing happiness. It doesn't take a genius to understand what a gross simplification that is. If people could live as happily in the Arctic regions, then why is there so few people moving to the Canadian North, Greenland or Lapland ?

Mrs Lyubomirsky completely disregards Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which states that people can only be happy once they fulfil life's needs by order of importance. At the bottom of the pyramid are the most fundamental needs, like food, water, sleep and sex. Then comes personal safety, then only friendships and love. Without all these, people cannot move to the next level, which is self-esteem, confidence, and achievements. And only when these needs have been fulfilled can an individual truly reach the level of self-actualization and happiness. How can she, as a psychologist, believe one second that personal safety is not an essential step to achieve happiness ?

I think that the main problem with this book is that the author doesn't understand the essential distinction between being (un)happy about a temporary situation and life in general. She claims from the first page of chapter one that being in a relationship, having a baby, getting a better job, a bigger house, and so on will only make us happy for a short time, until we get accustomed to the novelty and want more. However, some of these cravings are more than mere whims. It is true that some people can be perfectly happy staying single and not having children. But that's a personal choice, emanating from one's character and physiological needs. There are people who simply cannot live a happy life without being in a relationship or without having children. The author's approach is to compare statistics of the happiness level between two groups of people, then wildly claim that because both groups have similar levels of happiness, one factor (like being in a relationship) does not significantly influence happiness. That is very poor science indeed.

What's more, her suggestions to improve our long-term happiness do not differ much from the small highs one get by buying a new car or getting a promotion at work. She advocates doing a series of small things on a daily basis, like being kind to others, showing one's gratitude, or savour one's food. Each of them will only provide a small boost, but doing them frequently and regularly will improve long-term happiness, she explains. I fail to see the difference with enjoying one's life by eating out with friends, watching a good movie, or redecorating the house. It's as if Mrs Lyubomirsky had a moral issue with achieving happiness through material ways and wanted us to do it only through mental or spiritual ways. Perhaps that is a reaction to living in a too materialistic society (California).

There are actually quite a few simple ways of boosting one's mood, and therefore happiness, on a daily basis, which aren't mentioned in the book at all. Sleeping well is one of the most important, as sleep deprivation makes up irritable, stressed, unpleasant and aggressive with others, and even depressed. Watching comedies, playing games, and so on are also good ways.

Finally, Mrs Lyubomirsky only looks at positive ways to enhance happiness, but fails to recognise the importance of reducing negative circumstances. Her methods will never work on someone who is bullied on a daily basis and can't escape from it. That person will remain miserable, because he or she did not achieve personal safety, towards the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If it is true that we possess an uncanny faculty to adapt to positive changes, even winning the lottery, and some negative changes (illness, unemployment, loss of a relative), deficiencies in the basic necessities of life can seriously affect long-term happiness. Sometimes having a house big enough for all its occupants can become a basic necessity if it is the only way to sleep well regularly. Too bad the author couldn't understand that.
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on 21 April 2010
Really, really good book. I wouldn't normally advocate self help books, but I found this one really useful. For me it acted more as a life skills book and is great for people you maybe didn't have the benefit of guidance and advice whilst growing up. The great thing about this book is that its all based on empirical evidence and studies and not just the experiences of a single individual. The only thing I would say though is that in my experience the reading of this book should become part of your daily routine as like any type of learning it requires consistency and patience.

I would also suggest the audio version as this can be listened to while carrying out other tasks.
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on 20 December 2010
I read this book when I was feeling mildly depressed and it has helped so much I have bought copies for several friends. We all understand that if you want to keep your body fit there are several kinds of exercises you can do: strength training, cardio, flexibility etc. So why do we take our mental health less seriously?

I have a science background and work with statistics every day, so I was impressed with the depth and breadth of the research covered in this book. The engaging anecdotes keep it interesting, some moments made me laugh and others reminded me how easy it is to feel dragged down by the weight of circumstances in life. It's a very practical book, there are questionnaires to fill in and activities to carry out, the activities suggested all work in lifting your mood but some will have a more long lasting effect than others - there is even a quick quiz that will help you find out which activities will suit you best, depending on your personality type, likes and dislikes.

The only thing I disliked about this edition was the subtitle 'A practical guide to getting the life you want' because as the book makes clear, happiness is not something you get. If it were you would get used to it and go back to being the way you were before. A happy life is something you can actively choose to live, by strengthening your friendships, expressing your gratitude properly, celebrating successes, taking time to savour the good things in life and giving generously of your time and gifts. It's not easy and it takes effort and application - but so does staying physically fit. So maybe it should be a guide to living the life you want, or being the person you want to be.
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on 3 November 2011
I am not usually a reader of self help books because I dont think anyone can truly know what another person is going through. I get the impression that they are widely generalizing and pidgeon-holeing peoples issues from their writing desks.
This book, however, is actually a work of scientific findings that you can acknowledge and decide what that means to you, or not.
It is not a lovely fluffy floaty explanation of why you feel unhappy, it tells you what you can do about it in an infomal manner that makes it sound realistic that you can reach a happier state of mind.
It speaks of the many different types of unhappiness and gives a variety of options to follow to leave behind negativity. You can choose any number of the options to follow or start with one and increase the strategies as you feel happier.
You dont have to follow any strategy you do not want to try, so there is no feeling of failure that you couldnt even manage to follow apparently simple baby steps.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has never bought a self help book.It may surprise you!
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on 13 June 2008
this is research-based, and densely packed with insights and ideas, by a credible lady with many years of studies under her own belt.
but she also consistently adds specific examples to keep things real, and writes in a human and warm way.
In my view this has been undersold - it is by far the best book in its field I have come across, and has the potential to really make a difference
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on 6 February 2016
This book is not based on science at all as it misleadingly tries to prove!
Simply put the author (which is apparently a professor of psychology) doesn't know what she is writing about and doesn't make sense at all.
The book is suppose to be based on scientific facts, observations and discoveries. For that reason I was very excited to educate myself. However it's the author than needs educating as she makes very brave and very swift judgements.
For that reason I'd call it a book of pseudo-psychological facts. It's full of nonsense and 'power of wishful thinking'. The book very boldly states that the outside circumstances have nothing to do with human happiness. The book actually tries to give examples but there is no continuum of logic. Perhaps the author is inadequate to deliver the correct reasoning and background for the book.
THIS BOOK fails completely.
I would like to add that I have nothing against the power of positive thinking and that I believe that we can work on feeling happier whatever the circumstances but this book will just fill your heads with junk.

I strongly recommend 'Instructions for happiness and success' by Susie Pearl which is an easy read with exercises that help you uncover your own feelings, thoughts and views. And thus help you understand yourself better and work on your thoughts, views and feelings.
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on 22 March 2010
Based on extensive sound research with straightforward advice.
Well written. I have read many books in this genre and this is easily the best.
I keep this on the bedside table and you will too.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 14 November 2008
Having researched happiness and success for over 3 decades, this is now one of my top practical picks on this subject, the others being "Emotional Toolkit" (for its detailed action steps that work well with Lyubomirsky's book) plus "Happy for No Reason" and the classic "To Love is to be Happy With". [later note: Lyubomirsky's second book, "The Myths of Happiness" is also excellent and joins my top practical picks]

This book is an insider's distillation of happiness research, written by one of the most original and creative scientists within the field of happiness studies itself, sharing the secrets she has learned from rigorously conducted scientific studies. She offers twelve happiness-enhancing strategies, offering persuasive rationales and practical suggestions for their implementation. I agree with another reviewer: Her tone is deliciously real and edgy, her presentation delightful and well-thought out, and her suggestions concrete, specific, realistic and engaging. I enjoyed reading this book.

The author's presentation is particularly helpful for goal setting. However, when trying to put her recommendations into action, you realise action steps are missing. This is where "The Emotional Toolkit" by Darlene Minnini (also a PhD from California, although from UCLA) becomes invaluable. It cites the same studies as this book, but is more focused on practical tips. She gives specific suggestions such as questions to ask yourself while writing in a journal, questions that can shift your thoughts from negative to neutral (instead of just telling you to "stop" the negative thoughts because negative thoughts are bad for you, as this book does) and how to analyse your feelings by paying attention to your body signals.

later note: little that is really new on happiness appears to have been published in the last 5 years but I also rate these books, which elaborate on different aspects already known and reported within the happiness/health field:

- in 2015: "I Heart Me: The Science Of Self-Love" by Hamilton and particularly "Beyond Willpower" by Loyd, sharing amazingly quick processes for emotional clearing and success, it's even more powerful than his previous book "The Healing Code" for which there are over a thousand reviews on US Amazon, including many success stories and even physical healings.

- in 2013 "Happy Money by Dunn & Norton, about how to spend your money to buy more happiness, "Scarcity" by Mullainathan & Shafir on the cost of not having enough (anything - food, money, time, friends, etc) and "Love 2.0", the second book by the eminent researcher Frederickson, on the myriad benefits of loving kindness - even the book felt much kinder than her first, the 2009 "Positivity", on the tipping point created by having 3 positive thoughts to every negative or neutral thought;

- in 2012 "The Longevity Project" by Friedman and Martin is a groundbreaking 80-year overview on what is really directly linked to happiness and health and "Resilience" by Southwick and Charney, who identify ten key and researched ways to weather, and bounce back from, stress and trauma;

- in 2011 Seligman's "Flourish" with its new emphasis on well-being rather than happiness and McTaggart's "The Bond" on the importance of relationships; and

- in 2010 "Why Kindness is Good For You" by Hamilton which expands on the importance of kindness and helping.

In the end, however, having worked on myself intensively by using many of the tips, techniques and tools that I learned about over the last 15 years, I have found that HEALTH is the biggest determinant of happiness. To me, happiness is directly linked to well-being - or being well. Yes, there are happy sick people but for most of us it is our underlying constitution that controls our level of happiness. This is not exactly the same as the now-famous "happiness set point" because there are ways to improve basic health whereas it seems the set point is, well, set.
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