I had the tremendous good fortune to stumble across the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, the genius extraordinaire, who did us all a huge favor when she took up the study of what it takes to be happy. 

Sonja has written two outstanding, research-based, books (links below) on the whys and hows of becoming and staying happy. Her insights and conclusions blew my mind, and they’ve changed my life. It’s entirely rare for me to have one of those “aha” moments everyone seeks. Sonya’s work gave me several.

Here are 5 things you need to know if you really want to be happier:


Sonja considered this as the title for her book, The How of Happiness. Imagine that your happiness is represented by a pie (mine would be cherry). 50% of the happiness pie is determined by genetics. I hated reading this, happiness is not an abundant commodity on my European mother’s side, and I never got to know my father or his family, but the fact that they’re part black and from the south makes me wonder about slavery and inherent misery. But the reality is I can’t do anything about that. Onward.

Sonja says that only 10% of our happiness pie consists of getting more money, attractiveness or other life circumstances. Moreover, she says this sort of happiness is fleeting and offers diminishing returns. Here’s the amazing part: a full 40% of the happiness pie is under your control. This malleable piece of unlimited possibility pie is made up of your behavior.

“What makes up this 40 percent? Besides our genes and the situations that we confront, there is one critical thing left: our behavior. Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances (i.e., seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues, which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities.”–Sonja Lyubomirsky


Becoming happier, like all things worth having, takes daily, consistent, effort and work. Happiness doesn’t just bloom inside of us like a prairie of wildflowers. Becoming happier comes from efforts more like maintaining a Royal Garden. There are no days off, and if you fail to tend it, it withers. It’s work, beautifully rewarding work.


Happy people see the world more optimistically. They seek out silver linings, higher plans, and more compassionate interpretations of events. You might think that being an optimist is a fixed attribute. It’s not. I often speak about the importance of our environments and habits. We become what we immerse ourselves in and practice, for better or worse.

“All that is required to become an optimist is to have the goal and to practice it. The more you rehearse optimistic thoughts, the more ‘natural’ and ‘ingrained’ they will become. With time they will be part of you, and you will have made yourself into an altogether different person.” –Sonja Lyubomirsky


Ladies, we have to talk. You know those hormonal times when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed and physically wrecked? How do you handle them? Do you turn off the lights, grab a bag of chocolate, and ruminate over your misery? Never again. That’s the recipe for a toxic 40% of your pie. This isn’t limited to hormonal times either. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s NOT the time to fixate, analyze, and turn things over and over in your mind. It doesn’t make things better, and it makes your inner state much worse.

“The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic. Research shows that people who ruminate while sad or distraught are likely to feel besieged, powerless, self-critical, pessimistic, and generally negatively biased.”–Sonja Lyubomirsky


If you’re reading this, it’s true. Your brain is working. You have access to technology. You’re an interested and eager learner (you made it to the 5th point). You’re living, breathing, and thinking. (Losing two relationships to neurological illness has made this clear to me). If you want to be happier, count your blessings. Don’t do it just because the good books say to, do it because oodles of research has proven it works.

“People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report experiencing more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving, and less materialistic than others who are less predisposed to gratefulness. Furthermore, the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.” –Sonja Lyubomirsky

So what do you think? Are you willing to take your happiness seriously? I am. I’m on fire to see how far I can travel on my happy path. In my next post, I’ll share my experience with Sonja’s happiness creating tools and strategies.

Want to join me? Here are the books.

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does

One more thing, for my own informal research, are you a natural optimist or a pessimist? Leave me a comment.

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