Reads to Rewrite Your Life 3: The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky is a practical guide full of scientific evidence – the strategies outlined in the book have all been proven to make people happier. Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor working in the field of positive psychology. The How of Happiness draws on her own research, as well as that of others, to explain the current science behind happiness and how you can use this knowledge to improve your own happiness.

The book focuses on how you can find ways to be happier which fit your own personality, needs, situation, values, etc. It helps you choose the strategies which will work best for you. There is also The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, which you can use to track your progress. In short, The How of Happiness provides you with the tools to help yourself and become happier.

And it works. I have seen the proof in my own questionnaire records and everything is backed up with rigorous psychological research. Everyone can find at least a few strategies which will work for them – you can do this by filling out the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic included in the book. There is also an appendix which suggests further activities to try if you benefitted from a particular strategy. Everything is geared towards you taking action to improve your happiness.

The strategies include expressing gratitude for the good things in your life (which we all have, even during the darkest times), cultivate optimism and committing to your goals, all of which I personally find helpful. Other strategies are nurturing social relationships, practising acts of kindness, avoiding overthinking and social comparison, taking care of your body, practising religion and spirituality, learning to forgive… You can experiment to find which tactics work best for increasing your happiness. You might choose to adopt two or three and leave it there, or you could keep adding new strategies as the old ones become habits.

The book’s style is informative without being dry or obscure. I enjoyed reading it, because Lyubomirsky presents a wealth of information without being condescending. She illustrates her points with real life examples and her tone is encouraging. Every strategy is explained and includes practical advice on fitting it into your lifestyle. Whether you want to overhaul your life or would just like to make a few tweaks in order to be happier, The How of Happiness is an excellent starting point.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 2: Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is a book which celebrates people who are often ignored by society. Those of us who will happily chatter away to friends but clam up when trying to make small talk with a stranger. Those of us who will never be described as the life and soul of a party. Those of us who get shoved aside by people with louder voices. Cain points out that whereas extroverts are lauded, the advantages wielded by introverts are disregarded – and it’s time that changed.

Cain uses scientific experiments, case studies and her own experiences to illustrate the strengths and opportunities of introversion. She discusses how Steve Wozniak and Warren Buffett found success because of their introvert nature, not in spite of it. She compares extroverted cultures, like Harvard Business School, with introverted cultures, such as the majority of Asian communities. She includes a lot of information on how extroverts and introverts can relate to each other without conflict. In short, Quiet is a fascinating and incredibly helpful study of introverts.

Quiet separates introversion from traits which get mixed up with it: many introverts are shy, for example, but shyness is not an indicator of introversion. Introverts gain energy from being alone and feel drained by highly social situations. They tend to feel over-stimulated in noisy, crowded environments. They are accused of being “in their head” too much – though Cain points out that this is simply called being a thinker. Because introverts find it difficult to express themselves in groups, they are often accused of being slow, stupid and lazy, or are overlooked.

Knowing your tendencies as an introvert is valuable. Cain provides advice on how you can play to your strengths and work (or socialise) more effectively. She considers how different environments impact introverts and how these environments might be adapted. She teaches us how to compromise and when to change our behaviour to advocate for something we believe in. She describes how the internet presents new opportunities for introverts, allowing us to communicate to a lot of people without having to shout over the crowd.

After a lifetime of being told to be more extroverted, Quiet is refreshing and empowering. It reminds us that introverts are valuable members of society and can contribute a great deal to the world. Cain also gives plenty of guidance on how to be an introvert in a world which often seems to have been designed for extroverts. If you are an introvert yourself or have close friends or family members (especially children) who are introverts, I would consider this book essential reading.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Make Kindness Your Superpower

The power of kindness is often experienced, but under-acknowledged. We tend to think of kindness as something that might brighten our day, but has limited impact on our lives. Wrong! Kindness can have huge effects: in the darkness of mental illness it can provide a light to help us find our way out. Performing acts of kindness can also help mental health problems, enabling us to reconnect with other people. Kindness can transform lives in small ways and big – look at the various charities who have provided people with clean water, basic healthcare, education, etc. And the best thing about kindness is that it benefits both the recipient and the person performing kind acts.

That’s why I want to invite you to make kindness your superpower. Use it to improve your life and the whole world.

Random acts of kindness have attracted a lot of attention over the past 10 years or so, celebrated for their eccentricity as much as their effects, but I prefer targeted acts of kindness. Targeted acts of kindness have more inherent meaning because they involve strong feelings about the recipient and/or the specific act of kindness. You might want to treat a friend who has stuck with you through the hard times, or who is going through a hard time herself. Perhaps you decide to donate to Amnesty International because you are passionate about human rights. Maybe you know a teenage boy who is always helping others and want to help him achieve one of his own goals. Targeted acts of kindness might not have the tabloid appeal of random acts of kindness, but I believe they are infinitely more awesome.

If we make kindness our superpower we can change the world, but we all have to start with a single person: you, yourself. It makes sense when you think about it – how can you access the full power of a value if you refuse to let it radiate in all directions, including inwards? When you are kind to yourself, you increase your ability to be kind to others. How many more acts of kindness could you perform if you look after yourself instead of beating yourself up all the time? How much more effort could you put into being kind to others when you gain the energy that comes from being kind to yourself?

Another awesome thing about targeted acts of kindness: they are accessible. Anyone can begin by doing something for a friend or loved one. Even if you are unable to leave the house, you can send an email to a friend thanking them for their support. You can make lunch for your parents if you can’t afford to treat them to dinner at a top restaurant. If you’re short on time, it takes seconds to send a charity donation via text message. Targeted acts of kindness cannot be quantified; when you are depressed, cooking dinner for someone is a massive act of kindness and the recipient will realise this, even if it seems insignificant to an outsider. A cheap surprise gift from a friend is more valuable than an expensive birthday present because it shows that your friend is thinking about you, without being prompted by a special occasion. Do whatever you can and remember that acts of kindness, in whatever form, are always important and effective.

So venture forth and have fun with your new superpower. Think of creative ways you can help someone achieve their dream. Aim to target acts of kindness at as many people as you can in a single day – then try to beat your record on another day. Shower a single person with kindness. Form a league of kindness superheroes with your friends or colleagues and use your combined power to bombard a local neighbourhood or a faraway nation with kindness. Don’t worry if you can’t do something “big” – just do whatever you can and let us know about it in the comments.

Claim Your Power

Every single living thing has power. Including you. The front wall of my home is susceptible to damp, which causes mould to grow. If left unchecked, this mould will cover the wall and start to grow on my books on the shelves which are fixed to that wall. Mould can spread pretty fast across a painted and plastered brick wall, so I assume it will be very efficient at spreading over the pages in my books. The books can’t be scrubbed like the wall, so I would have to throw them away. Mould has the power to destroy all of my favourite books.

That’s a lot of power, considering mould is just a fungus. But wait – mould has more power. Mould can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Some moulds can produce mycotoxins which may lead to neurological problems and can even kill humans. You can’t get much more powerful than that!

You are a far more complex organism, so imagine what potential lies within you. You also have the power to kill people – though I hope you never do – and if you use this power for good, imagine what a difference you could make to the world. You could save lives. You could improve lives. You could teach people new skills, entertain them, help them to achieve their dreams.

Your gut reaction might be to scoff, but why not? If mould has the potential to kill even the most intelligent, strongest, kindest, most talented people on Earth, why shouldn’t every human being have the potential to change the world? Claim your power. It’s yours; you already possess it, so all you need to do is access it. You are far more complex than mould. You have self-awareness. You can make plans. Mould cannot harness its power to do great things, but you can – and you have far more power. Go ahead: claim your power.

You Need to Chase Your Dreams

Here’s an open secret: nobody is going to wave a magic wand and make your dreams come true. Your ideal job or partner is not going to be served to you on a silver platter. If you want to achieve your dreams, it’s up to you. You have to make them come true.

It’s not enough to follow your dreams. You can float through life waiting for opportunities to cross your path, but you will have a higher success rate if you chase down the opportunities.

Think about it: chasing opportunities means you will find more opportunities, therefore even if only a tiny percentage of them yield something, you will gain more than you would by waiting around. Furthermore, when you actively pursue opportunities, more people will know about your goals. These people will send more opportunities your way if and when they come across them, multiplying your chances of success.

Nobody is going to put any effort into helping you achieve your dreams unless you do. Why would they help you if you never help yourself? Why would they tell you about the awesome job opening in their firm, when they know you haven’t applied for any of the similar jobs advertised in the newspaper? Why would they set you up with their gorgeous single friend if you haven’t shown any interest in dating? A lot of people are all talk and no action. They say they want to do this and that but never take the first steps, so nobody can take them seriously. When you make an effort to achieve your goals, you prove that you are serious about your dreams.

Who is best placed to make your dreams happen? You.

There are a few success stories about people who achieved their dreams thanks to somebody else working tirelessly on their behalf, but they are outnumbered by stories about people who achieved success because of their own efforts. It makes sense: you know your strengths better than anyone else. You know the sacrifices you are willing to make. You know how much hard work you are prepared to put in. You are the best advocate for yourself – you just need to find the courage to put yourself forward.

Because you can’t count on anyone else to put you forward. You have to find opportunities. You have to develop the skills and gain the knowledge you need. You have to take action. You have to chase your dreams.

 

Found Treasures

I was struck by this post on the Mslexia blog because the advice given to a new freelance writer is so simple and brilliant — her friend tells her that if she can’t pitch to people that day, she doesn’t have to. She can do other tasks that contribute towards her goals. Anxiety is difficult to deal with at the best of times, so a reminder that everyone has choices can be helpful. Sure, sometimes those choices suck, but you can work out which one sucks the least and choose that one.

 

I found Doll Hospital Journal when I was randomly surfing the internet and I’m bloody glad I did! It’s an “art and literature journal on mental health” which started after a Kickstarter campaign. They published both in print and digitally — you can buy a digital copy of the first issue here. The hard copies have sold out. The pricing policy is pay as you wish, so it’s accessible to as many people as possible, but the recommended price is £5 and it’s a wonderful project so please pay as much as you can afford. I bought my copy yesterday and have only read about half of it, but it’s great value based on what I’ve read so far.

Doll Hospital’s content is varied in both substance and format. There is poetry, drawing, creative writing, articles, photography, etc. covering a variety of mental illnesses, though depression and anxiety are featured most prominently. It contains inspiration, reassurance, raw emotion, motivation, companionship… A multitude of wonders!