Book Review: The Myths of Happiness

Myths of HappinessLyubomirsky, Sonja. The myths of happiness : what should make you happy but doesn’t, what shouldn’t make you happy but does. Penguin Press, 2013.

Labor Day marks the beginning of the academic year, although most college students today begin their studies during the summer months.  For newly enrolled Fuqua students, arriving at Duke represents a milestone — the launch of a new career and perhaps a new life.  For many, completing their education with an MBA, MMS or PhD degree fulfills a longstanding dream and they expect their achievement to bring an enduring sense of satisfaction.  As Sonja Lyubomirsky shows in The Myths of Happiness, academic achievements make people happy, but not as intensely nor as long as they expect them to.

In her new book, Lyubomirsky discusses 10 crisis points, milestones in life when individuals undergo significant change.  Many of these are positive, such as marriage and parenthood.  Negative crisis points include bankruptcy, illness and divorce. Lyubomirsky shows that for each milestone, people exaggerate how happy or disappointed they will feel.  She explains what motivates our reactions to these events and shows how to turn them into an opportunity for meaningful change.  She encourages readers to note their gut reactions but to avoid acting on them immediately.  She then outlines a more thoughtful and reasoned approach for responding to change.

Human beings have evolved the capacity to habituate to most life changes, both positive and negative.  Lyubomirsky shows how to slow down the adaptation to positive life changes and to enhance our feelings of satisfaction.  Marriage, for example, makes people happier for about two years.  Lyubomirsky outlines specific strategies for lengthening this honeymoon period,  such as practicing appreciation and injecting novelty into the relationship. Adaptation also occurs with job satisfaction.  People who are promoted or relocated experience increased satisfaction for a year, then happiness falls to previous levels.  Lyubomirsky blames rising job expectations, which ultimately results in disappointment.  She describes 5 psychological tools to curb the inflation on work expectations.  She also discusses coping strategies for dealing with life’s disappointments and difficulties, including focused attention.

Over the past year, this book and 5 others about improving satisfaction in life have been reviewed in this blog: How Will You Measure Your Life (Clayton Christensen); Search Inside Yourself (Tan Chade-Meng); The Secrets of Happy Families (Bruce Feiler); Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain (Elaine Fox); Shiny Objects (James Roberts).  Each of these books presents a particular point of view and all are recommended to anyone seeking a meaningful life.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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