Life Times Newsletter

Fall 2008
Vol. 10, No. 4

How to become happier

Elizabeth Reinsch, PhD, LCSW/ACSW
Human Development Specialist


How happy are you?  Why are you happy?  To find out your level of happiness today, you can take a variety of surveys or questionnaires.  You can find a very good online quiz on the Web at  This site was created by Martin Seligman, PhD, author of the book Authentic Happiness (2004), which identifies three components of happiness:  meaning, pleasure, and engagement.

Seligman is known for his work on positive psychology and recent work on “happiness.”  In recent years this topic has created a buzz of excitement with a vast amount of research being done. Classes, courses and even college degrees are now available.

In her 2008 book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, dispels three myths of happiness. She uses a pie chart to show what determines happiness: 10 percent of happiness is determined by circumstances, 50 percent is determined by our set point, and 40 percent of happiness is determined by intentional activity.

Three myths are related to happiness, according to Lyubomirsky.  First, you cannot find happiness. The reason is that it does not exist “out there,” but rather resides within us.  Second, thinking “I would be happy IF_____,” or “I will be happy WHEN _____,” or waiting for our circumstances to change has little bearing on the outcome.  Third, the notion we are born happy or unhappy—and believe there is little we can do about it—is false.  Much research shows persuasively we can overcome our genetic programming.

Lyubomirsky has proven that the following 12 activities, used individually or in combination, do increase one’s happiness over time.

1. Express gratitude to others. Find three things a day to be grateful about.

2. Work on being optimistic by looking at the bright side. Find the silver lining in a cloud.

3. Stop focusing on comparisons with others. Be yourself.

4. Practice acts of kindness. Do a good deed daily.

5. Nurture social relationships. Make time for your family and friends.

6. Learn strategies for coping. Dispute your negative beliefs in writing and consider more optimistic explanations for the problem.

7. Learn to forgive. Write a letter of forgiveness, which you can choose to mail.

8. Increase “flow experiences” by making time to enjoy what you are doing.

9. Savor life’s joys, past, present and future.

10. Commit to your goals by writing them down and developing a plan to implement them.

11. Maintain a spiritual or religious connection. Be open to your higher source.

12. Take care of your body. Eat well, exercise and relax.


Sources: Lyubomirsky, Sonja. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: The Penguin Press.

Seligman, Martin. (2004).
Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.


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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller