Sonja Lyubomirsky: What Does Science Have To Do With Happiness?

Updated August 17, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We Sometimes Don't Completely Understand Our Emotions

It's human nature to want happiness. When we aren't happy, we may look for happiness from some of the strangest sources. Addictions, affairs, and overspending are just a few of the ways we try to find this seemingly rare commodity. What does happiness mean, anyway? Can you choose to be happy? What can you do to make your happiness last? Sonja Lyubomirsky has been studying happiness for years, and her answers to these questions are nothing short of fascinating.

Who Is Sonja Lyubomirsky?

Professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky is a social psychologist, researcher and educator at the University of California, Riverside. Her specialty is positive psychology with a focus on the science of happiness. Lyubomirsky is considered a top researcher in the field of human happiness. She's also an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology. Also, Lyubomirsky has a Psychology Today blog called 'How of Happiness: The scientific pursuit of happiness,' in which she regularly discusses new research on the subject. You can read more about this research on Sonja Lyubomirsky’s official site.

What Is Happiness?

Before researchers could study happiness, they had to come up with an exact definition of what happiness is. Lyubomirsky defines happiness as 'joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one's life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.'

As a basis for study, Lyubomirsky used a more exact definition of happy people. Happy people are those who often feel positive emotions like joy, pride, and interest. These people do feel negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, and anger, but only rarely.

Does Happiness Have Benefits Beyond A Good Feeling?

It feels wonderful to be happy, of course, but happiness has many other benefits as well. In 2005, Lyubomirsky did a review of the literature on happiness to find out what those benefits were shown to be.

Lyubomirsky's study of the benefits of happiness revealed that people who were happy more often were also more successful at work and in relationships. They were healthier, too, and practiced healthier behaviors.

People who were happy in the long-term had more positive views of themselves and others. They were more sociable and enjoyed activities more. They were likable and cooperative. They were helpful, friendly and better at coping with problems that arose. They were also excellent problem-solvers and showed more creativity and flexibility.

Why Aren't I As Happy As Other People?

It's easy to assume that we know why others are happier than we are. We usually assume they have more things, more success, better relationships, and better health. Lyubomirsky suggests that these are the result of happiness, not its cause.

What Is The Subjective Happiness Scale?

To study happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky developed a tool called the Subjective Happiness Scale. The scale measures your subjective feelings about how happy you are. The Subjective Happiness Scale is considered to have high validity for scientific research in answering this question for individuals.

If you want to be happier and have a better relationship with someone, positively acknowledge their success. Congratulate them and help them celebrate. When you do, you not only help them appreciate their life more, but you appreciate it more, too.

Hug More

Lyubomirsky talks about a Penn State study in which participants were asked to hug someone five times a day and record the details or read and record the details. Those who hugged more over the course of the 4-week research study were significantly happier than the control group. So, hug more to be happier. Give hugs and receive hugs every day.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been shown to improve our physical and mental health in many ways. As we practice being mindful in the here and now, we truly experience our lives and become happier as a result of staying aware of our surroundings.

Adopt Physically Healthy Habits

Healthiness and happiness don't always go together. Still, pursuing a healthier lifestyle can put us in a more positive frame of mind.

Talk About Good Times And Bad Times

Talking or writing about our negative and positive experiences can help us remain mindful of what happiness means for us. Don't stop there, though, also talk or write about your goals for the future. See the positive in yourself as you were, are and see your future self.

Enjoy Time With Friends

Time spent with friends increases our involvement with the world, and particularly with the people, we care about. Doing enjoyable activities with friends is even better. Also, when we take on mutual challenges with friends, such as weight loss or exercise programs, we have greater motivation and are more likely to succeed.

Be Kind To Others

Altruism is one of the best ways to become happier. You not only help others who lack physical, material, or social resources, but you also become happier yourself.

Don't Obsess About Becoming Happy

It may seem ironic, but the fact is that Lyubomirsky suggests that if we obsess too much on becoming happy, we defeat our purpose. Certainly, she has written an entire book explaining how we can become happy. Of course, she hopes people will read it.

Still, when we spend too much time ruminating about not being happy, we give those negative thoughts more strength. When we agonize of the 'right' way to make ourselves happy, we typically find happiness harder to achieve. So, relax. Find out how to be happy. Then, go on with your life, knowing that what you've learned is there whenever you need it.

Can Happiness Last?

Sonja Lyubomirsky and her research team at the University of California, Riverside are also studying what they call 'hedonic adaptation to a positive experience.' We already know that some people are chronically happy. The question is: When we have positive experiences and feel happy for a sustained period, do we become so accustomed to being happy that we no longer enjoy it as much?

We Sometimes Don't Completely Understand Our Emotions

Lyubomirsky proposes that there are two ways we typically use to keep from 'getting too used' to being happy. One is to decrease the positive emotions, and the other is to increase your aspirations. The studies are intended to find ways to keep people from increasing their aspirations too high while helping them learn to be humbler. They are coming up with techniques for slowing down the process that could make us feel 'tired of being so happy.'

Her book “The Myths of Happiness” (Penguin Press) explores why certain major life-changing events that should make us happy actually don’t. Lyubomirsky explains that misconceptions and assumptions about how an event should make us feel can actually threaten our long-term well-being. “The Myths of Happiness” follows up on Lyubomirsky’s research into what truly leads to happiness and the myths that we tell ourselves. The book discusses the relatively short-term happiness payoffs shown to accompany marriage, home ownership and wealth.

What To Do When Happiness Eludes You

What can make you happy? When common wisdom, as well as research results, fail to provide you with the answers you need, talking to a counselor is a good way to explore what's holding you back. You may need to work through a past traumatic experience, a persistent fear, or other mental health issues. Licensed counselors at can help you find the key to your happiness. Online therapy is available, and you can get started right away. With a commitment to getting better and the right help to make it easier and surer, you can become happier and mentally healthier, too.

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