The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 1, 2013

Linda Cannon: Author delves into whys of happiness, lack of it

By Linda Cannon
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Looking at our new books, I noticed a title with a bunch of good blurbs on the back jacket for the author's previous book, which we already owned.

So I took a chance on the new book, "The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does" by Sonja Lyubomirsky. The author is apparently well-regarded and is on the faculty of the University of California-Riverside, so perhaps she knows what she's talking about.

The book is broken into three parts: Connections (about happiness based on relationships), Work and Money (I think you get the picture) and Looking Back (primarily about mid-life and later, including health issues).

Lyubomirsky's premise is that people tend to believe certain myths about happiness and thereby sabotage their own happiness. She outlines what the myths are, clearly explains why they are false and provides some help in reframing thoughts to get past the sadness and anxiety provoked by the myths.

Some of the myths include: "I'll be happy when ..." I'm married to the right person, I have kids, I find the right job, I'm rich. Other myths go the other way, so "I can't be happy when ..." my relationship has fallen apart, I'm broke, I'll never play shortstop for the Yankees.

In either case, Lyubomirsky asserts that you can be happy under those circumstances. She provides methodologies for checking yourself against each myth and shows where the falsehoods lie in each.

Some methods she suggests include journaling (she outlines exactly why and how to do so for the desired effect), as well as working on being a "satisficer" rather than a "maximizer."

A maximizer weighs as many options as they can find for whatever they are looking for, spending hours or days or weeks researching and pondering all available options before making a decision. Sounds like the most likely way to have a good outcome, right?

Actually, no. The satisficer, who weighs a few choices more briefly before choosing an option (whether shopping, deciding on where to live, how to make a living, whatever) is happier, both in general and with the specific choice. Lyubomirsky does a great job explaining that concept fully.

Interesting highlights include why people are happier with less if others have less than they have, rather than happier with more (if other people have more than they have), and why we are never as happy as we think we will be or happy as long as we think we will be when we get what we want.

She also explains why the vast majority of people are far more regretful over things they haven't done than they are about things they have done. Makes perfect sense once she explains it, at least for me.

This book explains the "why" of happiness (or the lack thereof), while her earlier book -- "The How of Happiness," which I intend to read next -- is more of a how-to manual. I guess after finding out the mechanics of why one isn't as happy as one would like, attention can be focused on how to get there. Seems kind of odd that she wrote the other one first, but I guess the practical came before the theoretical.

Summing up, apparently it all boils down to the old adage: "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." But this book tells you why and a bit of the how. Happy reading (pardon the pun).



Linda Cannon is collection development/circulation librarian for the Joplin Public Library.