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Thursday, January 17, 2013

15 Facts from the Book, Myths of Happiness

Dear S,

Thank you so much for your comment on my July 8, 2010 post. Life is extremely difficult at times. Sometimes I think how wonderful it would be if it were all easy, and then my very next thought is that if things were always easy, we'd be bored and looking for some way to find some meaning in our lives. As it is, because life is diffult, we are always having to stretch ourselves beyond what we thought was possible, and that's we way we grow and mature to be wise and wonderful. Life may not be wonderful, but we can always strive to be wonderful ourselves, in bringing the best we have to in order to live up to what life asks of us.  And I've been meaning to post this. I found it very helpful myself. A. B. Curtiss

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University

of California, Riverside. Her research—on the possibility of permanently

increasing happiness— has been honored with a Science of Generosity

grant, a John Templeton Foundation grant, a Templeton Positive Psychology

Prize, and a million-dollar grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Sonja’s 2008 book, The How of Happiness, has been translated into

nineteen languages. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her family. *~*~*~*~*~*~*

3. Fifteen Facts from Sonja Lyubomirsky's The Myths of Happiness

In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja isolates the major turning points of adult life, looking to both achievements (marriage, children, professional satisfaction, wealth) and failures (single hood, divorce, financial ruin, illness) to reveal that our misconceptions about the impact of such events is perhaps the greatest threat to our long-term well-being.

Sonja argues that we have been given false promises—myths that assure us that lifelong happiness will be attained once we hit the culturally confirmed markers of adult success. This restricted view of happiness works to discourage us from recognizing the upside of any negative life turn and blocks us from recognizing our own growth potential.

The book is filled with research-based insights and counterintuitive wisdom. Here, in random order, are 15 facts—all supported in the book by extensive research.

Fifteen Facts from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The Myths of Happiness

1. We should replay our happy times but analyze (rather than relive) our negative past experiences. Studies suggest that we will be happier if we can savor (not dissect) our positive experiences and strive to understand (but not replay) unhappy times.

2. Novelty in relationships is like a drug. Being exposed to variety and novelty appears to have similar effects on our brains—specifically on activity involving the neurotransmitter dopamine --as do pharmacological “highs”.

3. Couples who talk alike stay together longer. Pairs of first-time daters who matched each other’s language styles were more likely to want to date again, and college couples who matched each other’s language styles were more likely to still be together three months later. Even the relationships of famous couples like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were happiest when their letters showed the highest match in language styles and least happy when they showed the lowest match.

4. Two-thirds of the benefits of a raise in income is erased after just one year. This occurs in part because we suddenly have “new” needs, spend more, and begin to associate with people in a higher income bracket.

5. It’s the frequency—not intensity—of positive emotions that is good for our health. In a study that followed people ages 18 to 94 over the course of 13 years those with more frequent positive moments (but not more intense positive moments) lived longer.

6. Friendships lead us to perceive mountains as less steep. Researchers asked volunteers to meet them at the base of a hill and asked that they either come alone or with a friend. Those who were accompanied by a friend–especially a friend they were close to and knew a long time–judged the hill to be less steep than those who were alone.

7. Unexpected pleasures are the most rewarding. In one experiment, when thirsty participants were informed that they would finally be able to drink, those who didn't know what they were going to get (i.e., water vs. a more attractive beverage) showed more activity in the parts of their brains linked to positive emotions.

8. We are hard-wired to adapt to circumstances both good and bad. This means the happiness spike we experience when we are in a new relationship, get a raise, or get married won’t last for long.

9. When it comes to sex, it’s women—not men—who require more novelty. In a long-term relationship, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex and to lose it sooner. Women are physiologically aroused by a much broader range of stimuli than are men, and are most turned on by fantasies of sex with strangers. Also, female lust is often dominated by a craving to be the object of powerful urgent desire.

10. Divorce is highly heritable. The genes that underlie who gets divorced (which appear to be linked to particular personalities) are passed down from parents to children. So when we learn that children of divorced parents don’t do as well in certain domains, the effect may be due to the genes that the children share with their parents and not to the effects of divorce per se.

11. A troubled marriage presents as big a risk factor for heart disease as a regular smoking habit. For example, in the middle of a hostile fight, the functioning of our immune system begins to decline, our physical injuries heal slower, and our coronary calcium levels (signaling heart disease risk) rise.

12. Marital satisfaction decreases after the first baby is born and soars after the last child leaves home.

13. But parents experience more meaning. Sonja and her colleagues found that parents reported more meaning and purpose in life when spending time with their children than during the rest of their days.

14. Homeowners are less happy than renters. Contrary to popular beliefs about the “American Dream,” researchers have found that homeowners are less happy than renters, derive more pain from their homes, and spend more time on housework and less time interacting with their friends and neighbors.

15. Daily hassles and uplifts impact our well-being more than do major life events. Because, unlike annoyances, calamities motivate us to cope and positively re-evaluate our situation—to elicit strong emotional support from others—we often paradoxically suffer pain and distress longer from the little things than from the big things.

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