Happy man with plans in the background

People often wish for more time, more money or a different job because we think those things will make us happier, but we do not always find lasting happiness in those things. Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky studied happiness for more than 25 years and discusses what she has found in her book, "The How of Happiness."

Through many studies, Lyubomirsky has found that:

  • 50 percent of happiness is determined by genetics
  • 10 percent is determined by circumstances or situations (health, wealth, age, where we live, life events, etc.)
  • 40 percent of happiness is within our control

Lyubomirsky explains that what we buy, where we live or where we work may make us happy for a short time, but the happiness does not last. People tend to rapidly adapt to any circumstantial change in life. A person may get a new job, adapt to new surroundings and be happy with the change for a few months, and then start wishing for something more or different again. The person gets into a cycle of wanting something, getting it, adapting to it and then wanting something better.

Lyubomirsky outlines 12 happiness activities with strategies of maintaining happiness. The strategies focus on developing relationships (friends and family) and changing our intentions (what we do and how we think).

Here are a few ideas to try:

Cultivate optimism

  • This is the belief that one’s goals can be accomplished or that the future is positive
  • One strategy Lyubomirsky recommends is a “best possible selves” activity. Think about yourself in the future and write about all areas of how you will be your best — family, work, accomplishments, etc. The act of writing helps because we learn about ourselves, organize our thoughts, give meaning to life and look at who we are today so we can be our best in the future.
  • Increasing optimism is not to say that bad things do not happen, because they do. It is more about getting through rough times and being optimistic that things can get better.

Practice acts of kindness

  • Find one day of the week and do one new big act of kindness or three to five little ones. These can be done at home, school, work or anywhere else.
  • If you already do kind things on a daily basis, pick one day and do something extra special to increase the happiness boost (e.g., volunteer at a school or food pantry for an hour, or let the cars ahead of you in line for the day to help others get through traffic). At a recent training, a mom shared that her family does pay-it-forward Fridays. Everyone, including the kids, has to do one kind or helpful thing for each person on Friday. Maybe it’s leaving a note in a lunchbox, cheering someone on at a game or setting out someone’s coat in the morning. Her kids grumbled at first, but they now look forward to doing little things for each other on Fridays, and mom said she notices a difference in how they all treat each other.

Invest in relationships

  • In successful relationships, people spend time together and talk. In our busy lives, trying to find more time to be together can be difficult. Start small and add time here and there. For example, take a minute every morning to find out what each person is going to do that day. Later that day, have each person share how that activity went.
  • Another way to have stronger relationships is to think about your family and friends. What is one good thing that each person brings to your family or friendship? The next time you see that person, say “thank you” for what he or she does. Sharing positives and gratitude lets people know you care and appreciate them. They are more likely to want spend time with you and create a better relationship.

It takes time and effort to engage in happiness strategies. It doesn’t always happen overnight. Not all strategies work for each person. Individual personalities and styles play a part in which strategies work, so try different things and see which ones give you the biggest happiness boost.


Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. New York: Penguin Group
Sonja Lyubomirsky — The How of Happiness from a 20/20 interview:
This article was adapted from the MU Office for Financial Success Financial Tip of the Week blog at