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Do you know how to find what makes you happy? Are you looking for joy in all the wrong places?

What makes someone else happy might not work for you. In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky discusses general strategies for finding joy in life, but she also emphasizes the importance of each person crafting a personal path.

Continue reading to get Lyubomirsky’s recommendations for personalizing your pursuit of happiness.

How to Find What Makes You Happy

In her book, Lyubomirsky covers a variety of strategies for cultivating positive thoughts and behaviors to enhance long-term happiness. While using these strategies might sound straightforward, Lyubomirsky highlights a common pitfall: Many people mistakenly believe that all positive thoughts and behaviors yield the same happy outcomes.

We’ll explain why personalizing your positive thoughts and behaviors increases your chances of enhancing your long-term happiness. We’ll also describe Lyubomirsky’s advice for how to find what makes you happy by personalizing her strategies. 

Why Personalization Matters

According to Lyubomirsky, for positive thoughts and behaviors to impact happiness, they must resonate with you personally. She explains that happiness is subjective—we all have unique values and temperaments that influence how we respond to experiences. In other words, a strategy that makes one person happy won’t necessarily elicit the same response in another. Therefore, the more happiness-boosting strategies feel personal to you, the more likely they are to work.

(Shortform note: Knowing your temperament—your inherent way of interacting with your environment—may help guide you toward the most resonant and effective happiness-boosting strategies. Scientists classify temperaments into four types: sanguine (sociable and creative), melancholic (detail-oriented and purpose-driven), choleric (goal-focused and ambitious), and phlegmatic (people-oriented and relaxed).)

Additionally, you’re more likely to regularly practice strategies that resonate with you—which Lyubomirsky says is key to enhancing long-term happiness. Think of happiness as a muscle: Just as sporadic exercise won’t significantly strengthen your muscles, occasional engagement in happiness-boosting activities won’t impact your long-term happiness. On the other hand, much like regular workouts compound over time to increase strength and endurance, consistently practicing happiness-boosting strategies leads to upward spirals of happiness.

(Shortform note: In Grit, Angela Duckworth echoes this idea, arguing that consistent, deliberate practice is the key to success in any endeavor.)

Lyubomirsky’s research reinforces her argument that personalized strategies foster greater commitment and benefits. In one study, researchers assigned participants a random happiness activity to pursue for two months. Participants who pursued activities that aligned with their preferences not only enjoyed the practice more but also continued it post-study and reaped greater happiness than those assigned mismatched activities.

(Shortform note: Studies on the effect of personalized health care strategies on patients support Lyubomirsky’s findings. Specifically, they reveal that customizing health care plans to fit individual preferences and lifestyles empowers patients to take control of their health. This sense of empowerment enhances engagement and fosters long-term commitment to health regimens, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of treatment plans.)

Personalize Your Happiness-Boosting Strategies

Lyubomirsky suggests that you’re more likely to commit to and benefit from happiness-boosting strategies if you personalize them in four ways:

1) Self-reflect:  Lyubomirsky recommends pondering moments that genuinely bring you happiness and using tools that help you understand your strengths and values, such as the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic. For example, if you find joy in helping others and have free time, consider volunteering for a cause you care about. 

(Shortform note: The diagnostic tool recommended above requires you to try and reflect on the specific happiness-boosting strategies that Lyubomirsky suggests. If you want to identify types of activities that suit you before trying out the strategies, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (Designing Your Life) offer a complementary method: Track what activities make you feel joyful, engaged, and energized. Then, zoom in on the details of each activity to identify what specifically made you happy. Pay attention to who you were with, what you were doing, where you were, and what you were interacting with (for example, people, objects, or a machine).)

2) Practice regularly: Lyubomirsky suggests considering times when you’re most receptive to practicing happiness-boosting strategies and introducing them into your routine one at a time to avoid being overwhelmed. For example, if you’re a morning person, begin practicing a single strategy after you wake up, or if you’re a night person, try adding a strategy to your nighttime routine. Wait until you’ve established it as a habit before adding another.

(Shortform note: Duckworth (Grit) specifies that you’ll establish habits easier if, in addition to identifying a time, you identify an environment in which you’re more receptive to practice (tracking your activities as Burnett and Evans suggest will help you achieve this). For example, you might enjoy early morning meditation in your living room before your kids wake up. Once you’ve identified a time and place, commit to practicing in that environment every day at the same time. Duckworth says that this will help you engage in your practice automatically, thereby freeing up the cognitive space required to introduce additional strategies into your routine.)

3) Introduce variety: Lyubomirsky says you should make sure your practice doesn’t become monotonous and feel like a chore by varying the activities or rotating between strategies. Additionally, if your circumstances change, make sure your strategies evolve in tandem. For example, if your workload increases leaving you with less free time, integrate shorter, more focused strategies into your day.

(Shortform note: Similarly, Arthur Brooks, host of the “How to Build a Happy Life” podcast, argues that the key to happiness is finding a balance between novelty and routine. He explains that “neophilia”—the tendency to seek out new experiences—stimulates interest and curiosity, which promote overall well-being. However, neophilia can also lead to restless or impulsive behavior. To find a healthy balance, he suggests regularly challenging and experimenting with preferences, choosing curiosity over comfort, avoiding newness for its own sake, and making deliberate decisions rather than acting impulsively.)

4) Monitor your progress: Lyubomirsky recommends using happiness self-evaluation tools like the Subjective Happiness Scale or the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire to measure the impact of different strategies and inform your practice. For example, if you notice improvement after starting a specific strategy, consider dedicating more time to it or exploring similar activities.

(Shortform note: While Lyubomirsky’s advice to use self-evaluation tools may help monitor the effect of different strategies, some researchers warn that self-reported happiness can be unreliable. Studies show that people often report higher levels of happiness on self-reported tests than what external observations in a research setting—such as interviews with participants about their happiness—might identify. In other words, people often rate themselves as happier than others perceive them to be. Therefore, supplementing your self-evaluations with the opinions of those around you might provide a more thorough and reliable evaluation of the effectiveness of your happiness strategies.)

Exercise: Personalize Your Happiness-Boosting Strategies

Lyubomirsky suggests that you’re more likely to commit to and benefit from happiness-boosting strategies if you customize them to suit you. Let’s explore how you might go about this.

  1. Reflect on what makes you happy. Which of Lyubomirsky’s strategies might encourage you to devote more time to these activities? (For example, if you enjoy meeting up with friends, you might choose to regularly discuss what you’re thankful for rather than keeping a gratitude journal.)
  2. Think about times you’re more receptive to feeling happy. When would be the best time to practice the strategies? Briefly explain why. (For example, you might benefit more from practicing them in the evening because you feel too pressured to get things done during the day.)
  3. Pick one strategy that appeals to you and write three ways you could practice it to prevent monotony. (For example, you might practice kindness by focusing on loved ones one week, colleagues the next week, and strangers the week after that. Or you might switch between planning kind activities, waiting for inspiration to strike, or setting a daily kindness challenge.)
  4. Consider how you might measure your happiness and how often you’ll do it. Briefly describe how you intend to assess your progress. (For example, you might use one of Lyubomirsky’s recommended measurement tools every week, or opt for a monthly check-in with loved ones to get feedback on their perception of your happiness.)
How to Find What Makes You Happy: Your Personal Path to Joy

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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