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Sonja Lyubomirsky: Where is happiness truly found? Well, one of the – one of my answers to that question is that it's found inside of us. You know, one of my favorite quotes of all time is by William James, who's a philosopher, and he said, "My experience is what I agree to attend to." And I think it's such an amazing and really a mind-boggling quote because it's saying that what you focus on, what you choose to direct your attention on determines your experience, determines your life. And so you can choose to spend your time focusing on positives or you can choose to spend your time focusing on negatives. Not that we should always focus on positives…. 

So really I talk about two different myths of happiness; two categories of myths.  And the first myth is – was what I call I'll be happy when. So, well, I'm not happy now but when I get that job I've always wanted, when I move to that city I've always wanted to live in, when I have a baby, when I get married, then I'll be happy. And the problem with that misconception or fallacy is not that those things don't make us happy, it's just that they don't make us happy for as long or as intensely as we think they will.

There’s a phenomenon called Hedonic Adaptation, which is basically human beings’ remarkable ability to get used to, to get accustomed to and to take for granted positive changes in their lives – negative changes, too, but especially positive changes. So we get married, and at first it's thrilling and it's exciting and it's passionate, but then after awhile that kind of passion fades. And that's a very normal process. Now if we don't realize that it's a normal process, we might think there's something wrong with us or there's something wrong with our relationship or there's something wrong with our job. And we turn a very ordinary kind of human passage of life into a crisis point.

That’s sort of the first myth of happiness. And then – the second myth of happiness that I talk about in my book is really the flip side, and that's the idea that when something really negative happens – we fall ill, we don't make as much money as we want, we don't achieve our dreams, we get divorced, we feel like we're going to be unhappy forever. You know, it's like my life as I know it is going to be over if those things happen to us. And what research shows is that human beings are remarkably resilient, you know. They are – we are so much more resilient than we think we are and that those kinds of adversities and negative events almost never make people sort of as unhappy as they think they will.

My book was actually originally called The Prepared Mind after the Louis Pasteur quote that "Chance favors the prepared mind," and what I offer all of you are essentially tools that you can use, that you can use to prepare for when bad things happen to you or for when you face turning points or crisis points, when you feel like, oh, my work, my job, my situation is sort of not what it used to be, you know? I'm not happy or I feel empty, you know. I've made money, I've achieved my dreams but I still feel empty. 

And so it's sort of having those tools, like, knowing about – knowing about the resilience that resides inside of you, knowing about Hedonic Adaptation basically gives you that chance to prepare. So, chance favors the prepared mind… when events happen that may happen by chance, you're going to be okay because you're going to be prepared.

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


More from the Big Idea for Thursday, December 19 2013

The Happiness Advantage

The "happiness advantage" is how your brain's performance improves at optimal levels of positivity. The advantage, science shows us, is that you have higher energy levels and are more productive w... Read More…


The Myth of Happiness

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