The Pursuit of Happiness

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Review of General Psychology 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 111–131

Copyright 2005 by the Educational Publishing Foundation 1089-2680/05/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.111

Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change
Sonja Lyubomirsky
University of California, Riverside

Kennon M. Sheldon
University of Missouri—Columbia

David Schkade
University of California, San Diego The pursuit of happiness is an important goal for many people. However, surprisingly little scientific research has focused on the question of how happiness can be increased and then sustained, probably because of pessimism engendered by the concepts of genetic determinism and hedonic adaptation. Nevertheless, emerging sources of optimism exist regarding the possibility of permanent increases in happiness. Drawing on the past well-being literature, the authors propose that a person’s chronic happiness level is governed by 3 major factors: a genetically determined set point for happiness, happiness-relevant circumstantial factors, and happiness-relevant activities and practices. The authors then consider adaptation and dynamic processes to show why the activity category offers the best opportunities for sustainably increasing happiness. Finally, existing research is discussed in support of the model, including 2 preliminary happiness-increasing interventions.

The pursuit of happiness holds an honored position in American society, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, where it is promised as a cherished right for all citizens. Today, the enduring U.S. obsession with how to be happy can be observed in the row upon row of popular psychology and self-help books in any major bookstore and in the millions of copies of these books that are sold. Indeed, many social contexts in the United States have the production of happiness and positive feelings as their primary purpose, and questions

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside; Kennon M. Sheldon, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri—Columbia; David Schkade, Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego. This work was supported in part by grants from the Positive Psychology Network. We are grateful to Linda Houser-Marko, Kathleen Jamir, and Chris Tkach for conducting library research and to Shelley Taylor, David Sherman, and the other members of Psychology 421 for valuable comments on a draft. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, or Kennon M. Sheldon, Department of Psychological Sciences, 112 McAlester Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211. E-mail: sonja@citrus.ucr.edu or sheldonk@missouri .edu 111

such as “Are you happy?” and “Are you having fun?” fit nearly every occasion (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). Not surprisingly, the majority of U.S. residents rate personal happiness as very important (Diener, Suh, Smith, & Shao, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Leung, & Hui, 1990) and report thinking about happiness at least once every day (Freedman, 1978). Furthermore, the pursuit of happiness is no longer just a North American obsession, but instead it is becoming ever more global as people seek to fulfill the promises of capitalism and political freedom (Diener et al., 1995; Freedman, 1978; Triandis et al., 1990). It seems that nearly all people believe, or would like to believe, that they can move in an “upward spiral” (Sheldon & HouserMarko, 2001) toward ever greater personal well-being. Is the pursuit of happiness merely a bourgeois concern, a symptom of Western comfort and self-centeredness, a factor that has no real impact on psychological adjustment and adaptation? The empirical evidence suggests that this is not the case. Indeed, a number of researchers and thinkers have argued that the ability to be happy and contented with life is a central criterion of adaptation and positive mental health...
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