Do you know what will make you happy?

Dec. 24, 2012 at 7:17 AM ET

The Penguin Press /

On Wednesday, Jan. 2, Sonja Lyubomirsky, author and professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, will be on TODAY to discuss her new book, “The Myths of Happiness.” A follow-up to her acclaimed 2008 book, “The How of Happiness,” “The Myths of Happiness” explores the tangled expectations and misconceptions of adult life. In our collective search for happiness and fulfillment, many of us still feel dissatisfied, even after experiencing seemingly crucial life events. In “The Myths of Happiness,” Lyubomirsky deconstructs life’s turning points to determine why what we think will make us happy so often fails to, and why what shouldn't make us happy does.

Do you believe you know what it will take to make you truly happy? Take the  quiz below and read Sonja Lyubomirsky’s diagnoses beneath.





If you chose (a) get married...

a) You may devote a great deal of time, energy, and consideration to finding a fitting or ideal partner and work hard on caring for your marriage. But many people find that passion and satisfaction fade more quickly than they would have anticipated. Human beings have the remarkable capacity to grow habituated or inured to most life changes, and this phenomenon is most pronounced with respect to positive experiences such as getting married. A famous study found that although the average person picks up a sizable boost in happiness when he or she gets married, this boost only lasts about two years, after which the former newlywed reverts back to his or her happiness level before the engagement.

If you chose (b) strike it rich ...

b) Being well off can bring numerous conveniences and advantages – besides offering us the ability to afford stuff we want, it helps us meet potential mates and provides security and stability – but the unavoidable fact is that we get used to new circumstances. For example, economists have found that two-thirds of the benefits of a raise in income are erased after just one year, in part because our spending and new "needs" rise alongside it and because we begin to associate with people in a higher income bracket. Extra comforts and extravagances that money can buy do indeed bring extra pleasure, but then we get used to — and perhaps even "addicted to — the higher standard of living, such that we are not satisfied unless we up the dosage by acquiring even more.

If you chose (c) have children...

c) The expectation that having kids will make us immensely happy is not only rooted in our culture but likely evolutionarily wired as well. However, having children is costly, exhausting, stressful, and emotionally draining. Although the evidence is mixed, a number of studies that compare the happiness or satisfaction levels of parents and non-parents find that parents — especially unmarried and relatively young ones— are less happy. And research shows that marital satisfaction soars after the last child moves out of the family home. However, we may benefit by focusing on what our children impart to us that may not be captured by the question "Are you happy?" The daily work of child-rearing may create more day-to-day stress and discontent, but when asked to reflect on their lives as a whole, most parents report that their children enrich their lives, giving joy and meaning to their journey. In a recent study, Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that parents reported more meaning in life when spending time with their children than during other activities.

If you chose (d) get a new job...

d) Human beings adapt to and take for granted aspects of their lives like a long-term relationship or a steady job—a fact that gives rise to the apathy and ennui that may fuel that feeling you'd be happier doing something else. But the truth is that a new job is likely to bring only a temporary rise in happiness. When we have reached one goal, we are content for only a short while before we begin to feel we won't be satisfied until we reach even higher. Research suggests that instead of fantasizing about some dream job that doesn't exist, we focus on pursuing meaningful goals in the here and now. Typically, our professional lives are focused on material goals — more money, wider recognition — but numerous studies have shown that those of us who are striving (and not necessarily achieving) are happier.

Tune in to TODAY on Jan. 2 to hear Sonja Lyubomirksy discuss how to lead a satisfying life

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