Siegel has identified five guiding principles to boost happiness, based on concepts and findings that have come from studies done by well-known researchers in the field of popular psychology, including Lyubomirsky, Martin Seligman, director of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at the University of Chicago. Siegel has also drawn on age-old concepts of happiness from great religious thinkers and philosophers.
These strategies are:
"Most of these things are not about some huge new time commitment," Siegel said. "It's about how we work with each moment of our lives as we live it. Much of the change happens just by having a different attitude toward walking the dog, cooking dinner or taking a walk. All day long there are opportunities to relate differently to our experiences."
Increasing happiness over the long term has many benefits. Using positive psychology techniques can help you enhance your well-being, resilience and health, Siegel said. For instance, a Harvard School of Public Health study published in Health Psychology in 2005 found that people who are generally hopeful were less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes or a respiratory tract infection than those who were less hopeful.
In a study of older Mexican Americans published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2006, study participants who reported having a high level of positive emotions had significantly lower blood pressure.
A 2008 review of studies on happiness and longevity done by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven found that happiness appears to protect against illness. In 19 research projects involving populations chosen independently of their health status, ratings of mood and life satisfaction at the beginning of a study had a large and positive impact on the chance a person was alive at the end of the follow-up period, with the most satisfied gaining an extra 7.5 to 10 years of life.
Meg Walker is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.