Work Hard, Play Hard: 9 Questions For Sonja Lyubomirsky

Sonja Lyubomirsky is professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Originally from Russia, she received her AB, summa cum laude, from Harvard University and her PhD in social/personality psychology from Stanford University. She received numerous awards for her research teaching and mentoring of students. Lyubomirsky’s best-selling 2008 book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want has been published in 21 countries. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her family

1. What gives you a sense of purpose?

My three children (13, 10, and 1), and my work as a positive psychological scientist. My kids give meaning to everything I do, as well as daily joyful experiences, and my job gives me flow experiences, connects me with many intelligent, interesting people, and allows me to contribute to society. Both my children and my work give me the opportunity to leave a legacy.

2. Do you have any daily rituals?

I exercise (either use a stationary bike or run) almost every day. I cuddle with my kids (the ones that will allow it) every day as well.

3. What is your favorite memory?

Right now, my favorite memory is the day I found out (by surprise) I was pregnant at age 43 and how I told my husband.

4. What is your most effective strategy for managing stress?

My first choice is physical exercise. My second choice is absorbing myself in another activity, depending on the source of the stress – i.e., either playing with my 1-year old or doing an engaging work task.

5. What do you think is the secret to longevity?

Genetics, healthy and long-term relationships, staying young by having (and spending time with) lots of children, good eating and exercise habits, and challenging work.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to people, what would it be?

Work hard and play hard – life is short.

7. How do you incorporate physical activity into your daily life?

I have a stationary bike and read the Los Angeles Times while biking almost every morning. I also regularly run in my neighborhood with all my kids (usually with the 1-year old in a jogging stroller, the 10-year old on a scooter, and the 13-year old on Rollerblades).

8. Do you think it’s hard for people to find happiness in the modern day?

I actually don’t think it’s any harder to find happiness today than it used to be; in fact, I bet it’s easier. To be happy, one has to have their basic needs (for shelter, safety, food, etc.) met, and more people in the world have their basic needs met than ever before. On the other hand, social relationships are critical to happiness, and modern times have seen a diminishment of social capital and a deterioration of the social fabric. If we strive to focus more on family and friends, and to invest more energy in our relationships, we will be happier.

9. If someone wanted to be happier, but could only change one thing in their life, what advice would you give?

That’s a tough one.  I’d say either to try to be more grateful and positive, because this can change your approach to everything in your life. Or, invest in your relationships.


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