Eileen Kern

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100 Simple Secrets of Happiness

I just finished reading 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People by David Niven, and this work clearly translates the research from academic and scientific studies of happiness and satisfaction into accessible anecdotes and advice.

I’ve had an academic interest in happiness since before I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and I honestly would have appreciated a little more of the scientific elements shining through. Each of the 100 Secrets had a clear structure: The title of the tip, a quick introduction to the idea, a real-world anecdote illustrating the idea, and a reference back to relevant research. It seems to me that, rather than translating that research into ordinary language, this last section could have been a prime opportunity to quote from the original research. Perhaps not practical, particularly for the target audience of something called “100 Simple Secrets”–but it would have felt stronger to me.

There is a danger to reading about happiness: It might not make you happy. I can imagine a reader who feels truly unhappy feeling overwhelmed at all of the ideas; it might not be clear what the reader can change to immediately see a return on effort. For example, tip #5 is “Choose Your Comparisons Wisely,” and cautions the reader that, “When we compare ourselves to those who have more, we feel bad. When we compare ourselves to those who have less, we feel grateful” (9). While this seems reasonable, I can imagine it would be difficult for someone in this situation to just stop comparing themselves to others who appear to be more successful. One possible missed opportunity is that the book could have provided actionable advice; a number of these simple secrets require retraining one’s brain away from negative thought patterns and toward more uplifting ones.

Overall, though, I found the book worth the time and energy I spent reading it. The few tips suggesting that TV (in general) is detrimental for happiness (unless you are watching a local sports team?) made me wonder what an updated text would have to say about the internet and social media.