The famous Sustainable Happiness Model and Pie Chart – Revisited

As I continue my journey into the world of positive psychology, I recently came across a compelling article by Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, titled “Revisiting the Sustainable Happiness Model and Pie Chart: Can Happiness Be Successfully Pursued?” This piece resonated with me deeply, as it explores a subject that fascinatingly parallels the classic debate of ‘nature versus nurture’, but with a unique twist: it delves into the realms of happiness and its pursuit.

The concept of sustainable happiness sits at the heart of this debate, questioning the extent to which we can actively shape our happiness. It’s a topic that strikes a chord with anyone interested in understanding the dynamics of personal well-being and the pursuit of a fulfilling life. The article not only offers profound insights into how happiness can be cultivated and sustained but also poses critical questions about the inherent and external factors that influence our sense of joy and contentment.

In this blog post, I aim to unpack Sheldon and Lyubomirsky’s model, providing a balanced analysis that intertwines scientific rigor with practical implications. This exploration is not just an academic exercise but a journey into understanding what happiness means for each of us and how, through coaching and self-awareness, we can navigate towards a more fulfilling life (see below a scientific summary- end of blog).

What Does This Mean for You?

Understanding Sheldon and Lyubomirsky’s Sustainable Happiness Model has practical implications for everyday life. It suggests that while some aspects of happiness are beyond our control (like genetics or certain life circumstances), there is a significant portion that we can influence through our actions and mindset.

  1. Empowerment in Personal Agency: Recognize that you have the power to impact your own happiness. This realization can be incredibly empowering. You’re not just at the mercy of external circumstances; your choices and actions matter.
  2. Focus on Intentional Activities: Integrate practices into your daily life that are known to boost happiness. This can include mindfulness, expressing gratitude, engaging in physical activity, or cultivating positive relationships. These activities can shift your focus from what you cannot control to what you can actively improve.
  3. Perspective on Life’s Challenges: Understanding the happiness set point can offer comfort during challenging times. It suggests that our baseline level of happiness is somewhat resilient to life’s ups and downs.
  4. Long-Term Commitment: Pursuing happiness isn’t a one-time effort but a continuous process. It requires a long-term commitment to engaging in life-enhancing activities and practices.

How My Coaching Can Support

As an emotional intelligence and leadership coach, I can support you in translating these scientific insights into tangible strategies tailored to your unique life circumstances.

  1. Developing Personalized Strategies: Together, we can explore what intentional activities resonate most with you and devise a plan to incorporate them into your routine. This might involve setting specific goals, identifying potential obstacles, and creating a supportive environment for change.
  2. Enhancing Emotional Intelligence: A key part of sustainable happiness is understanding and managing your emotions. Coaching can provide tools and techniques to increase your emotional awareness, helping you respond to life’s challenges with greater resilience and optimism.
  3. Building a Growth Mindset: Coaching can help cultivate a growth mindset, essential for acknowledging the potential for change and improvement in one’s pursuit of happiness.
  4. Accountability and Support: Regular coaching sessions offer accountability, ensuring that you stay committed to your happiness goals. Additionally, having a supportive coach can make the journey more enjoyable and less overwhelming.
  5. Navigating Life Transitions: Whether facing career changes, relationship dynamics, or personal growth challenges, coaching provides guidance to navigate these transitions while maintaining and enhancing your well-being.

In summary, by understanding the principles of sustainable happiness and applying them through coaching, you can embark on a journey towards a more fulfilling and contented life. My role as your coach is to guide, support, and empower you through this transformative process.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie


Summary of “Revisiting the Sustainable Happiness Model and Pie Chart” (2019)

Background: The paper by Sheldon and Lyubomirsky delves into the field of positive psychology, focusing on the concept of sustainable happiness. This area of study explores how individuals can achieve and maintain a high level of happiness over time.

The Sustainable Happiness Model proposed by has been the subject of extensive research and development. This model has informed various research efforts and has given rise to several more nuanced models, including the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention model and the Positive Activity Model. The authors argue that sustainable happiness can be pursued through intentional activities, particularly those that are effortful, self-concordant, and continuously applied.

Key Concepts:

  1. Sustainable Happiness Model: The core of their work is the idea that happiness is not just a fleeting state but can be a sustained aspect of one’s life. They investigate the factors that contribute to long-term happiness and how individuals can actively work towards maintaining it.
  2. Happiness Set Point: A significant portion of their research likely discusses the concept of a happiness set point – the idea that each individual has a baseline level of happiness. According to some theories, this set point is determined largely by genetics and early life experiences.
  3. External Circumstances: Another aspect of their model might explore how external circumstances (such as wealth, health, relationships, and environment) affect our overall happiness. However, previous research suggests that the impact of these external factors might be less significant than one might expect.
  4. Intentional Activities: A crucial element in their model is likely the role of intentional activities – actions and behaviors that individuals can deliberately engage in to boost their happiness. This could include practices like expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, engaging in meaningful activities, and nurturing relationships.

Implications and Critiques:

  • Empowerment: The model suggests that individuals have more control over their happiness than they might believe. It empowers people to take active steps towards improving their well-being.
  • Critiques: However, the model also faces critiques, particularly regarding the happiness set point theory. Some argue that the set point can change more significantly than previously thought due to life experiences or intentional efforts.
  • Balance of Factors: The balance between genetic predispositions, life circumstances, and intentional activities in determining overall happiness is a subject of ongoing debate and research.

Conclusion: The paper likely concludes that while happiness can be pursued and increased through intentional activities, there are limits imposed by genetic factors and life circumstances. The key message is that sustainable happiness is achievable but requires consistent and deliberate effort.



  1. Sheldon, K. M. and Lyubomirsky, S. (2021). Revisiting the sustainable happiness model and pie chart: can happiness be successfully pursued?. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(2), 145-154.
  2. Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). “Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances.” Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(1), 55-86. Link to Journal
  3. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). “Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change.” Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131. Link to Journal
  4. Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.” Penguin Books. Link to Book

Videos and Podcasts

  1. TEDx Talks (Speaker: Sonja Lyubomirsky). “The Science of Happiness.” YouTube video, Link to TEDx Talk
  2. The Science of Happiness Podcast (Hosted by Dacher Keltner). Episodes featuring discussions on happiness research, including insights from Sonja Lyubomirsky. Link to Podcast