The Keys for Skilled Happiness


Happiness is a skill you can develop.  Some people are born happy, while others have to work at it.  Some have to work harder than others.

Rather than work harder, work smarter.  Luckily, with all the focus on happiness, we now have a better body of knowledge to draw from.

Carlin Flora shares a collection of patterns and practices for skilled happiness from a variety of sources in her article, The Pursuit of Happiness, in Psychology Today.

Key Happiness Skills

Here are my key take aways:

  1. We’re lousy at predicting what makes us happy.  This is especially true when we try to make predictions from our past experience.  Things are almost never as good or bad as we expect them to be.  Our memory is a bad recording device.  We recall beginning and endings better than the long middles.
  2. Improve your self-talk.  Your can lift yourself up or bring yourself down.  Practice a positive internal dialogue.  Another way to put it is, be your coach not your critic.
  3. Find engaging activities.  Focus on activities that are dynamic, surprising, and require your full attention.   This is a way to find your flow in your day to day activities.
  4. Feel your full range of emotions.  Don’t fear your negative emotions.  Just notice them, but don’t let them overwhelm or control you.   Remember that what you resist persists.
  5. Practice mindfulness.  Don’t struggle against your negative emotions.  Just let them be there without struggling against them.  Be open and curious towards your feelings rather than making judgments.
  6. Work towards goals.  Don’t make happiness a goal.  Enjoy the pursuit.  Progress and pursuit are the key to happiness.  Be sure to stop and smell the roses.
  7. Be generous.  Share more of yourself.  Whether it’s your time, experience or wealth, giving is the key to getting true joy.
  8. Be careful who you hang with.  Your peer group can have a large influence on how you feel and what your expectations are.  The more values you share, the more you’ll enjoy it.
  9. Limit your choices.   While more choices sound good, it can actually lead to frustration.  You worry more about making the wrong choices, or you stress over lost opportunities.  Enjoy the choices you do make.
  10. Build your relationships.  Make building strong personal relationships a priority.  Your relationships can wax or wane.  Invest your time and energy in your relationships rather than take them for granted.
  11. Evaluate your well-being at the macro as well as the micro level.  Step back and take a look at your life.   What makes you happy day to day, may not be what makes you happy over the last 10 years.  Use different time frames to find your personal trends in what makes you happy and to gain perspective.
  12. Find out whether somebody else liked it.  Chances are, you might too.  We’re bad at predicting what we’ll enjoy.  Rather than try and predict what you’ll like, ask somebody who’s been there and done that.  One of the best ways to figure out whether you’ll enjoy something is to ask one of your friends.  This goes for jobs or vacations or just about anything.  The key here is to ask a friend who has similar values and taste.
  13. Leverage your natural coping style.  If you’re not a shiny, happy person, don’t pretend to be.  Instead, leverage your natural style to be more effective.  For example, maybe you can turn your stress into better performance.  (see Use Stress to Be Your Best.)

I think the key themes boil down to how we talk to ourselves, how we respond to things, how we make meaning, who we spend time with, and how we make the most of what we’ve got.   The other key thing is that happiness is dynamic and it’s not a static state.  It’s about living, learning and growing, and rolling with the punches.

What is Happiness

Happiness is more like satisfied than ecstatic.  Flora writes:

“What is happiness?  The most useful definition – and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks – is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense.  It has depth and deliberation to it.  It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.”

We Lack the Skills to Get Out of Ruts

Rather than quick fixes, we need skills to get out of ruts.  Flora writes:

“Both the happiness and anti-happiness forces actually agree on something important – that we Americans tend to grab superficial quick fixes such as extravagant purchases and fatty foods to subdue any negative feelings that overcome us.  Such measures seem to hinge on a belief that constant happiness is somehow our birthright.  Indeed, a body of research shows instant indulgences do calm us down – for a few moments.  But they leave us poorer, physically unhealthy, and generally more miserable in the long run- and lacking in the real skills to get us out of our rut.”

You’re Wrong About What Makes You Happy

We’re not good at predicting what will make us happy.  You’re wrong about what will make you happy, and you’re wrong about what made you happy.Flora writes:

“We’re terrible at predicting our future feelings accurately, especially if our predictions are based on our past experiences.  The past exists in our memory, after all, and memory is not a reliable recording device: We recall beginnings and endings far more intensely than those long “middles,” whether they’re eventful or not.  So the horrible beginning of your vacation will lead you astray in deciding the best place to go next year.  Gilbert’s take-away advice is to forgo your own mental projections.  The best predictor of whether you’ll enjoy something is whether someone else enjoyed it.  So simply ask your friend who went to Mexico if you, too, should go there on vacation.”

My Related Posts

Photo by Hamed Masoumi


  1. Great post J.D. Surrounding yourself with positive people sure helps a lot, because the alternative can sometimes be very draining if you have to maintain a good buzz on behalf of someone who is constantly miserable.

  2. Wow man, this is extremely thorough and one I will come back to. I love the tips on enacting it and the distinctions.

    “Some People are Born Happy” I’ve always suspected this and it inspires me intend to find a born happy girlfriend the next time around. Not to make me happy but just so we can be lighter together.

    I’ve also found that we can’t predict happiness. Perhaps that’s why surprise is so delightful?

  3. “Practice a positive internal dialogue” is my favorite.
    I have too many personal examples where i failed/succeeded when ignoring/applying this technique.
    Recently(actually right now) i am managing internal personal dialogue related to recent event i had with one guy. I have chosen the positive way over negative/offensive. Once done i started to feel energized, thinking of new ideas how to solve the problem vs thinking about the event/person…. Can I call it mini-happiness? 😉

  4. I think you covered every single aspect known to human beings lol 🙂 Awesome deal!

    These are the two ways I have found to stay happy that work for me the most:

    1.Honoring my feelings as number one. When I make it my number one priority to feel happy, then I allow myself to ‘create from a place of positive energy’.

    Along with this, is realizing that nothing around me in my environment especial people need to change in order for me to feel happy. Feeling happy comes from within and when I am not feeling good it’s because my perspective is different then that of within ‘Source’. Feelings are the language of ‘the soul’ and I can be aligned with who I really am by paying close attention to how I feel.

    2. Being grateful. Being in a state of gratitude, allows me to only notice the things to be grateful for.

    Being in a state of gratitude attracts blissful experience for a life-time. Every goal you could ever want to achieve will natural flow to you through this gratitude state of being and that is what life is all about.

  5. Hi JD

    I use the link between emotional awareness and the activities I know I typically enjoy to try to wend my way into a better space.


  6. What an amazing post, so much wisdom and information here. This is so good that it needed to be stumble. Thank you for taking so much care into this post.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  7. Hi JD,
    I quite like the various dimensions you have adduced about happiness,
    I think about this topic so much has been explored and still the work is still on,
    Just want to share that I watched A movie recently about a man making a list of things to do to become happy ….have explored the themes behind it and tried to generalize them so that it can assist any one to prepare their own list…here is the link to that article ..

    I love you work …keep the good work up.

  8. @ Louisa

    I agree and I’ve found that who I hang with makes a big difference in my day to day experience.

    @ Tom

    Thank you. Having a great sense of humor is one of the best ways to make the most of life.

    The fact we can’t predict surprise, actually surprised me. Yes, surprise is delightful.

    @ Alik

    Mini-happiness is a great path towards macro-happiness. I think it’s like a series of little sprints inside the big marathon.

    @ Nicholas

    Good points. I think a way to put it is you can trust your gut. When something feels off, it probably is. When something feels right, something’s working for you. I’m a fan of driving from the inside out.

    @ Juliet

    That’s a good approach because you’re enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Sometimes the journey is all we have.

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you. I figure one of the best things we can do is help everybody we know how to have more happiness. Skills are the best recipe.

    @ Aman

    Thank you. You’re right, I think there’s a been a lot of work on happiness. Now I think the opportunity is bridging the gap between the state of the art and the state of the practice. One measure is how many people do we know are truly happy on a regular basis. It’s a simple yardstick.

  9. Hi JD!

    Its living your heart of hearts….

    It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

    Thank you, JD!

  10. A lot of good and useful insights. Maximizing our happiness is important; we need to get the best out of every situation. I listened to an interview from the happiness show with a happiness mentor. Several aspects of happiness are being discussed in the interview and they talk about the importance of associating yourself with happy people. For more details see

  11. Thanks JD I am learning these skills lately… really asking myself what makes me come alive for exuberant living!

    # We’re lousy at predicting what makes us happy. (so true what was shared about this! though I do find a lot of clues from the first five years of my life! ;))
    # Improve your self-talk.

    working on these areas lately, ~Jenn

  12. @ Jody

    I like the idea of a happiness mentor. I have some people in my life that definitely set the model for driving from happiness.

    @ Jenn

    The early years are a great place to look. Whenever I’m at my best, I find it’s connected back to my basics.

  13. The information is very inriching and i think most young people should read it for self-enrichment and -introspection.Because iam 22 yrs and have been involved in a bad grew,not to them because they seem to enjoy what they are doing but i just felt like we did not share any values at all……….so thanks a lot

  14. @ Johanna

    You’re right … sharing values is a key to happiness. Of course, that means truly knowing what your most prized values are.

  15. J.D., this is the award-winning one for today! 😉
    an invitation: tweaking for a possible guest-blogging post? 🙂 ~Jenn

  16. This is such a Wow! website. I wish all you folks were my neighbours. Personally, being happy is a choice I’ve decided to make every day as that’s under my sole control. Its like a case of … “Control your own destiny or someone else will.” I feed on +ve insights almost daily and try to look for at least one a day to learn and grow as an individual. One of these I picked up is … “True Happiness involves the full use of one’s power and talents”. Also, I just think that when a person is happy… creativity just flows freely.

  17. Excellent article! Your peers definitely affect how happy you are. I’m sure glad my family was a cheerful group as I grew up.

    Thanks for sharing!

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