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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be generous. Share more of yourself. Whether it’s your time, experience or wealth, giving is the key to getting true joy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Intelligence Doesn’t Determine Happiness
- 12 Little Laws of Life
- Lessons Learned from Peaceful Warrior
- Process Over Product Orientation
- How To Figure Out What You Really Want
Photo by Hamed Masoumi