Can We Get Better at Being Happy?

Happiness seems to be a skill that we can acquire and develop. However, it seems that most of us are not as happy as we could be! You don’t have to do more things that make you happy. Instead just start by measuring how happy you are.

I don’t know how many articles I read on the subject of happiness last week, but, if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was 30 or 40. The way I’d sum up the articles is, “The good news about happiness is that it seems to be a skill we can acquire and develop.”

The bad news is that most of us are not as happy as we could be.


Why not? Partly because we don’t really know what makes us happy. We know what we think makes us happy, but when researchers study happiness, they find that what we expect to make us happy often doesn’t. We’re never as happy with what we get as what we expected to get.

Even worse, we fool ourselves later into thinking that we were as happy as we expected, so we go back to get more of that thing that didn’t make us happy even though we think it did.

The whole thing gives me a headache.

But back to that skill we can learn. If scientists can conduct studies that determine whether something really made a person as happy as the person expected, we can do the same thing. We can keep records of when we’re happy and why. We can keep track of what we feel after we do certain things.

That’s how you develop a skill, after all – by measuring your results and then trying again. So why can’t we measure our own happiness and build on it? Of course we can. And we should.

What we’ll learn, when we do this, is that we’re not nearly as unhappy as we think we are. I suspect very few of us are ever as unhappy as we think, and most of the time we’re far happier than we realize.

Before the weather turned wintery here in the Midwest, I was sitting by myself outside at a lakefront coffee house. I took that moment to realize that I was happy, and took a little time to figure out why. It was a combination of the warm sun on my face, having a little leisure time away from the office, and being surrounded by vibrant, happy people. It was just that simple.

As we keep journals on an ongoing basis of everything we do, and how it makes us feel, we will probably see that it’s not the big things that matter. Sure, getting a new car feels great. But how happy are you about that car two weeks later? A month?

On the other hand, taking your kids to a ball game makes you happy, gives you pleasure, and gives you memories of your time with your kids. You can replay these memories time and again, and continue to be happy for as long as you choose, from this one experience.

And your car’s not going to give you a big hug and a kiss that smells like hot dogs.

The bottom line, for those of you who like bottom lines, is that you can be happier. Not by doing more things that make you happy, but just by measuring how happy you are. Then, of course, you can do more of the things that genuinely make you happy and less of the things that don’t make you happy.

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