Learning the skill of happiness

Fortunately today there is a lot of good research available on the topic of happiness. By relying on philosophers’ careful thinking and using the methods of science, we can have better answers to questions that have vexed humanity for millennia and these answers only get more accurate and precise over time. One such enlightening reasearch is from Selin Kesebir, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBSwho posits concretely that happiness is not about what we have and not have, it’s a skill and it can be learnt like we can learn speaking a new language or playing a musical instrument.

“It is a skill of the mind; a capacity to shape the way that we see, process and interpret our reality and the things around us. It can be developed like any other competence.”

The quality of our happiness, says Kesebir, is contingent on the health of our relationship to reality, ourselves and other people. And understanding that happiness comes from within.

Kesebir also recommends that we adopt five attitudes as part of Happiness skillset:

  1. Know that life is difficult and suffering is to be expected: Accept this. Letting go of expectations about an easy and perfect life and accepting the inevitability of change and loss can mitigate frustration when things go wrong.
  2. Expect to have negative experiences and emotions and accept them: If suffering is to be expected, we need to expect to sometimes feel negative emotions. Being happy doesn’t mean feeling good all the time. Happy people have their own share of negative emotions. Getting comfortable with sometimes being uncomfortable is key to happiness.
  3. Stop arguing with reality: If something is a fact, fighting or resisting is simply a waste our time and energy.’ Understand that some problems are like gravity fact of like and cannot be changed. As the pandemic has shown us, railing against things over which we have no control won’t change anything — it’s futile. Far better to accept facts and move on.
  4. Adopt a positive outlook: Our attention is like a spotlight; it never gives us the full picture. We need to realise that reality is larger than what our attention is presenting us, and under uncertainty, the same event can be interpreted through different lenses, some more positive than others.
  5. Don’t buy into everything your mind says: Happier people are those who can look at their own thoughts from a distance; who can hear and observe their emotions and inner voice without being carried away by what is going on their heads. They instead question the validity of those voices and aim at a more truthful and constructive inner voice.

In another research paper, Pelin Kesebir from University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that Happiness becomes more achievable if we cultivate:

(1) Healthy habits of the body: Studies consistently show that cultivating healthy habits of the body, such as eating well (e.g., increased consumption of fruits and vegetables), exercising, and getting enough sleep improve well-being

(2) Healthy relationship with ourselves: This means we have a healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to a feeling born from the I’s evaluation of the me—it is a general sense of comfort and happiness with all the things one is. A love for oneself and a love for life typically go together, explaining the link between happiness and self-esteem. Healthy or optimal self-esteem entails which entail a firmly grounded sense of self-worth and calm self-confidence.

(3) Healthy habits of the heart and mind (i.e., virtues): Happiness and Virtuous Living have a circular relationship- one reinforces the other. Virtue leads to happiness, there is also support for the notion that happiness leads to virtuous behaviour.

(4) Healthy relationships with others: The desire to belong is considered a fundamental human motivation, and its satisfaction through love, friendship and close emotional ties is robustly linked to well-being. It is man who is essential to man’s happiness. To cultivate happiness, then, it is critical to cultivate close relationships characterized by mutual trust, caring, and understanding.

(5) Healthy connection to a larger beyond: Transcending the self and connecting to something larger than the self (e.g., God, universe, nature) has been regarded as a recipe for happiness across ages. Self-transcendent connections act as a powerful source of meaning and purpose, which are critical ingredients of well-being.volume). self-transcendent emotions such as compassion, gratitude, and awe have also been linked to greater physical and emotional well-being echoing the insight that self-transcendence might be a more promising strategy for cultivating happiness than strategies focusing heavily on the self.

The key message here is Happiness is a Skill made up of part attitude and part practice, it is something we do with our minds, intentions and actions rather than something that we get.

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