Can Happiness be Learned?

SUN-SALUTATION-570At a party recently, I was observing teens from around the world. I know that teens are not really the group we would point to as supremely happy, but one young man in particular stood out as particularly upbeat. I studied him in that writer way while trying not to be that creepy adult. It got me thinking about whether or not happiness is hard-wired, at what age it’s formulated, and whether or not it can be taught/learned.

I started poking around the net-o-sphere. Here’s what I learned. Lots of people have lots to say about happy people–what makes them, what unmakes them.

According to the Census Bureau, Icelandic people are the happiest crew coming in at 94% “very happy.” If you live in Bulgaria, you’re screwed with a -24%. (What the heck’s going on in Bulgaria?) It also says only 1 in every 3 Americans claim to be very happy.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, weighs in with a plethora of other experts.  It’s his guess that 60% of happiness emanates from nature (our genetics and environment) and the other 40 percent is up to us.

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives:

  1. The Life of Pleasure: fill up your life with as many pleasures as possible
  2. The Life of Engagement: life defined by work, parenting, love and leisure
  3. The Life of Meaning: Knowing your strengths and putting them to use for something larger than you.

Of these, #3 seemed to point to the lives people who called themselves happiest were living. Totally agree with that and try and teach that to my kids. To me, that just makes sense.

But wait–there’s more.

The Huffington Post, recently came out with this list–the action steps are mine:

  • They surround themselves with other happy people. (Action step: Dump the downers.)
  • They smile when they mean it. (Action step: Thoughts are things. Choose smiley ones.)
  • They cultivate resilience. (Action step: You’re the duck. The water’s rolling off your back while you’re quacking “bring it.”)
  • They try to be happy (Action step: Your attitude is your business. Tend to it.)
  • They are mindful of the good. (Action step: Notice what goes right, no matter how small. Make that your focus and leave the noticing what goes wrong to those people you are NOT hanging out with.)
  • They appreciate simple pleasures. (Action step: Go–right now–find something beautiful and marvel at it.  In my neighborhood, the sunrise this morning was nothing short of magnificent, as a lone goose honked across the bright orange sky.)
  • They devote some of their time to giving. (Action step: When you get that nudge to help someone, don’t argue with yourself about how you don’t have time. Just do it.)
  • They let themselves lose track of time. (Action step: Make time for those things that make you lose yourself.)
  • They spend money on other people. (Action step: Donate to someone or some place anonymously. Take no credit. Tell nobody. See what happens. You won’t be sorry.)
  • They have deep conversation. (Action step: Instead of asking “How was your weekend?” ask “What makes you happy?” or “What is your big dream?”)
  • They make a point to listen. (Action step: Don’t interrupt. I’m surrounded by interrupters and it’s contagious–and obnoxious. I notice myself interrupting more after being with them and I don’t like that quality in myself. Try and listen to the person who is speaking like your life depends on what they have to say. I treasure my friends who are good listeners and aspire to be more like them.)
  • They uphold in-person connections. (Action step: LIVE face time is crucial. Instead of texting, do a drive by and bring tea. Sit in each other’s presence. Laugh. Prioritize this.)
  • They look on the bright side. (Action step: Have a problem? Great opportunity. Turn it around and look at the up side. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.)
  • They value a good mixtape. (Action step: Burn a “happy playlist” to a CD for a friend–whose name is Jamie and is writing this blog–and send it to her as a surprise. Oooh. Good one.)
  • They get spiritual. (Action step: Key ideas are expressing gratitude, compassion, and charity. Write down 5 things you are grateful for at least 7 days in a row…more, if you want more happy.)
  • They make exercise a priority. (Action step: MOVE. Just do SOMETHING and schedule it when it won’t get bumped.)
  • They go outside. (Action step: Go outside right now–when you’re done reading this–and find something beautiful to look at for five minutes.)
  • They spend time on the pillow. (Action step: Check out 10 minute sleep meditations on the app Omvana to help you nod off quickly and sleep a solid 7-8 hours each night.)
  • They LOL. (Action step: Call a friend that makes you laugh until you cry. For me, that’s my oldest son. He’s funnier than anybody I know and always has a great story to share that’s freaking hilarious.)
  • They walk the walk. (Action step: Walk like you’re happy. Your attitude will follow.)

That’s the Huff’s list, but there’s a ton more out there. Everybody has a theory. Here’s mine.

Let’s go back to the teen at the party. He stood outside under the stars with his arms around the two guys next to him, smiling, dressed to the hilt for Halloween, smiling, head up and eyes sparkling. He announced, “My mom back home always says it’s all in how you look at things. You can look at anything and find the good.”

You, young Jack Sparrow, are among the happy. You have learned that, and are teaching others.


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About jamieweilhealthcoach

I'm on a mind-body-spirit journey. At first, I thought health was about the physical body, but I'm discovering it's so much more than that. I've learned that it's more about serving and connecting with others than anything else. It's about being in the world in a blissful way. Before I blog, I meditate on what my readers need to hear--what will inspire them. Then, I write it. (www.getstrongblog.com)
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8 Responses to Can Happiness be Learned?

  1. Lois Sepahban says:

    Beautiful post, Jamie!! When can we talk? Let’s schedule it. I’m free all day Friday or Wednesday or Thursday mostly. Or we can try for next week.

    Lois xoxo

    >

    • Thanks, Beautiful! We’re in Texas and I don’t have my calendar, but I’ll check when I get home and we’ll set something up. Just thinking about making a cross country sojourn and landing at your house this summer:)

  2. Janet says:

    You are one of the happiest people I know. In fact I have said that exact thing when telling someone about my friend Jamie. I was encouraged while reading the Huffington Post guidelines, I am doing some of those things, need to work on a few more!

  3. Aww this one brought bright tears to my eyes, in a good way as all heart-string-pulling moments are. My eldest son, 26 now, is a magnet for people and a bright shining star. My youngest son (21, at home still) and I recently went to an art gallery showing the eldest was doing, and I marvelled at the size of the crowd! My son is very well loved, and it is because he looks for the good, and is very quick to smile and laugh. Thanks for this wonderful post Jamie. Love it. xo Gina

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