Is Happiness A Skill?
What’s a skill? A skill is your ability to do something well. It’s an ability that you develop through practice or experience.
Now, is happiness a skill? Is it something that you learn to do well with practice?
Science says yes. Research shows our happiness levels can change notably over our lifetimes, and that suggests happiness may be a skill that can be learned over the years.
Everything we’ve learned about the brain suggests that it’s (i.e., happiness is) no different than learning to play the violin or learning to engage in a complex sport. If you practice at it, you’ll get better at it.
— Richard J. Davidson, neuroscientist and professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Davidson has found that mindfulness training for even 2 weeks, for 30 minutes a day, resulted in measurable changes in the brains of the participants. This ability of the brain to change its form and function is called neuroplasticity. He suggests, therefore, that we can raise our happiness levels by regular practice of mindfulness.
Happiness is a skill, but it is a skill that has many components, and each of those components are constructive ways of being, like altruism or benevolence, compassion, inner peace, inner strength, inner freedom.
— Matthieu Ricard, molecular geneticist, author, and a Buddhist monk.
What Do You Gain By Being Happy?
Why be happy, when I can be normal, or even unhappy?
Because happiness has many advantages. Happiness has many benefits. Happy people are way ahead of others, as science has proven over the last 20 years.
A few of the advantages that happier people have are:
- live longer on an average, up to 10 years more. [Nun Study]
- make better and faster decisions. [Journal of Consumer Research]
- have stronger immune systems, and endure pain better. [The Mexican Study]
- are more satisfied with their jobs, are more productive, and earn more. [Harvard Business Review]
- have less depression and suicide, greater self-control and coping skills.
- marriages are more likely to succeed when couples experience 5:1 positive ratio. [The Gottman Institute].
Some other benefits of being happy are:
- earn more, get rich more
- are more successful
- are more popular, more loved
- have better relationships
- have more friends, bigger social circle
- have more pleasant and satisfying marriages
- have better physical health
- are mentally stronger, yet calmer
- are kinder and help others more
- are better and more regarded leaders
If you still want to know more of why do you need to be happy, here’s the post to catch: Why Does Happiness Matter?
Are Happy People More Healthy?
Jose de Jesus Garcia Vega, Professor of Economics and the Director of the Center of Well-being Studies at University of Monterrey, Mexico, has famously written in in the World Book of Happiness:
Happy people have modest and realistic levels of expectation and aspirations. Click To Tweet
It is often said that people spend the best years of their life trying to make money and sacrificing their health and their family, only to spend the rest of their days paying that same money in an attempt to recover their lost health and their estranged family!
And Heli Koivumaa-Honkanen, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital, Finland, says:
Healthy people are not happier. The reverse is true: happy people are healthier.
Are Happy People More Social?
Relationships are of utmost importance for creation of our happiness. When we are socially connected to community, friends and family, we are happier, healthier and live longer.
My empirical study of well-being among 1,600 Harvard undergraduates found a similar result—social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race. In fact, the correlation between social support and happiness was 0.7. This may not sound like a big number, but for researchers it’s huge—most psychology findings are considered significant when they hit 0.3. The point is, the more social support you have, the happier you are. — Shawn Achor
Are Happy People More Successful?
Success doesn’t make us happy; but being happy makes us successful, as many studies have proved. Happiness also makes you more productive. In fact, people who were primed to feel happy in an experiment by economists at Warwick University were found to be 11% more productive. Companies with happy employees perform better than the stock market index year after year.
Happiness improves your ability to problem-solve. Happy doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses.
In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, Dr. Laura Kubzansky, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Society and Health Psychophysiology Laboratory at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that emotional vitality — a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, and engagement in life — appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in both men and women.
Kubzansky found that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half. She wrote in her paper:
Findings suggest that individuals with higher levels of emotional vitality had reduced risk of developing CHD during a 15-year follow-up period. Further analyses indicated that one mechanism underlying this relationship may be health behaviors. Greater emotional vitality was significantly associated with less smoking, higher alcohol consumption, and more physical activity; after including these behaviors in the models, the relationship between emotional vitality and incident CHD was attenuated. However, the association remained significant after controlling for these behaviors as well as a history of psychological problems, use of psychotropic medications, current depressive symptoms, and other covariates.
Are Happy People More Resilient?
Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall.
Happiness is the most important thing we want for the people we love. We always want our loved ones to be happy, even at the cost of our own happiness. That’s why it matters so much.
Happiness is a skill that can be learned and honed. And it should be learned because it can help you live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
Want to read more? A professor shares eight practical suggestions based on research ﬁndings: 8 Steps To A Remarkably Satisfying Life.