Sometimes happiness can feel like a matter of luck, circumstance, or hereditary predisposition, but as I’ve covered here before, happiness is really a set of skills.
“All of the work that we and other colleagues [have done] leads us to this inevitable conclusion…well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello,” Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain has explained. “If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.”
Which is a lovely though in some ways — if happiness consists of skills to be learnt, then your mood and outlook is largely within your control. But what skills exactly do you need to master? Richardson breaks down the key competencies for mental well being into four broad areas, but while that’s helpful to understand his ideas generally, his categories are too broad to be really actionable.
Knowing the resilience is a key skill for happiness won’t really help you cultivate it. But a new, detailed inventory of happiness skills from the Greater Good Science Center just might. The long list of skills from researcher Tchiki Davis is a great starting point to evaluate how you might improve your happiness levels.
Here it is, divided into several subheadings (the links to additional resources are largely mine):
Positive thoughts about the self
- Acceptance: The ability to accept yourself and your emotions non-judgmentally.
- Positive self-views: The ability to see yourself as a good, worthwhile human being.
- Clarity: The ability to understand what you value, how you feel, and who you are.
- Positive reappraisal: The ability to change your thoughts in ways that help you experience longer-lasting, more intense, or more frequent positive emotion.
Positive thoughts about others
- Rejection tolerance: The ability to perceive the actions of others as inclusive rather than rejecting.
- Empathy: The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see the world from their perspective.
- Gratitude: The ability to be thankful for the experiences and people you have in your life.
- Letting go: The ability to stop fretting and ruminating about negative interpersonal situations.
Positive behaviors involving the self
- Planning: The ability to develop effective strategies and take actions that progress you towards your goals.
- Growth mindset: The belief that your strengths can be developed through hard work and dedication.
- Self-care: The ability to resist engaging in unhealthy behaviors (drugs, alcohol, shopping, or overeating) as a means to increase happiness.
- Prioritizing positivity: The ability to make time for, and consistently schedule, activities that you enjoy.
Positive behaviors involving others
- Kindness: The ability to be friendly, generous, and considerate of others.
- Autonomy: The ability to resist the influence of others, make your own independent decisions, and take action based on your unique values.
- Expressivity: The ability to easily communicate and share intimate aspects of yourself with others.
- Assertiveness: The ability to stand up for yourself, speak up, and communicate your needs.
How many of these skills do you need to work on?