happiness is a skill

Happiness is a skill. Are you practicing it?

Have you ever met someone who’s always happy? Someone who’s overwhelmingly positive and never seems to have a “bad day”?

Do you ever think, is there a secret to happiness?

Today, I’d like to argue that the thing that sets these people apart is their daily practice of this skill. That’s right. I genuinely believe one of the reasons people aren’t happy is that they’re so busy and don’t spend any time actually practicing how to be happy. I use the word “practice” as happiness is a skill that we need to use each and every day. We need to practice so we can get better and be happier.

Happiness is not something that’s magically bestowed on us. We have to actively think about what happiness means for us and do things that support these values.

Happiness doesn't get magically bestowed on us. It's a skill we need to practice each and every day.Click To Tweet

Over the last few years I’ve undergone a fundamental mindset shift. I used to focus on earning more, on rising up my career ladder and creating a successful company. Now my goals and daily priorities are radically different.

I don’t know if there’s a “secret” to happiness. However, I’ve found that one way to get a little closer to finding your own “secret” to happiness is to think about these two things:

  1. Have a clear idea of what happiness means for you.
  2. Take deliberate action towards this definition.

Simple right?

Yes, but simple isn’t always easy. Let’s break this down:

What’s your “definition” of happiness?

Now happiness means different things to different people. For some it means spending time with their kids and helping them to learn and grow. For others it means giving back and contributing to society in some wider way.

Personally, I find happiness in a number of ways:

  • By being in control of my time, location and finances and feeling an overall sense of freedom.
  • By being able to work on my own projects and decide what I get to work on.
  • By being content, balanced and present (instead of getting carried away in thoughts about the past or future).
  • By spending time with my wife, friends and family.
  • By learning new things and growing as a person.

Whatever it is, it’s important to think about and create your own definition of happiness.

I think one of the main reasons a lot of people are unhappy is that they haven’t taken the time to think about what happiness means for them. The problem here is that when you don’t define what happiness is for you, we generally default to focusing on something that’s easy to measure – money.

When we don't define happiness, we default to focusing on something that's easy to measure - moneyClick To Tweet

Unfortunately, because you can earn a potentially infinite amount of money, if you do earn more, this additional income doesn’t really bring about any additional happiness. You’ll also find that your spending inflates and these additional earnings are quickly absorbed (this is also known as “hedonic adaption”).

One of the best things about traveling with my wife was that we had a lot more time to think about what kind of life we want to create. We had time to think about what we want to do in life and where we can find a sense of purpose and meaning.

The great thing is that when you do come up with your own definition of happiness, you naturally start to care less about money and instead of thinking about all the things you don’t have or things you want to buy, you focus on things with more substance, like time and freedom.

You can try a number of things to create your own definition of happiness:

  • Use a journal to brainstorm ideas and make sense of your thoughts.
  • Go for long walks and take time out to be disconnected and just think.
  • Talk with your spouse or friends and ask about what they value.
  • Think about what you’d do if money was no object. How would you spend your time?

How much time do you spend executing this definition?

After dedicating some time to coming up with your own definition of happiness, you can then start to focus on step two – taking deliberate action towards living within this definition.

For me, this means practicing certain habits that support my definition of happiness.

  • I practice meditation 4 to 5 times per week as a way of creating balance and contentment so I can let go of negative thoughts.
  • I read books on self-improvement and philosophy to support my learning and study happiness itself.
  • If you recall above, I value freedom (of time, location and finances). I’ve been building my business over the last few years so I could quit my job create this sense of freedom.
  • I go for walks during the day so I can be present, appreciate my environment and enjoy some time to myself.

For you, the daily practices may be different. Maybe journaling, positive self-talk or visualisation exercises work best for you. Whatever the case may be, think about the daily rituals and habits that support your idea of happiness. Then do them each and every day.

Ryan Holiday uses this great metaphor in his book, Ego is the Enemy:

“Training is like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.”