Can happiness be learned?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes, you can learn to be happy.
Most people look at happiness or sadness as just emotions, things that happen to them for no particular reason. And in some people, this may be the case.
For most people, however, we can learn how to be happy, and we can choose to be happy. But it requires most of us to rethink how we approach our everyday lives, because we’ve learned bad habits and expectations about life, and in turn, happiness.
Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, Happier, is the how-to manual on learning how to be happier in your life. It’s not a simple feel-good book that just says, “Well, think happy thoughts!” Instead, Ben-Shahar uses the theories of positive psychology to teach us how our everyday thoughts, approaches, decisions and choices in our lives directly play into our happiness.
Shahar believes that happiness derives from goals a person sets that take into our entire lives, not just what we need in the moment. Too often, we live our lives focused only on today, tomorrow, maybe the weekend, and that’s it. But Shahar convincingly argues that to achieve a deeper sense of peace and happiness in our lives, we need to look at the future and set longer-term goals.
If your long-term goal is to be happy (and really, who’s isn’t?), then tying everyday accomplishments to that goal becomes important. People who do this begin to see the relationship between everyday achievements, and an overall greater sense of happiness and well-being over time. This begins, Shahar argues, a life-long synergistic relationship that becomes easier and easier the more you do it.
Happier also offers seven meditations in its third part:
- The relationship between happiness, self-interest and benevolence
- Happiness boosters –brief activities that are meaningful and pleasurable
- A challenge to the idea that happiness is predetermined and cannot be changed
- Overcoming the psychological barriers that we impose on ourselves
- Imagine — a thought experiment that answers your most important question
- How taking your time and simplifying your life may free you up to find happiness
- How we can each be a part of a “happiness revolution” instead of a life that focuses on a materialistic society
I found the book eminently readable and full of references and citations back to other theorists and research to back up his thinking and rationales for exercises. Sometimes these kinds of books can be preachy without meaning to be, or over the head of even well-read people. I found Happier to be neither – a down-to-earth guide that walks you through Shahar’s thinking, with a solid foundation and then applying that foundation to your everyday life.
I’m beginning to do just that in my own life and have already experienced some of the positive benefits of Shahar’s advice. I highly recommend Happier. Fifteen chapters divided into 3 parts, 192 pp, hardcover.