“Everybody talks about the weather,” an old saying goes, “But nobody does anything about it.” You know what? You could apply that saying to happiness, too. Everybody says they want to be happier, but when it comes right down to making it a reality in our lives, few of us actually take the matter into our own hands and get busy about it.
The difference between weather and happiness is that there’s nothing you can do about weather except prepare to meet it as it comes. You can, however, learn to be happier, because, to a great extent, happiness is a skill.
Learning to Drive
That’s right. It’s a skill, just like learning to drive. I know you’ve heard that it’s a choice. But I have to confess that I’m annoyed when people glibly say so, as if you could flick a magic switch somewhere inside you and suddenly beam with 100 watts of joy.
The fact is that learning to be happier involves a whole series of choices that we make, learned behaviors that we do over and over and over. That’s what researchers Rick Foster and Greg Hicks discovered in three-years of interviewing extremely happy people.
Happiness takes dedication, a commitment, and every day practice. I won’t kid you: learning to be happier is work. No worthwhile skill is mastered over night. But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it, the rewards are worth every ounce of effort you invest.
Is Happiness What You Want?
So let me ask you: Do you want to be happier? What would it be like to feel more enthusiasm in your life? How do you think it would impact your relationships, your work, your day to day experience of life is you were able to feel more peace, more gratitude, more hope, more awe, more engagement, more satisfaction, more joy and delight?
All of those feelings are varieties of happiness. And you really can have more of them. You can learn to access them more frequently and on increasingly deeper levels, in ways that are meaningful to you. And that, my friend, is a scientific fact.
Making Happiness Your Prime Directive
The first step is to answer the question I just posed: Do you really want to be happier? If your answer is yes, the way to begin is to make living happily your Prime Directive, your core, motivating intention.
That’s central. According to Foster and Hicks, the intention to be happy is the foundation on which all happy people build. They make the conscious decision to commit themselves to living a rich, positive life.
Taking the Wheel
The next step is where the work begins. You have to recognize that you alone are driving the bus, and you alone are responsible for keeping it on the road.
But this is where you start to get the rewards, too. That’s the cool thing about working to live a more positive life: the paybacks are immediate.
It feels empowering to take responsibility for the quality of your own life, to acknowledge that no one is in control of your sense of well-being except you. Just as intention sets the direction for your journey, responsibility fuels it. And the more practice you get at steering your life toward greater joy and satisfaction, the more self-trust and self-respect you develop. It’s both freeing and calming to know that you alone are in control.
Dealing with Detours and Rough Roads
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be in charge. Life is full of challenges; it can be a truly difficult place sometimes. We have accidents, we get damaged, we have to drive through fog and night and storms, to deal with bad or careless drivers, with unexpected detours and rough roads.
The positivity bus doesn’t come equipped with autopilot. Happiness isn’t a matter of flicking a switch. It requires awareness, and sometimes great strength and grit.
That’s why it’s important to be 100% clear on your Prime Directive.
The good news is that the rough spots grow fewer and fewer as you go along and your skills for handling them increase with every mile you travel. With every mile, the scenery grows more beautiful, and your fellow travelers increasingly become the most helpful and agreeable companions.
You have everything you need to get where you’re going. The key is to stay awake and aware. If you’re lost, a thousand maps are out there to help you find your way. Study the ones that make the most sense to you. Ask directions if you need them; call a road crew if you’re really stuck.
Meanwhile, just remember where you’re headed, keep your windshield clean, your hands on the wheel, and have a great trip.