Happiness is a Skill You Can Learn
By Yvonne Milosevic
As we head into a new, post-pandemic reality, many of us are clearly living in a perpetual state of “meh.” We don’t yet know what long-term toll COVID-19 will have on our collective well-being. Psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant recently examined the widespread condition of languishing, which he describes as the “neglected middle child of mental health.” You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, Grant explains, but you’re not the picture of mental health either.
Given the pervasiveness of the problem, it’s obvious we need to become proactive if we’re to snap ourselves out of this malaise. Faculty at London Business School may have the answer. They say we can learn how to be happier and boost our resilience to meet today’s challenges.
“Happiness is a skill that can be learned like speaking Spanish or playing guitar,” explains Selin Kesebir, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at LBS. “It is a skill of the mind; a capacity to shape the way that we see, process and interpret our reality and the things around us. It can be developed like any other competence.”
To begin, we need to shed the belief that happiness comes from external circumstances. It’s nice to have a loving family, good friends, and make a comfortable living. But those factors alone don’t create happiness. Instead, we must realize that true happiness only comes once we’ve accepted our reality—whatever that looks like, Kesebir says. She suggests embracing these five foundational attitudes to improve your well-being.
1. Know that life is difficult. Expect to suffer at times.
As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” The pandemic has shown us that our best-laid plans can go out the window at a moment’s notice. Suffering can strike where we least expect it. “Letting go of expectations about an easy and perfect life and accepting the inevitability of change and loss can mitigate frustration when things go wrong,” Kesebir says.
2. You will have negative experiences and emotions. Accept them.
“Being happy doesn’t mean feeling good all the time,” Kesebir notes. Anyone going through a negative experience—illness, job loss, breakup, etc.—is entitled to feel crummy. But, she adds, “Getting comfortable with sometimes being uncomfortable is key to happiness.”
3. Stop arguing with reality.
By now, you might be sensing a theme here. And that theme is acceptance. “As the pandemic has shown us, railing against things over which we have no control won’t change anything,” says Kesebir. “It’s futile.” Recognize the facts, make peace with them, and move on. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and energy.
Arguing with reality is like teaching a cat to bark—hopeless. Byron Katie
4. Adopt a positive outlook.
Remember when we said that happiness is a skill you can learn? It’s because the same brain plasticity that allows you to master skills such as playing an instrument or sports also enables you to train yourself to be more positive. This Inc. article details the brain science involved and offers “happiness homework” that can help rewire your brain to see things more positively.
Of course, we’re not suggesting you become a delusional Pollyanna. Ideally, says Kesebir, it’s about “choosing not to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive.”
5. Don’t buy into everything that pops into your head.
We’re quick to sabotage ourselves with negative self-talk that ranges from impostor syndrome to ruminating endlessly over perceived slights. But your thoughts and feelings don’t always reflect reality. Ask yourself if what is bothering you now will matter in a few days or weeks.
“Happier people are those who can look at their own thoughts from a distance,” Kesebir explains. They can observe their inner voice “without being carried away by what is going on in their heads.”
An Athlete-Approved Exercise to Boost Well-Being
Dan Cable, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, thinks we can improve our well-being by copying a common habit of successful athletes.
“World-class athletes create their own highlight reels that capture their finest moments on the field and track. Then they study them to see how they can reproduce them and improve their performance. It works for them, and it can work for us too.
“Just imagine that instead of focusing on weaknesses, we spend time reflecting on strengths – be it in strategising, team-building, communication or research – and inviting friends, family and colleagues to share the times they’ve seen us shine. How much more conducive would that be to your growth, positivity, performance and well-being than self-doubt?”
We’ll leave you today with this resource from Happify, one of the apps we highlighted in a previous post about stress management tools. Happify’s S.T.A.G.E.R. framework helps you build six essential skills: Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give, Empathize, and Revive. Incorporate these simple exercises into your daily routine and watch how quickly you can boost your mood and improve your well-being.
Here’s to happier, healthier post-pandemic living for all.