chesirecatAs with any ability or trait, people tend to be born with a certain innate level of happiness.

Like most things, we can get better with practice, effort, and study. And, like most things, if you try too hard, you can overdo it and regress.

One “secret” to happiness is that much of your happiness is learning what makes you happy, learning your personal recipe. It sounds obvious, but learning what makes us happy is an individual experimental thing, at times trial and error.

Part of the challenge is that from a very young age we are bombarded with messages about what others think should make us happy. The operative words are “others” and “should.” Often “others” have their own agendas: Madison Avenue wants to sell us stuff, stuff we often don’t really need. The easiest way to sell people is to convince them that a particular good or service is essential for human happiness, even if we’ve never heard of it or it didn’t exist two years ago. And often for purely personal or social reasons, “others” wish to control us or influence us or have us behave in a certain way, as if just having people agree with them or act like them reinforces their sense of self-worth or validates their value system. Others’ value systems may work wonderfully for them but each of us is unique and needs to experience for ourselves what brings us happiness, joy, contentment, and lasting satisfaction.

The challenge is that even when we do have a meaningful experience of happiness, or even unhappiness, we do not take the time to quietly think the whys and wherefores of the experience: Did what I think would bring me lasting satisfaction truly do so? Or at best was it just a momentary pleasure? Did I truly savor the moment? Did the memory bring a smile of joy to my face for days and weeks afterward? Or was the moment hollow, empty, strangely unfulfilling?

When a moment of unexpected joy comes into your life, STOP!

Think about its source, contemplate how you can attract more of those moments in your life. At the end of each day, write in your journal. Reflect on the ups and downs of your day, the paradigms, beliefs, and thought patterns underlying each one. How to find more satisfaction and contentment, less frustration?

Coaches and players spend endless hours reviewing game films to learn how to perform better, to hone their skills to the sharpest edge. Does your life warrant anything less? The return on just 15 to 20 minutes of journaling each evening is incredible. And just 10 or 15 minutes of inspirational reading, and your life will pop to even higher levels. I love to read but for my morning and evening inspirational reading I just read for a few minutes until I get one concept that I want to keep in mind, focus on. One change, one thought a day is challenge enough!

Happiness is a skill and like any other skill it can be increased with cultivation.