If you weren’t born happy, swap medication for mindset

In yesterday’s Guardian, Rebecca Hardy looked at a topic very close to this happiness strategist’s heart: although people are ‘popping happy pills like Smarties’, the accumulating mass of scientific research suggests that ‘happiness is, quite literally, a state of mind’.

Hardy extensively quotes Sonja Lyubomirsky, a favorite researcher of mine and a co-author of the meta-analysis we’ve been drawing on for our three most recent happiness strategies (4: Be happy now, 5: Spread it around and 6: Make happiness a goal).

Although evidence supports the idea that some people are naturally happier than others, there’s also evidence we can all develop a happy person’s habits – that is, we can learn to behave in more happy-producing ways.

Things to avoid include:

  • instant gratification via pleasure-seeking and incessant buying, which ‘leaves people ultimately dissatisfied and hankering for more’
  • comparing ourselves to others
  • unproductive rumination.

Better choices are:

  • having goals, like learning new things, improving ourselves, and nurturing spiritual or philosophical ideas
  • writing about our goals.

The article wraps up with 5 ways to lift your mood:

  1. Note 3 things that went well today and why
  2. Identify strengths and use them in new ways
  3. Write about an imagined, future, best-possible self
  4. Write a thank-you letter
  5. Do five kind acts a week.

(We’ll explore each of these in later happiness strategies.)

My 2 cents

I have a friend who falls squarely into the ‘born happy’ category. She sees the upside of everything without trying to ‘look on the bright side’, thinks the best of everyone, is supremely confident, outgoing and talented, takes risks, and manages rejection and disappointment with poise.

Another friend (OK, it’s me) scores pretty high on neuroticism and introversion – the two personality traits most consistently associated with unhappiness. I have to perform mental contortions in order to keep my mood on an even keel and manage the quirks of worry and overwhelm that can loom large at times.

But since I’ve learned happiness skills and actively adopted a happiness mindset, the two of us are pretty much on par, being-happy-wise.

We all know people who are lucky enough to think positively on automatic pilot.

The rest of us are just as lucky. We simply need to grab the controls and do the steering a little more consciously.

Image by rodrigo senna under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

By Michele Connolly

Choose to be happier – and you will be.


  1. Marvelous!!!

    sounds logical and very effective!!!
    I will practice your medication from now!!!

    thank you very much for your insight!!!


  2. I agree with Idetroce- this article is interesting, but I don’t agree with you. You are right that some people were just born happy, and some weren’t. However I think it is a mistake to try and convert the ‘born-miserables’ into happy people. Instead I think we should just acknowledge that there are natural human variations in mood, like in skin or hair colour, and accept the less cheerful in society too. Its foolish to pressure yourself to be happier unnecessarily- maybe you just weren’t meant to be! Instead of focussing on how to help everyone to be happy, maybe we could look at the benefits of being more melancholic.

  3. Hi Anonymous Visitor,

    Thanks so much for your considered comment.

    I guess if someone is ‘happy’ being melancholic, then it’s their choice and no one else’s business.

    Some people, though, would like to be happier but think it’s beyond their ability to change. Research is finding that it is possible to become happier – IF you want to. (There are many examples coming up in the 101 Happiness Strategies series.) For those people, I think it’s good to let them know they can make changes and find greater happiness if they crave it.

    But I completely agree with you that it’s an individual’s choice. Pressuring someone to do or be something they don’t choose for themselves sounds like a frustrating experience for both the pressurer and their target!

    Ciao for now,

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