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.


  1. Dog training November 25, 2007
  2. Idetrorce December 15, 2007
  3. Bauduin January 27, 2008
  4. An Anonymous Visitor March 5, 2008
  5. Michele Connolly March 5, 2008