Happiness Is a Skill

Family sitting in living room smilingI watched the documentary, Happy, last night and I felt happy after watching it. In a world that often seems to value personal accomplishment over personal fulfillment, it’s good to be reminded that money doesn’t buy happiness.

Money does buy happiness if it lifts one out of poverty and allows one to eat and receive health care. If someone increases his or her income from $5000 to $50,000 a year they feel happier, but beyond that there is no appreciable increase in happiness.


Society tells us that money, status and image bring us happiness, but in fact happiness comes from personal improvement, relationships with friends and family, and a sense of being helpful. We all need something bigger than ourselves to believe in.

Our happiness level is influenced by genetics and our experiences, but 40% of our ability to feel happy has to do with intentional living— doing things we know will make us feel happy. And, even after we experience hard times or tragedy, we return to our normal level of happiness pretty quickly.

Denmark ranks highest in the world in happiness. Danes get free education through college and free healthcare throughout life and many live in co-housing communities. The Japanese are the most unhappy, so much so that a new Japanese word has been coined to refer to those who work themselves to death. In Bhutan, they watch their Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) more than their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


Often we think of happiness as a reward, as something that happens to good people. Or, we think of it as something we deserve and get from the outside. But, in fact, happiness is a skill. It’s something we can get more of by intentionally changing our brain chemistry.

We can change our brain chemistry by thinking of things we are grateful for, by conscious acts of kindness to others and by specifically meditating on compassion and loving kindness. This reminds me of a poem by an unknown author, How to be Happy, that I loved when I was a child:

Are you almost disgusted with life, little man?
I’ll tell you a wonderful trick
That will bring you contentment, if anything can –
Do something for somebody, quick!

Are you awfully tired with play, little girl?
Wearied, discouraged, and sick?
I’ll tell you the loveliest trick in the world,
Do something for somebody, quick!

Though it rains like the rain of the flood, little man,
And the clouds are forbidding and thick,
You can make the sun shine in your soul, little man,
Do something for somebody, quick!

Though the stars are like brass overhead, little girl,
And the walks like a well-heated brick,
And our earthly affairs in a terrible whirl,
Do something for somebody, quick!


So, while we inherit a certain relationship with happiness, we can become happier through our intentional actions. Things that elicit happiness are:

  • Play
  • New Experiences
  • Friends and Family
  • Doing Things that Are Meaningful
  • Appreciation

Here’s the trailer for Happy, a documentary from Wadi Rum Films. It’s available for streaming from Netflix.


Peggy O'Mara newPeggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com.  She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.

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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of peggyomara.com. Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

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