Five Keys to Happiness

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia and one of the forefront figures in modern happiness research. He’s taken the best of ancient wisdom, modern neuroscience, moral reasoning, philosophy and religion, and distilled it into a few key ideas.

His book, “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom,” lays out ten big ideas that contribute to happiness. Here are five key principles he lays out. We share a condensed version with you here:

Step 1: Diagnose yourself.

Haidt writes about us all having a certain “set point” when it comes to happiness that is not set in stone. “You do need to KNOW what your set point is, so you know which challenges you’ll face,” he writes. “And knowing your strengths will help you overcome these challenges.” Visit Authentic Happiness to take personality tests, learn whether you’re an optimist or pessimist, and discover your strengths.

Step 2: Mental Floss—Improve Your Mental Hygiene.

Do you kick yourself for accidentally saying something stupid? Do you hold onto anger? It turns out you can do something called cognitive therapy on yourself. Basically, this involves identifying dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behavior and changing them. To learn how, Haidt recommends a number of books. Another great option is meditation — 15 minutes a day is all it takes. How to Meditate and The Fundamentals of Zen are two great places to start.

Step 3: Strengthen Your Social Connections

“Even introverts who think they want to spend a lot of time alone perk up and get happier when they are around other people,” Haidt explains. “We were made for love, friendship, and family, and when we spend a lot of time alone, or free ourselves from the ‘constraints’ of relationships, it is generally bad for us.”

One easy, but meaningful step that Haidt recommends is writing a “gratitude letter.” This kind of letter tells the recipient what you appreciate about them, and will probably be something the person saves for a long time. Not a writer? Here’s an online template you can use.

Step 4: Improve Your Work

“Write out the ways in which your work, or your company, helps people, contributes to the common good, or does something that people find pleasurable,” Haidt suggests. “Can you reframe your work to see it as more than a means to a paycheck?  … You might want to see if you can reframe your work as a calling.”

Step 5: Connect to Something Bigger

“Like bees, our lives only make full sense as members of a larger hive, or as cells in a larger body,” Haidt says. “Yet in our modern way of living we’ve busted out of the hive and flown out on our own, each one of us free to live as we please. Is it any wonder so many people ask ‘What’s the point?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Most of us need to be part of a hive in some way, ideally a hive that has a clearly noble purpose. Religion, teaching, science, political campaigns. … these are some of the hives people seek to merge themselves into. The self is often a problem … find ways to lose yours, rather than constantly celebrating or expressing it.”

Two ways to find a larger purpose outside yourself: 1) increase your participation in religious community or 2) join a volunteer organization that has history, traditions, and rituals.

Related Articles