Happiness is a Skill, You Should Just Learn It Like Any Other

In a 2014 article in the Open Access Journal of Clinical Trials, Professor Judith Moskowitz of Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and her colleagues presented the findings of their randomized trial in which they tested the efficacy of a skills-based intervention, called the Intervention for those Recently Informed of their Seropositive Status (IRISS). The IRISS, focusing on positive affect as a mechanism of change, consists of five in-person sessions and one phone session in which facilitators teach participants of the study, I emphasize TEACH here, eight empirically-supported behavioral and cognitive “skills” for increasing positive affect. These eight skills are as follows:

1) noting daily positive events;

2) capitalizing on or savoring positive events;

3) gratitude;

4) mindfulness;

5) positive reappraisal;

6) focusing on personal strengths;

7) setting and working toward attainable goals;

8) small acts of kindness.

For a more information on the study please see the


If you are not into reading academic articles let me summarize it for you. To start with, think about this as your homework. Well, I see some of you raising eyebrows when I say homework but hey isn’t it good to go back to elementary school and just do your homework but nothing else? So look at it that way. You just have a homework to do and that’s it. Besides no matter how stressed we are, we all are experiencing positive events and most of the time we let it go by. So now instead of putting in the back of your mind, just try to recognize and remember positive events and the associated positive affect associated with those events. So next time you experience a positive event, says the researchers,

capitalize on it by “turning up the volume” (ie, increasing the intensity) of the associated positive affect by telling someone about it, writing about it, or simply reflecting on the event and re-experiencing it (p.90)

So go get a nice diary or journal- “daily gratitude journal” and start writing down at least one thing that you are grateful for that day. Each and every day we have one thing, one huge thing, that we should be grateful for. We are alive. When you wake up in the morning, Sadhguru says, check if you are alive. If you are, then you should be grateful because millions of people on Earth do not wake up to the new day. Then check if your loved ones are alive. Check your significant other whether he/she breathes or call him/her to hear that he/she is alive. Then call your mom, dad, sister, best friend and check if they made it. Tell them you are just grateful because they are alive. And do this every time you remember. Check the time, it’s 12 o’clock, be thankful because you are alive. If there is nothing else you can be grateful for, you should be ecstatic because you are STILL alive.

Next you are learning how to develop mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to a state where you are present. Remember present is a gift. It is not about yesterday, it is not about tomorrow, it is about today. Focus on the present moment. Do not get caught up in emotional reactions or ruminative thoughts about the situation. Do not think about the situation, just experience it.

Then we move on to developing the skill of positive reappraisal. How do we develop that skill? Like the others. Let’s pick an event that is so small for some but seems huge to you. Being late to work? Okay that might be a little more than small. How about a rude person sitting next to you in the subway/metro/train/bus and talking so loudly on the phone? Here is a challenge. Let’s develop the skill of positive reappraisal. Let me clarify what the term means. According to Moskowitz et al. positive reappraisal is a

way of dealing with stress in which the individual makes a positive change in how an event is interpreted or appraised. Noting that the event may not be as bad as originally thought, was not as bad as it could have been, or noting something positive that may come out of the event are all forms of positive reappraisal that are likely to be related to increased positive affect in the face of stress (p. 93).

Well good news is with continued practice you will automatically reappraise positively any event. Note a stressor of the day and see list the ways how you can positively reappraise this nuisance.

The sixth and seven steps are recognizing your strengths-your positive qualities and defining/setting attainable goals respectively. Researchers list four characteristics of attainable goals. First of, they are reasonable. Secondly, they are clear. They present a challenge yet it is not impossible to attain them in a given time.  This leads to the last characteristics: a clear end point. That means you should know when the goal has been successfully completed.

Finally we focus on altruistic behaviors also known as small acts of kindness like holding the door for someone or letting the lady behind you at the cashier to go in front of you. Here you focus on others. So in addition to all the seven steps, you are noting down one small act of kindness you did each day.

Following these guidelines can you learn how to be happy now?

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