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a happy life: skills for thriving

Updated on September 6, 2012

The Skills for a Happy Life

I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be happy. I know a lot of people frustrated in their quest to find real happiness. We all want to know the secret about how to make our life happy, fulfilling, full of joy and pleasure.

The secret to a happy life is skillful living. We need skills in 5 basic areas of life to ensure our happiness. The wonderful news is that everyone can learn these skills and improve how well they master them. That includes you.

In this lens, I will introduce the five areas of skills that are required for a happy live. I will also introduce some of the most essential skills that will make an immediate difference in your life. I look forward to hearing from you. Good Luck. ~Jim

Finding Happiness

Three levels for a happy, fulfilling life.

Happiness has been understood in a lot of different ways. These days money and the things that money can buy is often the focus in our quest for happiness. Celebrity can also become a focus. Of course, there are always some who desire power and hope that that will make them happy. Food, sex ,altered states of mind and other pleasures are also widely embraced. Unfortunately each of these approaches generate as many difficulties and they resolve and generate as much stress as they solve problems.

Instead of these approaches, I think about happiness as three basic levels of life. As we master each level we provide the foundation for the next level. As we work through this process, growing and mastering each level, we are creating the foundations for a life full of happiness.

Satisfying Our Needs

The first level of happiness comes when we learn to satisfy our basic, foundational life needs. These include things like food, housing, transportation, clothing and love. Without these few people would claim to be truly happy. These things are essential and it can be difficult to ensure that we have adequate supplies. Satisfying our basic needs can be challenging.

The struggle to satisfy our basic needs and the anxiety that arises when we are concerned that we will not have enough food, shelter, transportation, clothes or love in our lives. Some people become completely focused on getting more and more. Others find the pleasures that come with these needs being met, and met with abundance, so pleasurable that they stop right here, focusing on acquiring ever more.

But there is more to living a happy life.

Cultivating Our Capacities

Humans have the option to address the challenges of life in a number of ways. Skillful solutions integrate the practical realities of being human with the practical realities of living in the world as it really is to create excellent resolutions to the challenges at hand. These challenges ca be physical, practical, emotional, moral or spiritual.

This approach, focused on skillful solutions, is what we mean when we talk about virtue. Virtue isn't something we are born with, but the qualities we develop with skills, practice and habit. The really good news is we can develop our capacity for more skillful solution at any time we choose. We can take steps toward a happier live immediately.

When we haven't cultivated the skills and habits of skillful solutions, we are left with less effective solutions for the challenges we face in life. These ineffective solutions lead to greater unhappiness in our lives. Without skillful solutions we rely upon other approaches like blaming others for our situation, avoidance and distraction by using food, sex, drugs, alcohol and shopping to change our moods, and using others in an effort to meet our own needs. This approach leads to greater conflict with others and often serious unintended consequences. By the way, this is what we mean when we talk about vice.

Skillful solutions lead to greater happiness. Skillful solutions lead to better relationships. It is true that skillful solutions can be difficult in the beginning and challenging to learn, but the outcome, over a lifetime make for a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

Building on the foundation of skillful solutions each of us can pursue our own unique gifts. We can pursue them as far as we like knowing we were meant to live fully in the world as it really is. We are each granted gifts in different amounts and in different areas of life. Ignoring these gifts or letting them go undeveloped will mean there is less joy, pleasure and happiness in our lives. Cultivating our gifts adds to the interest, meaning and significance we experience and will lead to happier living.

This combination of skillful solutions and cultivating our own gifts is essential to our quest for happiness.

Fulfilling Our Big Wants

The third level to happiness is to fulfill our big wants. Interestingly, we want to start here, but the results are ruinous if we do. It is like having a four year old plan our dinner. The menu might consist of ice cream, cookies and gummy worms. Delightful if you like them, but not an ideal dinner. In fact, a stead diet like this will be a disaster.

Our big wants work in the same way. If we begin with our appetites like sex, money and power, we will create a legacy of discord, destruction and disaster. Not the makings of a life full of happiness. It is like a child eating only dessert.

But when our big wants are informed with our needs satisfied and our capacities as humans and individuals they change. Our big wants are no longer more money, nicer cars, bigger houses or more sex. Instead, we become involved in the needs of our community, contributing solutions that come from our experience of satisfying our own needs and cultivating our ability to find skillful solutions and apply our individual gifts.

Three levels of living set the patterns for a happy life. As we move from level to level, we are laying the sure foundations for happiness. Now let's look at the areas of skill that we need to live a happy life.

There are five sets f skills essential for a happy life. We will look at each briefly in the sections that follow. I will include links to other lenses that will discuss how we build these specific skills.


The Foundational Skill

Optimism is an ability and habit. It is the hope that the future will be good. Hope isn't just a feeling that comes and goes according to our circumstances, fortune or mood. Hope is a virtue, a skill, that can be learned and practiced. If you feel hopeless today, you can take specific steps to cultivate hope and optimism.

Without optimism daily life is more difficult. We are weighed down with the experience of stress more than those with an optimistic perspective. We have more negative outcomes when we are without optimism. Our health isn't as good. We aren't as productive at work or at home. Our relationships suffer.

Without optimism, it is unlikely that any of the other skill areas will be as effective as they could be. Changing our life depends on the belief that we can, in fact, make the changes we desire. That doing things differently will bring us different outcomes.

It makes sense after all. When we think that our efforts won't be meaningful or effective, we will not act as often as someone who is sure that they will find a way. Someone who is pessimistic will try, fail and quit. Maybe they will try a couple of time or maybe they won't try at all. In the end they will quit. Optimists on the other hand will try, fail, try fail, try fail and eventually solve their problem. They are almost immune to failure.

Optimists, people with hope, share a couple of qualities. First, they have a bias toward action. That is to say, instead of ruminating about what has gone wrong, they try something else.

Optimists also share an ability to see their situation as temporary. They know that it will eventually pass and change. Bad or unwanted experiences and situations are not seen as proof of their own flaws. It is just stuff that happens. It isn't permanent, it will pass. It isn't universal, it is only temporary. Optimists are able to see the problem as the problem and are able to keep their emotional and mental focus there.

There is more about optimism that I want to share with you and I am building the lens now. I will include more about how to cultivate hope and optimism and how it will transform your life.

Emotional Intelligence

The Skills of Caring for Ourselves

Emotional intelligence skills allow us to master three important areas that are central to happiness. First is self-awareness, the ability to know what we feel and think. It is the clear understanding of why we do what we do. It is the ability to predict our choices before we make them.

Emotional intelligence also cultivates self-control. Self-control allows us to manage ourselves. We do what we must for the long term of our life while still caring for ourselves in the short term. We are able to regulate our actions as different emotions and experiences flood us. We can defer our impulses until appropriate times.

Self-motivation, the third area of emotional intelligence, builds on both self-awareness and self-control. Knowing how to get ourselves to move forward, toward new or difficult goals, overcome obstacles and staying focused on what is truly important is essential for happiness. Without this we will be sidetracked with every new challenge and every new interest and our essential, core goals and dreams will never come true.

Coming soon is a lens on developing the skills of emotional intelligence.

Social Intelligence

The Skills of Caring for Others

Once we have learned the basics of caring for ourselves through emotional intelligence, we can more effectively care for others with more skilled social intelligence. Interestingly, when Daniel Goleman wrote his popular book, Emotional Intelligence, he combined emotional intelligence with social intelligence. Since then he has written another book called, Social Intelligence which does a wonderful job separating everything out.

Social intelligence is all about how we care for others. It is based in empathy and if we are willing empathy can be learned. As we learn the skills and perspective of empathy all of our relationships will change.

The first part of social intelligence is becoming aware of others. We become aware of how they are feeling, thinking and why they do what they do. We become aware of how life's events impact them and how our thoughts, feelings and actions impact them. This will open up a whole new world of understanding for you and those close to you.

The second part of social awareness is interdependence. In life we start as totally dependent people as babies. If all goes we later grow through various stages like the terrible twos and the teen years, to becoming independent. As we mature, if we are fortunate we learn t become interdependent. We learn how important our relationships are with each person and how we work together for shared goals and shared lives.

This doesn't always happen and many of us either stay dependent or codependent or we go too far and become counter-dependent. As dependent or co-dependent adults our individual needs and perspectives are not well defined and we expect others to care for us. In counter-dependence our individual needs and perspective become too rigid and aggressive and we are unable to effectively interact with others. In both ways we decrease our happiness and increase of conflict.

Learning how to be interdependent, sharing our lives and goals is skilled based just like the other things we have been discussing. Becoming interdependent can be challenging. We may need to look at a number of skills and perspectives along the way, but it is essential to a life of happiness.

The third area of social awareness is motivating others. There are countless times when we need to motivate other people in life and being skillful will make all of the difference. By the way, we call this skill, motivating others, leadership. The world is looking for leaders who are skillful at motivating others to solve problems. This is essential to the last level of happiness, fulfilling our big wants.

I am building a lens on social intelligence that will be ready soon, so please check back.

Moral Intelligence

The Skills of Choosing Well

We call the skills of moral intelligence the ability of choosing well. We are able to choose good from poor, better from good and best from better. That is what we mean by moral intelligence. It comes to life as we set goals and create a vision for how our life should be lived.

This sounds rather easy and straight forward when we talk about it like this, but making better choices can be difficult. One particular choice can be influenced by a large number of other choices that we have made or have avoided making. We can make seemingly good choices for today and entirely miss the great long term choice we need to make for an important future goal.

Moral intelligence cultivates the capacity for taking personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, habits, actions and outcomes. We choose and we then we choose again. Moral intelligence is essential to happiness because happiness is closely related to our ability to choose. With strong moral intelligence skills, we are able to make more opportunities that allow for choice and we are better able to choose better.

I am working on a lens about how we cultivate the habits of moral intelligence. Please check back soon.

Practical Intelligence

The Skills of Getting Things Done

Practical intelligence include the skills that we need to get things done. This builds upon all of the rest. Once we have a real understanding of how to live with ourselves and others and know what is good, better and best, we are ready to make things happen.

Personal intelligence is the practice of excellence. These are the shills of success. The daily tasks of everyday are met and accomplished with economy and speed. Things like planning, preparing, time management, delegation and follow through are all skills that fall into this category. Without these skills great ideas, beautiful plan and high hopes fail and never come to life. Without the skills of practical intelligence a happy life will be hard to find.

I am working on a lens about practical intelligence and hope to have it completed soon. Please check back soon.

Practical Intelligence from Amazon - These are some of the books I recomend

Happiness comes and grows when we increase the number of skillful solutions available to us in our lives. It is a life long process but can begin immediately. Good luck and drop me a note on your journey. Thanks.

Love to hear from you. Tell me what you are thinking.

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