In my study of happiness, I've labored to identify its fundamental principles, and when I started, I remember asking myself over and over, "I want to make my life happier, but how do I even think about that aim?"
After a lot of work and revision, I figured our a framework: To be happier, we need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
- Feeling good: do more of what brings us joy, love, fun, connection, awe, interest
- Feeling bad: do less of what brings us anger, resentment, guilt, boredom, irritation
- Feeling right: ensure that our lives reflect our values
- In an atmosphere of growth: this one took me much longer to identify!
To feel happy, we need to feel growth—a sense of learning, of betterment, of advancement, of mastery, of contributing to the growth of others, of fixing things, improving things, making things better, assuming responsibilities.
Growth helps to explain the happiness brought by children, by gardens, by pay raises, by stamp collections, by training for a marathon or cleaning out the garage or volunteering to get the finances organized at a local non-profit.
And a key version of the "atmosphere of growth" is learning. We get such a happiness boost from learning.
Over and over, people tell me about the energy, satisfaction, and joy they've found in learning: Spanish, the guitar, bird identification, CPR training, podcasting, starting a side hustle...the list goes on and on.
One happiness-boosting way to learn is to identify something you already love (Italian food, the TV show The Wire, the writing of Virginia Woolf, tennis) and learn more about it—how to understand it better or how to do it yourself. The more we bring to something, the more we get from it.
When you're ready to learn, you might read articles or books, watch documentaries, take a class, watch YouTube videos, get a friend, neighbor, family member or co-worker to teach you...once you decide you want to learn, there are so many sources of information. And, as the saying goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
There is such happiness in learning, and the atmosphere of growth also explains the joy of teaching. To help someone learn, grow, develop useful skills, improve, hone mastery, develop potential—it's tremendously exciting. Both student and teacher participate in an atmosphere of growth.
Of course, learning and teaching can also involve feelings of frustration, insecurity, boredom, impatience, and anger. Happiness doesn't always make us feel happy; that is, what makes us happier over the course of our lives, and gives us the satisfaction of creating the life we want, doesn't always make us happier in the moment. Sometimes, to be happier, we have to deprive ourselves, or demand a lot from ourselves.
"To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth" has become the first of my Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.
About the Author
Gretchen Rubin is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on the linked subjects of habits, happiness, and human nature. She’s the author of many blockbuster New York Times bestselling books, including The Happiness Project and Better Than Before. Her books have sold more than three million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages. On her award-winning podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she shares insights, strategies, stories, and tips that help people understand themselves and create happier lives.