laughing children Chien-min Chung | getty images

Happiness by Design

Until recently, it seemed sensible to assume that our happiness was determined by factors – luck, fate, or genes – beyond our control. New discoveries, however, point to a fresh way of thinking about happiness, as something over which we do have control – and that can be taught and even legislated.

LONDON – Over the last few years, thinking on happiness has undergone a sea change. Until recently, it seemed sensible to assume that our happiness was determined by factors such as luck, fate, or genes that are beyond our control. It was easy to believe that, in the words of Samuel Beckett, the “tears of the world are a constant quantity.”

But new discoveries point to fresh ways of thinking about happiness, as something over which we do have control and that can be taught.

Happiness depends on many factors, from obvious things, like enjoying good health and close relationships, to others that might not seem immediately intuitive, like engaging in generous behavior. Some of these can be learned or cultivated, and courses that teach positive mental habits – like appreciating things that matter or avoiding dwelling on setbacks – have demonstrated measurable improvements in wellbeing. The Dalai Lama recently helped launch a series of such courses in London, developed by Action for Happiness, an organization that I helped found.

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