Your Happiness Plan: 6 Steps to Starting Your Happiness Journey in 2019
By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.
You grow your happiness by building skills. Any time we are building skills, we do better when we have a plan to guide us. So here’s how you create a plan.
Why Do You Need a Happiness Plan?
You wouldn't bake a cake without a recipe. You wouldn't go to a place you've never been without a map. And you shouldn't try to build happiness without a plan either. Creating a good happiness plan is what takes you from where you are now to where you want to be.
How Do You Create Your Happiness Plan?
Take a moment to think about how you learned math. First, teachers told you which skills you needed to learn — skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Then they showed you HOW to practice these skills — by giving you worksheets and activities that helped you build these skills, practicing them over and over again until they were easy.
You build happiness the same exact same way. Someone with expertise tells you what skills you need to learn and how to learn these skills.
Most self-help books, courses, and apps do teach you what skills lead to happiness. But they fail to teach you how to build these skills.
Lets go back to the math example to explain. If you were just starting to learn math, a teacher would never have you first try some long division, then try some addition, and then find the circumference of a circle. But this is exactly what people do when trying to teach you happiness. It's a bit of mindfulness, then some kindness, then some gratitude. No method to the madness.
Well, it turns out that mindfulness is the equivalent of calculus and kindness is the equivalent of long division? This is why, to successfully increase your happiness, you have to follow the right steps, and practice the right skills, in the right order.
Create Your Happiness Plan in 8 Steps
A good happiness plan takes all these factors into consideration — the WHAT, the HOW, the WHY, and the WHEN. Hopefully these 6 steps to create your own happiness plan will boil it down a bit for you.
Step 1: Clarify Why You Are Building Your Happiness
We are far more likely to do something when we know why we're doing it. To create greater motivation to increase our own happiness, we have to have clarified for ourself why we are even bothering with this darn happiness thing.
When clarifying your why, be specific. Note all the reasons why building your happiness is an important goal for you and why you are willing to put in major effort to do it.
Step 2: Clarify When You'll Build Your Happiness
If you wanted to speak a new language, play a new instrument, or learn any other new skills, you would have to set aside time to practice these skills. The same thing is true for building your happiness skills.
By clarifying the exact time when you'll increase your happiness you make it more likely that you'll actually do it. By scheduling time for your happiness, you'll make more progress.
Step 3: Decide What Skills to Build
Over the last few years, I've been researching happiness, and I've explored the benefit of a lot of different happiness skills. Based on this research, these are the skills I believe to be most important to human happiness.
Build happiness skills that have a bigger impact on happiness
It sounds obvious, but if your plan is to increase your happiness, you should be building skills that actually have a big impact on your happiness. Not all skills are created equal.
As you can see in the figure below, each of the ten top skills is correlated with happiness—but some skills are more strongly correlated with happiness than others. The skills on the left side of the chart are more strongly correlated with happiness. As you move to the right, the skills are less strongly correlated with (i.e., related to) happiness.
This research suggests that, if you only have time and energy for building one skill, you might get the greatest boost in happiness from building self-confidence.
But, you have to be careful with how you interpret this research. It's easy to think that maybe you should just create a happiness plan with self-confidence and hey, you're done! Hold on. It's not quite that easy.
First, the relationship between these skills and happiness is not always linear. For example, if your work-life balance is awful, it has a huge impact in your happiness. If your work-life balance is so-so, then it has a smaller impact on your happiness.
The same is true with kindness. A little kindness goes a long way when it comes to your happiness.
In the figures below, you can see that if your scores are very low on work-life balance or kindness, these skills have a huge impact on your happiness (that's why the line is very steep). As your scores get a bit better (above a 2 or 3), these skills contribute less to your happiness.
This means that building certain skills, like work-life balance and kindness, is more important for some people than others. And if you score low on a skill, it's likely more important that you build this skill (but more on that later).
Other skills, like self confidence, are related to happiness no matter what your score. This means that building this skill, regardless of whether your score is high or low, is likely to help you improve your happiness. In the figure below, see how the line is nearly flat? That means each little boost you have in self-confidence is expected to result in a little boost in happiness.
Ok. That's enough statistics (sorry about that!) The main point I want to drive home is that all these skills are important. You need to build all of them to be as happy as possible. But the extent to which each skill will impact your happiness depends on many factors. So you might want to start with skills that are likely to have the biggest impact, for you. Keep reading to find out more about this.
Step 4: Decide What Order to Build These Skills
Because all of the happiness skills are important, there is not a wrong way to map your happiness journey. But, just like taking a short-cut would get you to a destination quicker, there are ways to get your "happiness destination" quicker by prioritizing some skills over other skills.
These guidelines can help you decide what to do first.
Start by working on a happiness skill that you are weaker at
(To get a FREE report showing you your strengths and weaknesses, TAKE THE QUIZ. You'll get scores from 1 (low) to 10 (high) on each skill.)
Working on your "weak skills" is often thoughts to be the most effective approach for making the best and fastest overall progress on your happiness. Why? Because you have more room for improvement on these skills.
But keep in mind, this is likely also the most challenging approach. Why? Well, these skills wouldn't be your weak skills if they weren't already hard for you to build, right? So building these skills wont be easy.
Start by working on skills that you think will be the most enjoyable
This is the approach that is believed to be most effective if you often quit things quickly or get bored easily. By choosing to build a skill that you will enjoy more, you'll stick to building this skill for longer and make more progress than if you started building skills that were boring for you.
Start by working on basic or easier skills
This is likely the best approach if you're new to the science of happiness, if you are questioning the benefit of building these skills, or if you are doubting your own ability to build the skills that lead to happiness. By choosing an easy skill, you can get a quick, easy win. This way, you'll discover that building these skills is indeed possible and, as a result, you'll be more likely to stick to it.
There is some evidence suggesting that positive thinking is the easiest skill—which includes gratitude and savoring—but remember, it depends on who you are and what you personally are good at.
Step 5: Commit to Your Happiness Goals
The human brain is silly. We don’t like to let ourselves down or feel like liars. So one little way we can help ourselves stick to our goals is by making a written commitment to ourselves that we will stick to them.
So before starting to build your happiness, make a commitment to stick to this goal and be clear about exactly what you are committing to.
Step 6: Decide How You Will Build These Skills
You can use these tips here to create a really effective happiness plan—one that helps you progress quickly and efficiently. But, as you may have gathered, it can sometimes be hard to figure out exactly where to start, what to do, and how to do it.
So I've aimed to take all these considerations (and more) into account to create a happiness program that helps you build your happiness more strategically. You focus on the basics, the high-impact skills, and the fun stuff first before graduating to more complex topics. Check out the Happiness Program Here to learn more.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.