I believe that people have an instinctual desire to lead happy, fulfilling lives.

In my TEDx talk below I define happiness as “a feeling of wholeness, and deep fulfillment with one’s life.”

And, I believe that happiness is our birthright. Not because we “deserve” it, or deserve anything for that matter. But because we are built for it. Because it is possible to experience happiness in any life and every life is worthy of it.

Happiness is not selfish. Rather, cultivating happiness is the most important contribution any of us can make. The decisions made by people who experience life as deeply fulfilling bless the earth with life and love.

I have been studying and working in the field of positive psychology (the scientific study of human thriving) for about six years. Because of positive psychology we now know that the skills of happiness can be learned. In fact, the research indicates that about 50% of our happiness is entirely within our control. That’s like the difference between being a 10 instead of a 5 on a scale of 1-10 — huge. Yes, genetics play a role, and life circumstances play an even smaller role (about 10%),  butanyone can learn to think and behave in ways that are proven to make you feel more fulfilled.

Some people will argue that focusing on one’s own happiness is counter-productive. The best way to become happier is to avoid happiness-seeking. But I disagree. I believe those who hold this belief have not properly understood happiness. Cultivating happiness does not mean choosing the most pleasurable experiences for oneself. It means looking deeper into what makes human beings feel truly and deeply satisfied and revolving life around that, instead of revolving life around arbitrary social and cultural expectations.

For instance, the person who has studied happiness and desires happiness would revolve their life around connecting deeply with people and maintaining strong relationships, instead of revolving around making more money and rising to the top of their career trajectory as quickly as possible. This type of shift is what I mean when I say cultivating happiness. And it works.

Based on my research and my work as a life coach, the route to happiness can be summarized in two key steps:

  1. Developing an optimistic attitude.
  2.  Building strong relationships.

To quote Russell Brand, “It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy.”

Becoming happier takes practice. For example, most people take setbacks personally, and let failures derail them. We focus more on what went wrong than on what didn’t go wrong. We let a bad morning ruin our day.

But, with practice, anyone can become more optimistic. We can ask ourselves questions that shift our perspective from negative to positive and enable us to see new possibilities.

Building strong relationships also takes practice (and vigilance). Guess what? Most marriages fail. Most families don’t get along (does yours?).

Why? Because we are notoriously bad at relationships.

Good news: We can learn how to be better at relationships too. And we must. The research is very clear: without strong, loving relationships happiness is absolutely, positively not possible. It will remain out of reach.

Take a look at the two steps to lifelong happiness: