Why Well-Being Is a Skill That Can Be Learned

“I kept doing the body scan to feel calm,” a fifth grade student explained to my colleagues as he recollected coping with a stressful situation at home. A “body scan” involves checking in with your body and noticing how it feels in the present moment. There’s no action required other than observing experiences as they unfold.

As a neuroscientist applying the insights of my center’s research to the real world, including in classrooms, I hear similar stories from people of all ages expressing a desire to calm their minds, to take baby steps to reduce negative emotions, improve well-being and respond with resilience to factors outside of our control. In this case, a student took a practice he learned in school, saw the value in it, and called on it as a coping skill during a moment of adversity.

This example is one of many that demonstrates the need to shift our thinking about well-being from a static “thing” to a set of skills that can be learned and cultivated over time — a notion supported by a growing body of scientific evidence I’ve outlined as an author of this year’s World Happiness Report, alongside expert authors Jeffrey Sachs, John Helliwell and Richard Layard, who contributed sections on economics and well-being.

Suffering — a key detriment to well-being — can, in many cases, be out of people’s personal control, whether it’s the millions who are starving or live in war zones or in places that harm health.

“Exercising our minds should be approached much in the same way we exercise our bodies.”

Yet in addition to these forms of suffering, we’ve found that our thoughts can also be a source of enduring suffering in both the mind and body.

If we take a step back and conduct —> Read More