Happiness Not as a Trait But as a Skill

Computer monitors display imaged data in the control room of the fMRI scanner at the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior.
© UW-Madison University Communications  (
Photo by  Jeff Miller) “Now we mostly have monks and other religious figures preaching about these ideas [compassion training]. It's quite another thing to have a hard-nosed neuroscientist like me suggest that such training may have beneficial consequences for how we act toward others as well as promoting health. Most people accept the idea that regular physical exercise is something they should do for the remainder of their lives. Imagine how different things might be if we accepted the notion that the regular practice of mental exercises to strengthen compassion is something to incorporate into everyday life…I've been talking about happiness not as a trait but as a skill, like tennis. If you want to be a good tennis player, you can't just pick up a racket—you have to practice."

~ Richard Davidson, from “This Is Your Brain on Happiness,” by Penelope Green, O, The Oprah Magazine (March 1, 2008)