This article is the second of a two-part series on happiness. The first article (Aug. 19, 2023) focused on things that research shows won’t make you happy. This second article will discuss ways that modern science says about “How to Get Happy,” i.e., the kind of person who embraces each and every single moment. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing, Special Health Report — Positive Psychology)

Although the 50+-page Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School contains over a dozen scientifically backed suggestions for attaining “true contentment,” this article will focus on three: (1) Savoring pleasure; (2) Getting engaged and absorbed; and (3) Mindfulness. Two other suggestions for happiness will be discussed at a later date — i.e., “Gratitude” around Thanksgiving and “Forgive Someone” next Easter.


Savoring is placing your attention on pleasure as it occurs, consciously enjoying the experience as it unfolds. Most people are primed to experience pleasure in special moments, such as a wedding day or a vacation, but during everyday occurrences. You can become happier by learning to savor the positive aspects of your present life. Here are some suggestions:

Single-task. Multitasking is the enemy of savoring. Try as you might, you can’t fully pay attention to multiple things. If you’re walking the dog on a beautiful path but mentally staring at your day’s to-do list, you’re missing the moment. If you’re scanning the newspaper and listening to the radio during breakfast, you’re not getting the pleasure you could from that meal. Of course, some combined activities, like popcorn, at the movies make for a richer sensory experience — but don’t pile on so much stimulation that you dilute your ability to enjoy it.

Celebrate. Don’t keep the good moments of your life (or your loved ones’ lives) to yourself. Let yourself be happy when you complete a project or when something goes well. Savor your accomplishments.

Slow down. It turns out that time affluence (having the time to enjoy your life and participate in the activities you want) predicts happiness better than monetary affluence. As much as you can, eliminate some of the less enjoyable ways you spend your time (do you really need to check your email again?) so you can enjoy the pleasurable experiences in your day without rushing.

Share the moment. Inviting someone else to share an activity can enhance the pleasure. Together you can relish the sunset, symphony, or walk around the park.

Reminisce and anticipate. Reminiscing about vacations and victories, or cherishing past precious moments with loved ones, can be very satisfying. Savoring pleasure may seem like strictly a “be here now” activity, but you can also savor things in the past and even the future.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, you can also enhance pleasures that have not yet happened. As you plan vacations or meals, imagine and savor the pleasures to come. Talk about your plans.

Happiness and choice. Happiness does depend in part upon having choices, but only up to a point. The more options you have, the more opportunities you have to regret the choice you’ve made. Do you wish you’d chosen a different Medicare drug plan? Or a different cellphone? The more choices there are, the smaller the percentage that seem to be “right.”

Your temperament. In decision-making, there tend to be “maximizers” and “satisficers.” If you’re the type of person who says, “I never settle for second best,” psychologists would call you a maximizer, or perfectionist. In your quest for the best deal or product, you need to evaluate all the choices before making a decision. Maximizers face a fear of missing out on a better option. And that fear of missing out can lead to regret and anxiety.

In contrast, other people have standards for what they want in a given circumstance. As soon as something meets those standards (which can be high or low), they make the decision. Psychologists refer to these people as satisficers.

It turns out that “good enough” is better than perfect. While it may appear that maximizers make the best decisions, they also tend to evaluate their decisions more negatively than satisficers.

Satisficers tend to be more satisfied with their decisions. If a better choice comes along, satisficers still feel good about the decision they made. Maximizers, when faced with a better option after making a choice, tend to beat themselves up and see themselves as poor decision-makers.


Have you ever been so immersed in what you were doing that all distractions and background chatter just fell away? People report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing. Psychologists have dubbed this state of intense absorption as “flow.”

In studies, the experience of flow led to positive emotions in the short term, and over the long term, people who more frequently experienced flow were generally happier. Researchers have also found that people vary in how easy they find it to enter flow. No matter what your natural tendency, recognizing how flow occurs (or doesn’t) in your life and creating more opportunities for flow can be a potent route to increased happiness.

You lose awareness of time. You aren’t watching the clock, and hours can pass like minutes. As filmmaker George Lucas puts it, talent is “a combination of something you love a great deal and something you can lose yourself in — something that you can start at 9 in the morning, look up from your work and it’s 10 o’clock at night.”

You aren’t thinking about yourself. You aren’t focused on your comfort, and you aren’t wondering how you look or how your actions will be perceived by others. Your awareness of yourself is only in relation to the activity itself, such as your fingers on a piano keyboard, or the way you position a knife to cut vegetables, or your shifting balance as you walk or exercise.

You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts. You aren’t thinking about such mundane matters as your shopping list or what to wear tomorrow. You are active and in control. Flow activities aren’t passive, and you have some control over what you are doing. People report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.

You work effortlessly. Flow activities require effort (usually more effort than what is involved in typical daily experience). Although you may be working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is “clicking” and feels almost effortless. You would like to repeat the experience. Flow is intrinsically rewarding, something you would like to replicate.


Modern science has found that “mindfulness” is a key element in happiness. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment. Above all, practicing mindfulness involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment without judgment.

Of course, the Buddhists will say they’ve been practicing mindfulness for centuries. Christians also. Jesus said, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) In fact, most religions include some type of prayer or meditation technique that helps shift your thoughts away from your worries and fears toward an appreciation of the moment and a larger perspective on life.

In fact, mindfulness is now part of mainstream health care and brings benefits in both physical and psychological symptoms, as well as demonstrating positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself. If your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others. Mindfulness is a skill that can be acquired by training the mind to focus its attention on the present moment in a systematic way, while accepting whatever arises.

It can be especially hard to be mindful when you’re multi-tasking — how can you take stock of how you feel in the present moment if you are folding the laundry, keeping one eye on the kids, and trying to watch your favorite TV show at the same time? Small wonder that while juggling tasks and taking in these streams of information, you may find yourself losing your connection with the present moment — missing out on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.

You can cultivate mindfulness informally by focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. This is done by single-tasking — doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you floss your teeth, pet the dog, or eat an apple, slow down the process and be fully present as it unfolds and involves all of your senses.

You can learn mindfulness on your own, following instructions from books, DVDs. But, most Rafu readers will probably be better off with the help and support of an instructor or group to answer questions and help you stay motivated. Look for mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi ( compatible with your beliefs and goals) at your local senior center, gym, or YMCA.

For example, mindfulness meditation builds upon concentration practices. In mindfulness meditation, once you establish concentration, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad. You also notice things originating outside the body, such as sounds, sights, and smells that make up your moment-to-moment experience.

In conclusion, being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities (thus increasing flow). Scientists are even finding that mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety and depression. Why not give it a try?


Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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