Want to be happier with your life and less likely to be depressed? Here’s a research-backed way of getting there that I think you will really enjoy: Focus on what you are good at.

A New York Times story, “Get happy: Four well-being workouts,” is still one of the most popular articles on the site, five days after it was first published. For the first of the four workouts, your instructions are to focus on your signature strengths:

“Write down a story about a time when you were at your best…Reread it every day for a week, and each time ask yourself: “What personal strengths did I display when I was at my best?” Did you show a lot of creativity? Good judgment? Were you kind to other people? Loyal? Brave? Passionate? Forgiving? Honest?

“…The next step is to contemplate how to use these strengths to your advantage, intentionally organizing and structuring your life around them.”

A study in which participants put their signature strength to good use in new ways every day for a week produced heartening results. Participants felt happier about their lives and less depressed a week later. After six months, those life improvements were still evident.

It is far too easy to focus on what we are not good at – and we all have plenty of things that fit that description. Take a break from that. Think about what you are good at. Then use the answer as a guide to your life. Because what you are good at (with some exceptions) is probably also what you enjoy. If you have the good fortune to be able to do so, choose your career, or your next job, based on the relevance of your signature strengths to that job.

Same for how you navigate the other parts of your life. If your special strengths are people skills, allow yourself lots of time with other people. That probably sounds obvious. Maybe the implications of other skills are less so. If, for example, your signature strength is creativity, and it is the sort of creativity that flourishes when you are by yourself, then give yourself the gift of a lot of alone time. Do that even if other people are giving you a hard time about not being sociable enough.

There is one more deeply consequential component of focusing on strengths: Focus on other people’s strengths, too, not just your own. Again, it can be so easy to focus on what is annoying or disappointing in other people, whether they are friends or colleagues or romantic partners or relatives or anyone else. And sometimes, the annoying and disappointing parts are so dominant (or even dangerous) that investing in the relationship is just not advisable. But for everyone else, remind yourself of what you admire in them. Then let them know, too. It may just change their life. Maybe it will change yours, too.

Photo by Brettonium