What Does Metacognition Have To Do With Happiness?

woman staring off into the distance

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition may or may not be a word you’ve heard before. It sounds clunky and technical, so what it is and why would anyone care about it besides academic types? Don’t let the word fool you, metacognition is an important and valuable skill we can all use to increase our happiness. Let’s get into it a bit more.

Metacognition is the process of being aware of and understanding our thoughts and thought patterns. It’s thinking about your thinking. Here’s a metaphor that might help: we all know how to drive a car. We get in, operate the key and get to our destination. Have you ever thought about how you drive? Is it efficient?Do we swerve erratically and cut people off? Go slowly or quickly? Yes, we all drive through our lives – but the next layer is understanding how we do so and how effective our methods are.

Metacognition leads to efficiency.

This effectiveness piece is pivotal to using metacognition in a useful way. You may drive quickly, but that’s not the whole picture. We must then compare our fast driving to our goals and how useful our strategy is. Perhaps, when we look into it, we realize we drive quickly but rarely save time and get pulled over frequently. Is that a worthwhile strategy? We can apply this same sort of thinking to our minds and actions in general.

Repeating the process of examining our thoughts, then analyzing them for effectiveness is an excellent way to work on metacognition. Only by understanding ourselves can we act to make a change. There is a multitude of tactics we can use to fulfill the strategy of developing metacognition such as meditation, journaling, personality tests, reflection, and that’s only skimming the surface. Each is a tool to help us understand our own thinking better.

See Yourself From The Outside

Another way to think about metacognition is that you’re taking a bird’s-eye view of your thoughts. Imagine yourself as a captive audience in your own mind, looking around to see what thoughts come up. I probably won’t get that promotion. Why are you thinking that way? Do you have a trend toward self-defeating thoughts? Or are you being realistic because you know a co-worker is more qualified and you’re still learning?

There’s not meant to be any judgment when practicing metacognition, it’s simply a method for examining your mind. We all have intrusive and negative thoughts. We all have different beliefs and values. The value of metacognition is in understanding your thought patterns so you can change and you find limiting your potential.

Using Metacognition In Practice

Here’s an example; let’s say you’re having a hard time reading. I hate reading! I never retain any of the information. If you have a metacognitive moment, you might think – this is a sign. Why do I hate reading? What is this thought pattern based on? Answering those questions you may find out you struggle to retain read materials all the time but do well with audio. With this new knowledge, maybe an audiobook would be a better fit for you. By examining your thinking you can make realizations leading to more effective choices.


  1. Try practicing metacognition. As thoughts arise, ask where they came from and why you’re having them.

  2. When you identify one thought pattern you dislike, how can you challenge and change it?

  3. What methods for understanding your thoughts better most appealing to you? Remember back to our list, meditation, reflection, journaling, etc. There are plenty more!


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