Emotional intelligence–the extent to which we understand and influence our own emotions and those of others–is the very essence of our humanity. At it’s most reductive, it is the ability to not be a jerk. (That’s not the word I want to use, but I’m trying to keep it clean.)

We don’t form it by having it modeled for us or by reading a book. It is informed by a lifetime of our individual experiences. It is a mark of experience, but one we can short-cut by making real-time connections that matter.

Generally speaking, decades of tech innovations have made our lives easier – without a doubt – but they’ve also enabled us to get away with terribly low emotional intelligence. Now the digital age all but demands that every last one of us improve it on purpose, and earlier.

Here’s why–and how you can achieve it.

Case in point: Show some respect to A.I.

As the brainchild of man, A.I. is a reflection of us–for better or worse. Conversational assistants like Siri and Alexa are “learning” from everyone in speaker-shot, not only A.I. developers.

“It is well known in the tech community that people say horrible things to these assistants. You would be appalled,” explains Mary Czerwinski, research manager of the Visualization and Interaction (VIBE) research group at Microsoft.

“What worries us is that children using Alexa, for example, to do their homework or crack jokes–left unchecked–the artificial assistant could model really poor behavior (based on what it learned from adults),” Czerwinski says.

If improved interpersonal dynamics and earning potential aren’t reason enough to develop emotional intelligence, consider this–we have no business teaching machines how to interpret emotion and act accordingly if we can’t get it right for ourselves.

Our collective responsibility to teach artificial assistants how to respond to or demonstrate an emotional response is essentially an act of global parenting. I challenge all of us to model a range of emotions and conversations when engaging with conversational A.I., and to talk to them respectfully, much in the same way we try to do with our children and even our co-workers.

So what does it mean to develop emotional intelligence?

Great question. So glad you asked. The extent of our emotional intelligence informs how we communicate. And how we communicate teaches A.I. what it means to be human(like). It’s worth it that we all do better.

Let’s assume an A.I. visionary leading a team of developers nails the notion of empathy. Does that mean his team–the very people responsible for programming technology to be quasi-empathetic–will automatically nail it, too?

That’s a hard no, simply because the application of empathy and developing our emotional intelligence are deeply personal pursuits. It is illogical to expect a team or individual to reflect the same of their boss.

At its core, emotional intelligence is not learned, it is earned, making it achievable by everyone.

By familiarizing ourselves with the framework of emotional intelligence, and first choosing one area on which to focus our attention, such as empathy, we can make gigantic strides toward improved interpersonal communication and outcomes benefiting everyone – including the A.I. we’re collectively teaching.

Start with empathy.

“Empathy is the next killer app,” offers Mark Edmunds, senior partner and board member at Deloitte. “Learning or improving empathy starts with listening to learn, not to respond.”

Edmunds suggests the practice of pausing for 3-5 seconds before responding. Taking a beat is a tacit signal that you care enough about someone’s contributions to consider them. And, assuming you can rapidly distill what you heard, you are all but guaranteeing an empathetic response. (Side note: this technique calls up another aspect of emotional intelligence–impulse control.)

For us humans practicing it, we’ll be astounded by how much we learn through active listening and a meaningful pause. And for AI developers everywhere, this is a behavior they can program to mimic a human.

As I write this, I ask Alexa how she feels. She quips about feeling bright and loud like her holiday sweater. (Cheeky monkey.) When I ask her if she can tell how I’m feeling, she says, “Hmm. I’m not sure.”

Maybe one day soon that will change.

The 7 Best Pieces of Advice for Living a Happy Life

If truth is relative to what you believe, then happiness is directly correlated to what you pursue.

Everyone is in search of how to live a happy life–when in reality, the search begins with you. Happiness is not “found.” It is realized.

It is already right here.

(For all of you rolling your eyes, read the above sentence again and take a big deep breath as you read it.)

1. Stay true to yourself.

So much unhappiness stems from making decisions that go against what you know in your core, your gut, to be right. Deep down, you don’t want to do it–but you do it anyway. You listen to your head. You try to convince yourself the raise is worth it, or the risk is too great, or it’s better to just stay put, to keep your head down.

Staying true to yourself is a challenge, yes. But effectively suppressing your true self is even more challenging.

2. Do what you love–not what you’re told to love.

To spend time (especially a considerable amount of time) doing what you love takes work. Hard work. And the truth is, most people give up. They get a job to pay the bills and do what they love “on the side.” Eventually, they lose motivation, fall into the comfort of routine, and give up the very thing they once valued the most. And for years, then, they look back in regret, almost basking in the statement, “I wish I could have…”.

It might take a while for you to realize it, but at some point you will. You will feel an immense sense of loss for not having stuck with the thing that once brought you true joy. Even if you never make it your career. Even if you only do it for yourself, still, do it. The fact that “doing something for yourself” is seen as a waste of time and energy is testament enough to our achievement-based society.

3. Create the environment that’s right for you.

If you are an extrovert, don’t allow yourself to work a job that suppresses that part of you. If you are an introvert, don’t try to contort yourself to an extroverted company culture. Your own happiness is a reflection of your day-to-day, the things you’re doing, and most important, how you are doing them.

Create your own environment. Put yourself in a place that will help you grow, not suppress your growth. Surround yourself with people who understand, or at least make the effort to understand you. There are always options. Do not settle for someplace that does not feed your core.

4. Choose your friends wisely.

You are a reflection of the five people you spend the most time with–choose them wisely. If they complain a lot, you will inevitably complain a lot. If they are lazy, you will become lazy. If they are not actively improving themselves, you will not actively improve yourself–unless you leave the situation and find others who will reflect that part of you.

It is very difficult to remain in a state of happiness when you are surrounded by negativity.

5. Develop positive habits.

We as humans like to believe “happiness” is the destination wherein there is no more challenge. Everything is easy.

In fact, it is quite the opposite. We love challenge. We thrive off challenge. We grow through challenge. We discover ourselves by being challenged. And it is not the thing itself, but your emotional state that decides whether or not that process of growing and being challenged is enjoyable, in the same way a workout can be enjoyable or grueling and painful (in the same way a workout to someone out of shape can be grueling and painful).

The simple act of developing positive habits in itself brings a deeply “earned” happiness. We are happy because we have overcome ourselves.

6. Create certainty and leave room for uncertainty.

If everything in your life is planned out, then it’s boring. If nothing in your life is planned out, then it’s risky and uneasy.

Happiness is found somewhere in the middle. You want just enough certainty in your life to feel like you have ground to stand on, you’re not completely in danger, but you’ve left the window open for spontaneity to sneak in for a sleepover every now and then.

It’s the spontaneous adventures that bring extreme moments of joy. But they are best enjoyed when you know you have something safe to land on as well.

7. Be vulnerable.

Frightening, but there is an unrivaled happiness that comes through acts of vulnerability. These moments confirm we are human. That we are imperfect. We open ourselves and, as if looking in the mirror for the first time, are able to step back and see who we are a bit more clearly–for better or worse. We accept ourselves, and let others do the same.

Vulnerability is the secret. We as a society go to great lengths to hide who we are, and create masks, personas, and images to portray the parts we know will receive approval–while banishing the rest to the shadows. But all our best work comes from being vulnerable. All our happiest moments and saddest realizations come from being vulnerable. All our deepest loves and greatest friendships come from being vulnerable. All our art, all our music, all our creativity comes from being vulnerable.

Vulnerability is the secret to happiness–and that is why I started this article with the breath. Happiness is not out there somewhere, waiting for you. Happiness is hidden within vulnerability, and vulnerability is hidden within you.