Applications From the Yale “Happiness” Class!

We could all use a little more happiness right now! To make the most of this season, I watched the lectures from Yale’s free online class “The Science of Well-Being” with Dr. Laurie Santos. Here are my highlights.

Happiness isn’t what happens.

Having a good job, lots of money, awesome stuff, true love, good grades or a perfect body will NOT bring lasting happiness.

One study showed our that happiness is only 10% what happens to us! The other 50% is based on genetics, and the other 40% comes from intentional activities. Wise people don’t worry about the 60% they can’t control, instead they focus on the 40% they can by developing habits that lead to happiness.

Dr. Santos explained that the “annoying features of our minds” that cause us to be mistaken about happiness. This “miswanting” causes us to think something will make us happy that won’t really make us as happy as we think.

Comparison kills contentment, so reset your reference points. 

Our reference points have a direct impact on our happiness.

For example, Olympic bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. Those who won bronze were grateful to get a medal at all, but those who won silver were so close to gold that they became discontent for missing it.

Studies have also shown that the more we use social media, the lower our happiness levels. So Dr. Santos prescribes stopping the scroll.

Variety really is the spice of life. 

Dr. Dan Gilbert of Harvard explains the effect of what is known as the “Hedonic Treadmill” this way,

Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.” Dan Gilbert

One way to fight this tendency is by savoring your experiences. Simply slow down and intentionally be thankful for it. Gratitude increases your well-being in almost every area of life. Also, thinking about what life would be like without it makes you appreciate it more.

We also appreciate things more, when we realize how short life is. For example, I  enjoy my toddler more when I realize that I will never get this cute stage of his life back.

Splitting up things you enjoy allows you to get more enjoyment out of it than doing it all at once. So space out the good things in your life for maximum enjoyment, and bundle the bad to get it over with.

We overestimate how good or bad future events will make us feel.

Good things will be less amazing than we think, and bad things will be less terrible than we think. Realizing this helps us avoid disappointment, frees us from unnecessary fears about the future and motivates us take more of the right risks to pursue growth and happiness.

One of the problems we face when we look into the future is that we usually focus only on one aspect of it and forget all the other factors. We also forget how adaptable and resilient we can be.

Shared experience multiplies happiness.

The actual enjoyment of food increases when we eat with others! And verbalizing our gratitude completes our enjoyment of it.

Even random social connections make us happier. One study showed that those who talked to people on public transit were happier than those who sat alone.

Find meaningful work using your strengths.

The happiest people experience “flow” on a regular basis. Flow is basically being fully immersed in something when your area of skill is met by difficult challenge.

This state of being “in the zone” happens when our work or play is challenging but manageable. This state of being fully focused on something we are good at and enjoy causes us to lose ourselves in the moment.

It’s more blessed to give than receive.

Jesus was right! Those who spend money on others are happier than those who spend it on themselves. The best way to buy happiness, is to give it away.

Pursue healthy habits.

Manage your time, amount of exercise, and sleep patterns can increase happiness.

Time affluence makes you happier than material affluence, so prioritize freeing up time over earning more money.

One study showed that exercise was 90% better at helping people fight depression than antidepressant medicine, and getting the recommended 7hrs of sleep leads to more joy.

Control your mind.

A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Learning to focus your mind on the right things is vital, but positive thinking alone, does not make you happier.

Dr. Santos recommended applying Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP method thinking about your goals:

  • Wish – What do I really want?
  • Outcome – What is the best outcome?
  • Obstacle – What might stop me?
  • Plan – What is my “if-then” plan?

People who visualize victory alone don’t get effective results, but seeing both the positive outcome and the possible barriers helps you develop a more realistic plan.

Bonus Tip: Don’t invest in stuff, invest in experiences.

When you buy an item you get pleasure for a moment, but that quickly fades. When you invest in an experience like a vacation you get excited anticipating it and enjoy looking back on the memory of it, so the enjoyment lasts much longer than the actual event!

Which of these insights do you need to focus on most during this crisis?

What questions or comments do you have?

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