Finding Happiness is Actually Pretty Simple. Here’s How.

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

I took Yale University’s course entitled The Science of Well-Being. In this post, I summarize the insights I gained from Dr. Laurie Santos’ class while also noting other insights I found on happiness.

When I started the Ace of All Trades, I studied a lot.

While I had just graduated and wasn’t the most eager to pile work onto my plate, I was curious enough to follow an intellectual lead that kind of sparked itself out of nowhere; or so I thought.

This topic was happiness, otherwise known as subjective well-being.

It came about as I finished my college career; a time when I felt both defeated and extremely empowered. How does that work?

Well, ending with the pandemic, I tend to recount my college career by what obstacle I was trying to surpass at the time. My college career was overshadowed by health complications, so naturally that is defeating.

However, I really do wear the idea that through pain comes graces and understanding. I am not the person I was 4 years ago, and I am empowered by that fact.

Therefore, upon graduation and ample time on my hands, I set out on a mission to figure out how I could give myself the best chance at a happy life; to not dwell on defeat but carry the sense of empowerment throughout my life.

I didn’t know where to start, so I just started.

I read a bunch of books. I watched TED talks. I listened to a lot of podcasts as I exercised, ate lunch, brushed my teeth; basically, around the clock. I perused research on happiness using my unexpired student access (thank god for institutional inefficiencies). I took a 10-week online course all about the science of being happy.

Can I tell you a secret?

It's not a secret. The fundamentals of happiness are almost ubiquitous. We're living in a world with a known Krabby Patty Secret Formula. This is a BIG deal!

Although there are slight nuances here and there, I was stunned to find out how basic it all was. Lucky for you, you're about to read the formula.

For the sake of this post, I will be using the insights I accumulated from Dr. Laurie Santos’ course The Science of Well-Being. I really enjoyed taking the course; I found it wonderfully satisfying as it combined many of the insights I found on happiness and the strategies to achieve it.

I am opening my notebook to you.

For the most basic understanding, refer to the image I so wonderfully created with my ounce of artistic ability.

To understand some of the research and intricacies within each topic of the course, peruse my notes on weeks 1-6 below the image.

You can also find my notes for weeks 1-5 in a more visually appealing format on my Instagram and Pinterest. While I was taking the course, each week I would create a 1-2 image story that summarized the most intriguing content from the week.

Disclaimer: The content within this blog post was informed by the course The Science of Well-Being taught by Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University. I do not claim ownership of the material; I am simply summarizing the course's teachings.

Week 1: The Importance of Pursuing Subjective Well-Being

(1) As of 2013, Americans were prescribed anti-depressants 400x the rate of 20 years prior.

(2) “Social media continues to paradoxically cause people to be more isolated and out of touch with their feelings” – Dr. Seth Mandel

(3) “The distinction between relieving misery and building happiness is extremely important” – Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology

(4) The current quarantine predicament is an example of onset newness – onset newness is an enabler of fresh starts – a fresh start is an ideal time to work on positive habits. Translation: build positive habits now.

Week 2: Happiness Fallacies

Lie #1: Happiness is only determined by genes or life circumstances.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky developed the Happiness Pie, a chart that illustrates what factors influence happiness and how impactful is each.

10% = Life Circumstances

40% = Thoughts / Actions (THIS IS IN OUR CONTROL)

50% = Genetics

Lie #2: A good paying job will make me happy.

Lie #3: Money buys happiness.

Note that there is some truth to this, but it is capped at $75K.

Lie #4: Nice possessions will bring me happiness.

Lie #5: Finding true love will give me a happy life.

Lie #6: Perfect grades or a perfect body will make me happier.

If you’re curious to understand why these statements are indeed lies, take the course to hear about the research!

Week 3: Annoying Features of the Mind

(1) Our minds think in reference terms rather than absolute terms.

  • For example: If I give you $100, that might make you pretty happy. But if I give your sibling $150, you’re probably going to be annoyed. If we thought in absolute terms, our happiness would not change whether or not our sibling received anything at all.

  • Our minds play a comparison game, and we need to consciously suppress it.

  • Think about what social media is doing to this natural tendency...

(2) We get used to things that once made us happy.

  • For example: Receiving new clothing in the mail makes you feel happy and refreshed, but, one week later, you find yourself online shopping again.

  • This is considered hedonic adaptation – the dwindling of positive and negative emotions.

Week 4: Strategies to Overcome Cognitive Biases

(1) To combat hedonic adaptation, invest in things that don’t last.

  • If you don’t have the time to get used to something, you will appreciate it more.

  • “It is better to do than to have.”

(2) Consciously savor moments.

(3) Practice gratitude

  • It is a known way to boost happiness (Emmons & McCullough)

  • It conjures savoring and stops social comparison

Intentional Strategies We Can Use Regularly

  • The Stop Technique: audibly say “stop” when you realize you are making comparisons of yourself to others.

  • Write a gratitude list of 5 things you are grateful for weekly.

  • Interrupt your consumption - It has been found that if you watch TV with commercials or eat a cookie and wait 20 minutes to eat another, you will enjoy it more.

Week 5: Things You Should Want but Often Don’t

In a Career:

(1) Using signature strengths

  • A signature strengths is a recognizable human excellence

  • It brings about a sense of fulfillment.

  • It is a trait that empowers others instead of inciting jealousy in others.

(2) Being challenged regularly

  • Our brain tells us that leisure activities are preferred but it’s the activities that require us to use our skills that bring the most fulfillment.

Regarding grades:

* An internal desire to learn

  • Extrinsic motivation (good grades) often undermines intrinsic motivation (the desire to learn).

The Keys to Achieving Happiness?

(1) If you do multiple acts of kindness in a single day, it will bump up your subjective well-being significantly.

(2) Social Connection is a predictor of increased happiness.

  • Not only can interactions with friends/lovers/family bring about happiness, but interactions with strangers can as well.

  • Anywhere from smiling as you walk past a stranger to being in a long-term relationship

  • “It makes the richness of life even richer”

(3) Meditation

  • Mind-wandering can hinder our ability to be present and feel happy

  • Meditating often can combat this natural tendency even outside of meditating.

If there was a “Happy Pill,” what would it consist of?

  1. Exercise

  2. Sleep

Week 6: Strategies to Attain Things We Should Want

(1) Situation Support: Creating an environment that supports your objective

- Example 1: Place the cookie jar in the closet as opposed to on the counter.

- Example 2: Don’t buy the cookies if you shouldn’t be eating the cookies.

  • My Example: When I am working at home, I place my cell phone across the room. When it was by my side, it wasted so much time.

Another way to create this support is to engage others in the behaviors to promote the positive habits and social connection.

(2) Add some WOOP to your day.

  • WOOP stands for wish, outcomes, obstacles, and plan.

  • This method has been proven to help individuals follow through with their goals for a better personal well-being

The Process:

  1. Take 5 minutes out of your day.

  2. Think about a wish you have, something you can’t shake. Put it in one sentence and be specific (instead of “more” put a quantitative value to it).

  3. Think of the best outcomes that would come from having this wish come true. Visualize it in detail.

  4. Now contrast this, and think of potential obstacles. Visualize that in detail, too.

  5. Create an if/then plan for the obstacles. Example: "If I feel too tired to get out of bed, then I won’t allow myself to look at my phone."

Where are weeks 7-10?

Although the course is technically 10 weeks long, the first 6 classes contain basically all of the material. Weeks 7-10 focuses on implementing the specific practices cited throughout the course.

What practices? SEGUE.

Rewirement Practices

I would be remised if I didn't mention that each week had a brain rewirement assignment. These assignments are tangible ways to implement the content taught within the course.

The assignments include:

- Savoring moments

- Keeping a daily gratitude journal

- Exercising

- Sleeping well

- Performing acts of kindness

- Connecting with others

- Daily meditation

Ask yourself; how many of these tasks do you complete on a regular basis?

And there you have it: a 10-week course scrunched into a 6-minute read.

As mentioned in the notes above, situational support is an enabler of positive change, so if you want to print out these notes and reflect on them every so often, be my guest. I decided to do that.

If you find yourself confused or curious about some portion of the material, feel free to reach out to ya girl, Ace. I am available on almost all platforms, and I like social connection; it was meant to be.

Now, go on. Start your gratitude journal or perform a random act of kindness. Finding more happiness requires commitment, but it begins with simple steps.


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