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The Well-Being of Happiness

by Catherine - Grit Club member

Back in March, at the beginning of the stay at home order, I mentioned that I was taking a course at Yale titled: The Well-Being of Happiness. I am about to start week 5 so I wanted to share a brief overview of the first four weeks.

The course begins by examining all the things that we think will make us happy. The term Dr.Santos uses is “Miswanting” which means: the act of being mistaken about what and how much you will like something in the future. Dr. Santos goes on to say that we think things will be better than they are going to be, and we think that feeling of happiness will last longer than it really does when we obtain “things”. Our reference point for what we think we want is based on whomever we happen to be near, either friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc.  We think that if they have it, then we want it. Better car, more money, bigger house, better job, more awesome stuff, perfect body and on and on. When you get use to the “awesome stuff”, then that becomes our new normal and that becomes your reference point in the future. One example she gave was that if you make more money, then you will think that it will make you happier. Studies have shown that once you hit the $75,000 mark, happiness does not improve. Your happiness is fleeting in the moment and now your expectations have risen. Another area in our lives that does not bode well for happiness is social media. Ditch the social media on your phone (or at least limit it), Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. Social media is not a genuine connection, but it is a social comparison to others which lowers your self esteem.  

So if these things don’t make us happy, what does?

Experiences are different, but in order to bring true happiness, you need to be in the moment when you are experiencing the activity or event. When something big in your life is about to happen, whether it's a wedding, trip, dream job, new school, graduation, new family member, etc., that you plan, prepare, and dream about it. When the event happens, most of the time, it lives up to your expectations and you still think, talk, laugh and relive it for days, months and even years later. The moments are not fleeting but enjoyed and shared with others, whether through your telling them about it or they were present. That is how you start to cultivate true happiness and joy. 

Here are some specific things to do to increase your happiness level:

  • Savoring is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate the moments. Pick one experience to truly savor each day. Anything from eating ice cream to spending time with a family member or watching the birds. It doesn’t matter the specifics, just practice noticing and enjoying the moment.

  • Gratitude is a positive emotional state in which one recognizes and appreciates what one has received in life. For the next 7 days, write down 5 things you are grateful for.  Be mindful and focus on them as you write them down.

  • Research shows that happy people do things for others. Try to perform random acts of kindness in the next few weeks. It could be a letter to someone that has meant a lot to you or a phone call. If you look for opportunities, then you will find them.  So keep your eyes open to being kind!

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day as it can boost your mood in addition to making you healthier and feel better. Get off the couch, even just to dance to music or run up and down your stairs. Now is a good time to get outside and walk or ride, even if the gym is closed.

  • We all hear how important sleep is, but 7+ hours a night can improve your mood more often than we expect. With the stay at home order that we are all under, now is the perfect time to catch up on some sleep, even if it means putting the kids to bed earlier.  They probably need it too.

One of the things I am learning to do from this course is to not buy more stuff.  I have enough. Investing in experiences makes us happier than investing in stuff. When I think back to my time with my family, either as a child or having children/grandchildren, my favorite memories are the times we were together and the experiences we shared. So let’s all work on making new memories and being happier while we do it!

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