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A Cheat Sheet for Happiness

If you asked any person on the street whether they would like to be happy, it’s safe to bet that the vast majority would say yes.  If you asked any person on the street IF they were happy, this is where things would get less predictable.

Professor Laurie Santos teaches the most popular course in Yale University’s history.  Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life, has over 1,200 students enrolled.  She hoped to diminish their overwhelm, stress, anxiety and depression, her concerns reflected in a recent survey by the American College Health Association that found 52% of students reported feeling hopeless.

Santos looked at the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, Phd and author of The How of Happiness, who studied what affects happiness.

You might be surprised by the following:

  • 50% of happiness is determined by genes
  • 40% of happiness is determined by your thoughts, actions and attitudes (in your control)
  • 10% of happiness is determined by circumstance (out of your control)

It’s important to note that the above is true only if your basic needs are met.  For example, living in a physically or psychologically unsafe environment (war zone, impoverished neighborhood) outweighs the others.

Here are some other nuggets from Lyubomirsky’s work:

Happy people:

  • Express gratitude
  • Make time for family and friends
  • Avoid over-thinking and social comparison
  • Learn to forgive
  • Develop strategies for coping
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Do physical activity
  • Savor life’s joys

Professor Santos also explores Ashley Williams (assistant professor at Harvard Business School) and Elizabeth Dunn (professor at the University of British Columbia), who have studied how we value time versus money and how our attitudes impact well-being.  Many report to feel rushed or time starved, if only they had “more time” they would (fill in the blank).  Time and money are both seen as equal commodities, “Time is money.”  But we fail to understand that they are not equal, one can accumulate money but never time.  There are always the same number of hours and minutes in a day.

Williams and Dunn studied those who valued money and those who valued time.  The overall happiness level was much higher for those who valued time.

Often when people have “breaks” they ultimately use them to catch up on work.  This is not ultimately offering to the “time affluence” pot.  In Psych 157 one day, Santos taught her students the concept of time affluence by surprising them with “class canceled” flyer.  The stipulation was to do something unexpected and for pleasure only.

Happiness Review and To Do:

  • Create your own new research based happiness habits
  • Take a look at your beliefs around money vs time affluence.
  • Remember that happiness all the time is not realistic nor the goal.  Things get hard and emotions such as anger and grief are valid, human responses to challenging times.  Honor those too.
  • The “Laurie Santos happiness class” is now offered online and free! https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with tools for emotional and relationship health and is the author of Therapy-At-Home Workbooks® for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers online therapy to residents of California.