Like many of my recent personal successes, this learning (or series of learnings that turned into habits) originated from a podcast, this one called The Happiness Lab. I had been listening to the Happiness Lab, since the start of 202o and I immediately fell in love. What's that you say? I can make myself happy utilizing specific actions backed up by science? Say no more fam. Not only is this podcast super informative and interesting, but it was also comforting somehow. In it, we have Doctor Santos, who feels like a very relatable big sister, speaking about how happiness is attainable for everyone. Like you too can be happy, and it doesn't require you absconding all material things and running off to a monastery.
Like love, happiness is not something you magically stumble upon or retain easily. It's something you work at, something you practice. Every day. It's action, not noun.
This is not necessarily different than those sayings we hear all the time i.e. "You are in control of your own happiness." , "Happiness is a mindset." "Happiness is a choice." and so on and so on... However I find these teachings so daunting because they imply that in order to be happy, I have to first control my mind and my thoughts. That's about as achievable as me becoming the next track superstar. Like cool bro, but how do us regular humans attain happiness? Because I am not running a sub 5-min. mile, letsbereal.
Dr. Santos takes a different approach. She offers simple actions you can incorporate into your life (that may change your mindset) which will in turn increase your happiness. And she provides the scientific studies and data to back up her recommendations. Fantastic!
Although I found the podcast itself to be quite enlightening, it wasn't until I completed Dr. Santo's Happiness Course on Coursera that I was motivated to consistently implement these tactics. The course is free, it doesn't take that much time and it's all online. Because I don't watch tv on weekdays, it was super easy for me to add into my routine. My goal was to work through it on Monday evenings, sometimes using Wednesday as overflow. It took me about 3 months to complete the course, and in that time I increased my happiness by about a point, which is actually quite significant. (They use 2 scales on which to "grade" your happiness before and after the course.) And I have implemented many of these habits into my daily rituals, which I'll document in a future post for you guys.
Below are the core happiness tenets, known as rewirements, that are discussed in the course. I'm not going to provide more detail on them, because I strongly encourage you to take the course. But you can obviously see that many (most) of these are achievable by the average person and can be "easily" incorporated into your daily routine.
- Signature Strengths - using your top character strengths in new ways
- Savoring - taking time to savor the things you enjoy
- Gratitude - (List and/or Letter) - expressing gratitude for the people and things in your life
- Kindness - increasing your acts of kindness
- Social Connection - making connections with strangers and acquaintances along with scheduling time for the people in your life
- Exercise - increasing your physical activity to at least 30 minutes a few times a week
- Sleep - making sure you sleep at least 7 hours a night several times a week
- Meditation - meditating for 5-10 minutes if you are a beginner or increasing your time in meditation if you already meditate regularly
A word on "easily." One of the things I love about Dr. Santos and what makes her so relatable is that she discuses at length how even she struggles with implementing these practices into her life, yes THE Professor on Happiness struggles with incorporating happiness habits. Creating a new habit isn't necessarily easy, but there's a ton of info out there on effective ways to create new habits. A personal favorite of mine, which was actually very complementary to this course was the book, Atomic Habits. I encourage you to read this while taking the course (if you have the time and energy.) It helped me more effectively implement these happiness actions into habit. And I just so happened to be reading it at the same time because of my awesome book club. S/O Between the Covers!
One of the areas in my life with which I was still scoring low on in the happiness questionnaires was "a sense of having a defined meaning or purpose for my life." So like once I figure that out . . .
I kid. But seriously, this is something I still struggle with almost daily. So yeah, the course doesn't give you ALL the answers to life's questions (I know so lousy; can't believe I paid nothing to take it!), but it definitely gave me the mood boost I was desperately craving in this COVID world and also some mental headspace and clarity to tackle some big and important personal questions i.e. how does one find meaning? Obviously I will keep you guys updated on my quest for world domination... I mean happiness! Can't wait to share with you a future blog post entitled "How I found my life's meaning and now it's over for you..." or something else super inspirational :)