How to Be Happy Right Now, With Dr. Laurie Santos


Illustration for article titled How to Be Happy Right Now, With Dr. Laurie Santos

Photo: Mike Marsland/Yale University

It’s no surprise to anyone that the pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health. The virus has caused loneliness, depression, and anxiety to run rampant throughout the world. So this week, we sit down with The Happiness Lab host and Yale University psychology professor Dr. Laurie Santos to learn some of the science-backed strategies we can use to help us cope, and even find some happiness. Listen to hear Dr. Santos discuss how techniques like reframing and mindfulness can help us be more resilient in the face of tragedy, and how we can get better at accurately assessing the things that bring us joy.

Dr. Santos is a professor of psychology and head of Silliman College at Yale University. She’s an expert on human cognition and the cognitive biases that impede better choices, and her course, “Psychology and the Good Life” recently became Yale’s most popular course in over 300 years.

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Highlights from this week’s episode

From the Dr. Laurie Santos interview:

On how to determine which types of online social interaction are most beneficial to your mental health:

So one way we can think about it is: how can we get closest to what we’re naturally built to do? But another way is just like to mindfully reflect on what feels good. I think this is what we all need to do more and more. It’s like just after you have a certain interaction, how did you feel when you scrolled through your Instagram feed for an hour? How do you feel afterwards? If you’re like me, it might be like, “I feel kind of gross, a little apathetic.” How did you feel after that Zoom happy hour? Well, you know, some days I’m enriched and feeling good…If it was like an hour that I was on a Zoom happy hour after like millions of hours for work Zoom meetings, like, I feel kind of nasty. I needed to get up and move around. So the answer to what feels best is going to change. And that’s OK, too. I think the key is to mindfully pay attention to what it feels like because the stuff we predict is going to feel good, doesn’t [always] necessarily feel good.

On the strategy for emotional resilience inspired by the Greek stoic philosophers:

Epictetus started his book with this idea that there are two things in the world: there are things that you can control and there are things that you can’t control. You know, the fact that the vaccines aren’t rolling out as quickly as I want, the fact that my students are uncertain about whether they can stay on campus this semester, the fact that I can’t see my friends, all those I can’t control. But here are the things I can control: my reaction to those things, you know, whether I call a friend or not, whether I pull out my yoga mat and get a good workout in, because that’ll make me feel good. Those are the things I can control. And what the Stoics say is if you focus on the stuff you can control, nobody can force you to have a negative emotion.

On how we go about pursuing happiness the wrong way:

[T]his is the problem with this idea of chasing happiness: it’s not that we shouldn’t chase after happiness. It’s just that when we go about chasing it, we do it wrong…if we really want to focus on what actually makes us happy, usually it’s things that are much simpler than we think. It’s things like taking time to be present. [T]aking time for a social connection, moving your body, getting enough sleep…When you go after that stuff it doesn’t feel like you’re chasing after happiness, you’re just doing the stuff that you should normally do as a human. But it turns out that that can come with a lot of well being at the end.

To hear more about the science of happiness, we recommend listening to the full episode.

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Episode Transcript