The Science of Well-Being

The following are my lecture notes from a MOOC course in Coursera called The Science of Well-Being by Yale University. Click here if you want to check out that course.

Why are we unhappy?

Let’s look at the reason why we are unhappy before we try to solve it.

  1. Usually our intuitions tell us what makes us happy and we act on those. But unfortunatly our intuitions are often wrong about what makes us happy
  2. No matter how much we consciously try, whether we like it or not, we always compare ourselves relative to others. There will always be a person who does better than you and this comparison is will only a source of sorrow.
  3. No matter how spectacular something is, you will get used to it and will take it for granted. Read more about Hedonic adaptation if you don’t believe me.

What can we do about that?

Now that we have an idea about the problem is, let us look at some of the solutions.

  1. Materialistic things are not going to make you happy, good memories do. When you invest in materialistic things, you can have them all the time. You will adapt to it and your happiness level would return its normal level. Experience on the other hand doesn’t last. The impermanence that annoys us when we realize that this moment is not going to last, is the same reason why it stays special for us. Because we were never given a chance to get used to it.
  2. Savor it. One thing we inescapably forget in our busy life is to appreciate what we have and be happy about it. If you don’t know how to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy no matter whatever you have. So learn to appreciate and enjoy what you have in your life.
  3. One antidote for Hedonic adaptation(Problem number 3) is to think about how your life would have been if you didn’t have it. When you remember how critical it was for you to have you, you will feel a greater appreciation for it.
  4. Another antidote for Hedonic adaption(I hope you can remember the problem number by now) is to remind yourself of the impermanence. Nothing lasts forever. We will have to let go of it at one point or another. No matter how long you think you might have it, reminding yourselves of the simple truth that one day you will not have it. That can make you value it more.
  5. One last antidote just in case you need to reset your newly adapted happiness level. When you feel like you got used to some luxuary you now have, go and re-experience your life before it. Re-experiencing your life before it can help you feel grateful for what you have.
  6. When you feel upset because you can’t get what you want or need to make a huge sacrifice for it, make sure that it is worth it. Try to experience what it feels like to have it or talk to people who have. You will then have a reality check on whether you want it or not.
  7. Catch yourself whenever you are blindly following your intuitions or comparing yourself with others and stop yourself from doing that. Being aware of what you are doing can help you solve this problem before it even happens.
  8. If you want a simple straightforward solution to be happy, be around more people. We are social beings and we will feel happier when we are around people. If you choose to be around happy people, you will be much happier.
  9. Meditation has a profound impact on your mental wellbeing. If you regularly meditate, you will be calmer and emotionally resilient. Meditation is a simple technique to find mental clarity and helps you handle stress.
  10. Exercise and Sleep. Taking good care of your body is crucial for your well-being. You will never feel great if you are sick or sleepy. Your body needs exercise and sleep and there is no other way to substitute them.
  11. If you have been looking for an easier way to be happy and all of the above felt like too much work. There is one, be kind to others. This really simple act has a profound effect on your happiness level. So the most effective way to be happy is to be generous in your kindness. Help someone and when you see the smile on their face, it will make your day.

What should you do about it?

Happiness doesn’t come by easily. You need to work for it. We have seen how we can become happier by following the above solutions. Now it all comes down to acting on it.

There are techniques you can use to help you achieve your happiness goals or any other goals.

  1. Environmental Engineering: Your physical proximity and convenience affect the choices you make. Your environment matters. So shape your environment so that you will make the choices you want in your life. If you want to start playing an instrument, place that instrument in an easily reachable position so that you will pick it up and play it daily.
  2. Goal specificity: Being specific about your goals gives you the mental clarity and direction you need to get started working on your goal. An example would be if your goal is to start exercising, don’t just state your goal as exercising. Your goal should be to do a plank for 5 minutes every day at 8:00 am just before you take your shower.
  3. Mental contrasting: A technique used for feeling motivated. If you feel slumpy at any obstacle. Then think about what it feels like when you achieve your goals. Why do you want to achieve it? Once you get it, think about what you want to overcome. This will get me to motivated to act and overcome those obstacles.
  4. Goal planning: Create simple to follow if-then plans. There will be a simple ‘if’ condition that when satisfied would be followed a definite action. For example, when I grab the door handle, I will check for my keys. Creating such a simple plan would help you get started with any habits.
  5. WOOP strategy: This is a simple goal-setting strategy used that makes use of the above techniques. WOOP is an acronym for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. That is the strategy itself. Follow these simple 4 steps.
    • Wish – Create relevant and meaningful wishes or goals for yourself
    • Outcome – Things about why you want it and imagine how your life will be when you achieve your goal.
    • Obstacle – Identify what are the external and internal obstacles that stop you from achieving your goals.
    • Plan – Create a simple if-then(If [obstacle] then [Solution]) plan for all your obstacles so that you will be know how to handle those obstacles when you face them.

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