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Happiness 101

To say that Laurie Santos was shocked would be an understatement. The Psychology Professor from Yale was expecting a couple hundred students to sign up for her new course titled “Psychology and the Good Life”. To her surprise, over 1,200 students (almost 25% of Yale’s undergrads) signed up for the course designed to teach students how to lead “happier, more satisfying lives”. What this confirmed for Professor Santos was that many of these over-achieving, Type-A students were not truly happy despite their many academic accomplishments and extracurricular achievements. In fact, a 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of Yale’s undergraduates had sought mental health care during their four years at the University.

What are we doing wrong as parents, teachers and coaches? Why are so many of our kids, despite all the trappings of success, unhappy? According to Dr. Santos, “our intuitions about what will make us happy, like winning the lottery and getting good grades – are totally wrong.” According to psychologists, the key to finding happiness is realizing the distinction between feeling good and doing good. The relentless pursuit of “feeling good” or “pleasure” will only keep us on the hedonic treadmill while performing acts of selfless kindness are more likely to create true, lasting happiness.

So, in lieu of enrolling at Yale or Harvard and taking a course on happiness, what can we do in our daily lives to be happier? Positive psychologists agree that focusing your life on strong social bonds, not possessions, is a good starting point. Additionally, having an optimistic viewpoint will help with getting through difficult times in our lives. However, if you want to actually do some of the “homework” that is required coursework for Santos’ class, here is your daily assignment for the next week:

1) Do something kind for someone else

2) Meditate for 10 minutes

3) Get 8 hours of sleep

4) Write down 5 things for which you are grateful

If you want to dive deeper into the subject of happiness, two recommended books on the subject are “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert and “Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman.


–Respectfully submitted by Jeff Bryk, FITT-RX Trainer

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