UPDATE: Thanks for all of the thoughtful questions! I have to head back to work now. Stay tuned to the Happiness Lab for more new episodes and find me on Twitter if you have more questions!

Hi reddit! I'm Dr. Laurie Santos, host of the Happiness Lab podcast and Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman College at Yale University.

I teach about the science of happiness and have found that many of us actually do the exact opposite of what will truly make our lives better — so I started a podcast to share my findings on what we can really do to live a happier and more fulfilling life. Season 2 of the Happiness Lab premiered this week ( listen here ). We also have a few new bonus episodes devoted to protecting our mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

I also created “The Science of Well-Being” on Coursera, based on my “Psychology and the Good Life” class at Yale which became the university’s most popular course in over 300 years.


Proof: https://i.redd.it/8dka5b4qp1u41.jpg

Comments: 678 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

shamusreed446 karma

What piece of information or practice from your research has made the biggest impact on your own life?

drlauriesantos1765 karma

That’s a hard one, as I incorporate a lot of the tips I share with my students— from meditation to exercise to trying to protect my time affluence.

But if I had to pick one, I’d say the most important insight comes from the fact that that we can control our reactions to the bad situations in life. It’s an insight that comes from the ancient stoics but also from the Buddhist parable of the second arrow. Which goes something like this— Buddha asks his followers if it’s bad to get hit with an arrow when you’re walking down the street, which they quicky agree it is. Then he asks if it’s worse to get hit with a second arrow. All the followers agree that yup, getting hit with two arrows would suck more. Buddha goes on to explain that the first arrow is our of our control— that’s all the bad stuff that happens to us in life. But the second arrow is our reaction to those bad events— whether we get angry or upset and make things worse. That second arrow is always up to us.

And so I’d say the biggest insight that’s had a positive effect on my own life is NOT to hit myself with that second arrow. I even have my friends remind me when I’m not following this advice by texting me a pair of arrow emojis. It works wonders, so it’s a practice I’d have you have your own friends help with.

So yeah, that insight has been huge!

hopemonk20253 karma

Morning Professor,!

In Week 4 of the science of well being, you talk about us valuing experiences that go away, if it sticks around we get bored. How does this relate to people, relationships?

Edit: I also have disabled my social medias :) thank you for the push to do so.

maurojasmin66 karma

I guess we should make the relationship different with the same person, would that be it?

drlauriesantos278 karma

Yeah, that's another strategy— variety! Just mix things up in how you interact with a person. Play a new game, try a new meal, etc. Sounds silly but it's a strategy that works well from a scientific perspective for breaking up hedonic adaptation.

JimKohn19 karma

Great question.

drlauriesantos511 karma

Good question. There's lots of work showing the unfortunate power of what's called "hedonic adaptation"— we just get used to all the good things in our life. And that includes people too! One way to fight that is to use a technique called negative visualization, which comes from the ancient stoics. The idea is to briefly reflect on what your life would be like if some person you cared about didn't exist. Like if they died, or you never met them. That simple ten-second strategy can break up hedonic adaptation a bit and let you realize just how grateful you are to have people in your life. I try to use it to savor the relationships I have on an almost daily basis (especially for family members, my husband, etc). It's can be a huge appreciation booster!

Bardacious193 karma

Hi, Dr. Santos. I'm normally a highly motivated, fairly fulfilled person who enjoys it when I get a lot done. With the quarantine, I'm luckier than a lot of people and try to focus on gratitude about that, but my unhappiness and underlying anger are getting worse and worse. I find I'm losing more and more of my ability to accomplish anything, care about anything, meet any of my self-imposed deadlines, etc. There's a lot I WANT to do, and NEED to do, but I find I can barely get up before noon, and once I'm up I'm without focus and wind up watching a lot of TV and hating everything. I'm miserable. I've read all kinds of "helpful" stuff about how to make it through this time, but none of them have helped me make a difference, and I feel so selfish for being so unhappy, which make it worse. Can you explain how/why this happens--sadness without structure--and if there's any actual way to re-energize oneself when you're inexorably turning to grumpy mush?

drlauriesantos299 karma

Well, I think you're not the only grumpy mush out there. And that's worth validating— this is an unprecedentedly crappy, scary time that's messing with all of our routines and emotions. So my first piece of advice would be to work on not beating yourself up. Easier said than done, I know. But there is one technique with great results for boosting self-compassion: a form a meditation called metta or "loving-kindness." It's a practice where you offer compassion to the people you know, but one of those people is yourself! I've used the practice myself, and it definitely helps me not beat myself up.

The other piece of advice (once you're giving yourself the benefit of the doubt) is to allow yourself to take baby steps. Can you work for ten minutes before hitting the TV again, or can you do some thing that helps your well-being even if it's small. These baby steps all move us closer to the behaviors we want, and I'm often surprised by how one good behavior can turn into a routine!

drlauriesantos170 karma

Thanks so much for all these amazing questions! I need to take a quick break, but I'll be back later this afternoon to tackle a few more. Until then, stay safe and stay happy!

amidass135 karma

Why do we tend to keep thinking about bad experiences much more than good ones? And how can we invert that trend?

drlauriesantos248 karma

It's sadly part of human nature. It's called the negativity bias, and it seems to be present even in infancy (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/). But you can invert the trend, it just takes work. You have control over whether you focus on the blessings in your life. And practices like gratitude meditations and regular gratitude journaling can shift your negativity bias a bit. So both are practices worth diving into!

shaokim115 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

What do you think the biggest misconception about happiness is?

drlauriesantos352 karma

There are lot of misconceptions! But I think the biggest misconception is that happiness comes from our circumstances. Unless you’re currently in a really traumatic situation, happiness tends to come from other things. And even the act of going through trauma can lead to a happier, more meaningful life on the other side. There’s lots of evidence for what’s called post-traumatic growth (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327965pli1501_01/) We forget how resilient we can really be (at least with a little bit of time).

Happiness40143 karma

Dr. Santos,

The article you mention above in response to misconception is not available unless you purchase access. Would it be possible to send me a pdf of it? Thanks.

I am very interested in reading it :)

drlauriesantos91 karma

Drop me your email via twitter at @laurie.santos and I can send a copy

RobinW--89 karma

Hi Dr. Santos!

My question is, how can I do the social connection rewirement when I'm not allowed to see anyone? I know that (video)calling is an option, but it is still very strange to do that. Can you help? Thank you!

drlauriesantos131 karma

It's super strange! I'm with you. And it can be exhausting. But.. the research shows that it really works. Seeing people in real time if not IRL is the best we've got right now, so I personally have been trying to do it more than ever. I've also been trying to use this technology to do new social stuff I don't normally do. Get dinner or watch movies with friends in over time zones, or do virtual reunions/spa nights. If you get creative with it, it can feel really fun and that can help you overcome the start up cost too.

Vrushalee83 karma

1) During these uncertain times what tips you would like to give to millennials like me? 2) Any studies happened during Spanish flu in psychology which we can learn something from.. How to bounce back? 3) How can we structure and use the tools to take the news and anxiety creating info in? Coping mechanism?

drlauriesantos185 karma

Great questions!

(1) my advice for millennials is similar to my advice for lots of folks right now— there are soooo many things you can take action on to improve your well-being right now. From explicitly seeking out more social support to healthy habits like exercise and sleep to practices like meditation, we have a LOT of agency in this awful crisis. We just need to put in a bit of work.

(2) Not necessarily from the Spanish flu time, but from other awful events, there's lots of evidence for what's called post-traumatic growth— a boost in resilience that comes from living through bad stuff. So I think what we can learn from is that bad collective events like this can often make us as individuals and our communities stronger.

(3) I share this challenge for sure— I'm really prone to being anxious, and the news media (and just life in general) isn't helping. So I've been very explicit about taking breaks from the media (especially right before going to bed) and in trying to regular my anxiety directly through my breath. Just a few deep breaths can do wonders for helping to chill out your sympathetic nervous system. Again, we can't shut off our circumstances, but we can control our reactions to them,

indiejellyfish65 karma

Hi Dr. Laurie Santos! Thanks so much for doing this and for creating the course. Definitely helped me and my friends at Northeastern University build some positive habits during this troubling time.

Our main question is with all these hedonic-treadmill-breaking habits, do we eventually adapt so even these don't have effects? For example, if I write a gratitude list every night, will I eventually just get used to writing this list and no longer see the benefit on my happiness? Or are some of these habits really magic tricks? Thanks in advance and I hope all is well!

txunicorn7522 karma

Good question I wonder the same. How do we not get complacent again.

drlauriesantos100 karma

Agreed that it's a great question. There are two keys here, particularly for gratitude per se. One is that you have to take time to feel it— to notice the feeling when you're writing things down. But the second is that you need to switch it up a bit. If the three things you're grateful for are the same every day, that doesn't work as well. So try to get creative and find things you haven't mentioned recently. That novelty can help break up any adaptation.

DorsaAmir57 karma

Dear Laurie — What's your favorite theme for a Halloween party?

drlauriesantos134 karma

Ha, ha.. this must be a question from someone who knows me well, because I loooooooove Halloween. Overall, I like goofy Halloween party themes, ones that turn the typical party theme a bit more creepy. Some of my personal favorites were Zombie Prom, Spookeasy (think spooky speakeasy), and Monster Luau.

tinysaltyperson54 karma

How do I stop getting so affected by everything negative around me? I always find that I focus on the negative more than the positive and this has been the reason behind my deteriorating mental health and I get angry more often than I used to. How do I stop this anger from overwhelming me? How do I focus more on the positive?

drlauriesantos81 karma

First just to validate— you're not alone. We all do this. But the good news is that there are techniques you can use to stop. Noticing is the first step. So you're already on the right path. When I'm dealing with negative emotions, I use a technique I learned from the amazing meditation teacher, Tara Brach. It's called RAIN (https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/). But it allows you to be with your emotions, notice them, and nurture them. It takes some practice, but it can allow you to have those negative emotions without being overwhelmed them.

F3B25953 karma

Hi, Dr. Santos. I'm on Week 5 of "The Science of Well-Being" course and love it. Thank your for your down-to-earth and relatable approach!

You talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation around the focus and goal of getting good grades. What are a couple things a very extrinsicly motivated society can do to shift towards the intrinsic side?

drlauriesantos45 karma

Great question. We have a wonderful podcast episode about just this: https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/making-the-grade. But the upshot is that we need to try to notice the intrinsic rewards we end up forgetting.

fictionalegg33 karma

If you had a kid (I'm assuming you do not right now) what would be the best few pieces of advice you would teach them?

drlauriesantos156 karma

I don't have a child (except for my 400+ Yale students at Silliman College, which feel like my kids a lot of the time, but even they're all dispersed back home these days). But my biggest advice would be to try to teach your kids these healthy habits early on, and really prioritize them! I watch lots of parents prioritizing a lot of things that don't matter for well-being: things like good grades (which folks like Alfie Kohn have shown are negatively correlated with happiness), and achievement, etc... but we don't often emphasize the importance of the other stuff: being present, having free time, expressing gratitude, doing nice things for others. If I was a parent, I would drop the grades worries all together and focus on the things that really matter for well-being in the long run.

SuspendedPurple28 karma

Hello Dr. Laurie Santos! I am currently taking your "The Science of Well-Being" on Coursera. I have learned so much information, but I am having some difficulty implementing all the positive practices and behaviors that you have discussed. If you could pick one that has the most impact, what would it be and why?

Also, I would like to thank you for posting "The Science of Well-Being" on Coursera. It has been an amazing experience and I have learned so much!

drlauriesantos44 karma

Thanks for your kind note! And I'm with you— I also struggle to put these habits into effect. That's the hardest part. But in terms of which one has the most impact— there are two ways to answer that. One is which practice, on average, allows for the biggest effect on well-being. And my read on that is the best one from that perspective might be social connection— social relationships, the data suggest, are a necessary feature for high happiness. But there's a second way to answer, which is that you should bump up whatever behaviors you're not normally engaging in. If you regularly get a lot of social connection, more might be less influential on your happiness than promoting your time affluence, or taking more time to be mindful, etc. The habits that we don't tend to do might be the ones that would have the biggest personal impact if you added them into the mix.

snookered12327 karma

Who is legit the happiest person you know?

drlauriesantos82 karma

Hmm. I've had the fortune of meeting a lot of happy folks. My father is actually super happy— he's huge on social connection and savoring. And whenever I talk to my colleague, Nick Epley, I'm always inspired by how much he puts what he studies into practice, and what a genuinely happy and grateful person he is. He actually just send me a sweet gratitude letter today, as he keeps getting emails from people who've seen his work through my class. Most professors would be like "ugh no, another email" but Nick reacts to them with genuine gratitude and connection. He's a real inspiration.

charlsong21 karma

In my organization, there’s been an increased focus on gratitude and emotional intelligence. But what do you do when people feel like your gratitude practices in your organization are fake or forced? Some people think it’s too much, and toxic positivity is a thing.

drlauriesantos29 karma

Great point. The data shows you really need to feel it— if you're just fake writing down things you're grateful for or not taking the time to experience it genuinely, it doesn't work. That said, there's lots of evidence that expressing gratitude in the work place and having grateful colleagues generally can provide a huge boost to well-being!

Cici--C20 karma

Hello Prof Santos!

I am currently having some trouble and would like to hear your advice.

I have been admitted to a great school that is going to start this fall, but due to Covid-19 and visa issues, I might not be able to attend it in person.

Physically I am also locked down in another country and not able to go back to my home country soon due to a lack of international flights resulting from the Coronavirus.

On the one hand, I want to calm myself down and tell myself this is something I can't control.

On the other hand, I have missed some actions I could have done to help with my current problems (I could have got a visa appointment earlier/ could have purchased a flight ticket earlier) and this guilt is making me feel both anxious and depressed.

Do you know how I can keep myself alert as well as relaxed at the same time?

drlauriesantos42 karma

First just to validate your situation— that really sucks and is super scary. So it makes sense that you’re feeling stressed, depressed, and anxious. But despite the awful situation, there are still LOTS of things you can control. You can control whether you get in the right exercise (and there’s evidence that a half hour of cardio can reduce depression symptoms just as well as a prescription of Zoloft). You can control how much social support you seek out right now. And you can work on your own anxiety by doing simple behaviors to regulate your sympathetic nervous system (that fight or flight mode that makes us feel so anxious and panicked). But we can put the breaks on that system by engaging its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system. That one is our rest and digest system. And we can kick that into high gear simply by taking a few slow, deep belly breaths, which engage our vagus nerve. Finally, you can look at the big picture. Think of what you want to tell your (future) kids about how you made it through this crisis. That act of getting a little psychological distance and help you go into challenge/resilience mode.

All this goes to say that remembering that there are lots of things that under your control in this can help you gain some agency and resilience in this challenging time.

blackcountryroad20 karma

Hi Professor Santos,

This is very exciting! I will eagerly read this entire AMA.

As for my own question - Do you have advice for those of us who are keen to improve our happiness, but lack the kind of social support network many people take for granted; a loving family, and a tight knit circle of friends? How should we attempt to deal with extreme adversity, in my personal case the excruciating pain of a heartbreak, during these trying times, and without a support network?

Thank you so much in advance!

drlauriesantos32 karma

First off, just sending hugs cuz it's a tough time to feel lonely. My advice would be to get creative about who to connect with. An old friend you're out of touch with, a co-worker, etc— is there anyone you haven't tried that you can reach out to? Right now, those re-connections can be easier than ever, as no one is connecting with their usual friends in the same way right now. A lot of social connection can involve re-kindling old connections. I know I've been doing this myself— reconnecting with friends from college, and even re-meeting up with a friend on Facebook I hadn't chatted with in over 15 years.

MarthaFarcuss17 karma

Do you ever look at the world we're living in and think 'why am I bothering?'

drlauriesantos21 karma

Sometimes. I think that kind of frustration is part of human nature, so many of us wind up feeling that way at least at some point. But then I usually realize what I can control about things— which is my attitude— and then recognize that there's a lot I can take agency on to fix things (for myself and my own attitude, but also in the world too!)

krn_notcorn16 karma

Hi Dr. Laurie Santos! Thank you for doing this AMA!

I was wondering -- (1) what can we practically do about the misconceptions we have in our minds (the THOUGHTS that money/beauty/good circumstances will make us happy) besides reminding ourselves that they are misconceptions? (2) I have had a pretty fixed mindset all of my life, so it seems like it will stick with me the rest of my life. Do you have any tips/suggestion on how I can become more like someone who has a growth mindset?

edit: added the second question

drlauriesantos53 karma

(1) Well, the bad news is that there’s not much we can do to change the misconceptions of our minds. It’s just kind of how our minds work. But the good news is that we can avoid them by learning to change our situations around. This is what psychologists call situation modification, which is a super powerful way to change our behaviors, even though it doesn’t fix our messed up intuitions. The other thing, as you said, is to learn the science, which helps me at least to remember “wait, I know I think this is gonna make me happy, but I’m probably wrong.”

(2) I'm with you— I totally grew up with a fixed rather than growth mindset. But there are LOTS you can do to update a fixed mindset. Check out this article/list: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201904/15-ways-build-growth-mindset. But I've found the easiest way to help yourself get into a growth mindset is to strategically add the word "yet" to all your negative thoughts. For example, "I just can't play guitar" turns into "I just can't play guitar yet". That simple mental change can be really powerful!

fictionalegg16 karma

What do you wish you could go back and tell your 20 year old self?

drlauriesantos36 karma

Drop everything and find a nerdy MIT friend to help you mine bitcoin (okay, just kidding... or mostly kidding...)

I'd tell myself to read some stoicism. Books by Epictetus have had a huge effect on my life, and I wish I found them earlier.

angelotellonardo14 karma

What is your favorite cross-course fact? In other words, what is something that you've learned by teaching both "Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature" AND "The Science of Well-Being?" Is there anything that exists at the intersection of those two topics that you'd share with us today?

drlauriesantos48 karma

Love this question, as I really miss teaching my other class (Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature). I guess the best cross fact would be that our minds just suck— natural selection has left us with tons of dumb features of our minds. And those wind up affecting our well-being in lots of ways.

puravidawd12 karma

Has your happiness level/score increased since you started teaching this course ?

drlauriesantos22 karma

It has! I'm up about 1-1.5 points on standards measures of happiness. I'm living proof that it works if you put in the effort!

rossyd12 karma

The GI Joe fallacy you say is that knowing isn't half the battle. I would argue that it is. Half of the battle is knowing what you should do and the other half is integrating what you know, and acting upon it. Can you explain more about why you don't think that knowing is half the battle?

Edit: I'm a coursera student who is doing the best he can while parenting a 4 year old full time and in an 800 sq ft apt while my spouse is working full time from our bedroom. Thanks to helping me bring focus back to conscious well-being practice.

drlauriesantos31 karma

Thanks for those kind words! And for those that don't know, the GI Joe fallacy is the idea that knowing isn't enough to change our behavior (Here's an article my friend Tamar Gendler and I wrote about this bias: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25436).

I say in class that knowing isn't half the battle, but I'll be honest that I'm not sure exactly how much of the battle it is. I agree it's part of the battle, but probably not half. if it was half the battle, then I'd be halfway to eating as healthy as I wanted to, breaking all the bad habits I need to, etc. It's probably more like 10%, maybe less. But you're right that the other part— the part that's doing much more of the work— is acting upon your knowledge, and acting in a specific way which is to set up your situations for success, rather than just try to brute willpower through your problems.

And best of luck with parenting in a small space. As I said for another question, the struggle is real! But there's still lots of things we can do to make it better (or at least not make things worse)

glad_to_be_here_15 karma

I could be wrong, but my interpretation was this:

I could look at a manual on how to build a house, memorize it, study it every day, but if I never build a house, I am not going to really learn the behavior or skill. One day I will need to build that house, and know exactly how to do it based on studying, but that doesn't mean I am going to be able to execute it. So simply knowing is very important but you also need to practice and perfect the skill, otherwise you will never be able to put it to practical use.

drlauriesantos13 karma

Agreed, if we don't know, we won't know what situations really help us promote better behaviors. The problem is we usually think that knowing is the most important step. But it's not doing a lot of the work. So many people know what they're supposed to do to feel happier, but putting it into practice— at least for me— is the big challenge.

OutdoorsReader11 karma

Dr. Santos, With your education and developing these course materials, what have you found to have the biggest impact on your students?

drlauriesantos37 karma

Many of my students report that the biggest game changer for them was meditation. Especially if you're feeling anxious, a regular practice— even for just a few minutes a day— can be powerful

AviAerie10 karma

Dr Santos-Your class and your podcast are both great. Thank you for all you're doing to make happiness happen for so many. In your lecture, you talk about savoring experiences. Is it possible to savor other things too, like our jobs or maybe some material things, even though they aren't experiences? By doing so, can we counteract or delay our habituation to them?

drlauriesantos11 karma

Definitely! It's super important to savor our jobs, material things, and people (I think a lot of us are recognizing that now, especially if we can't go to our job or see the people we care about). A great way to do that is to use a technique called negative visualization, which comes from the ancient stoics. The idea is to briefly reflect on what your life would be like if some person you cared about didn't exist. Like if they died, or you never met them. That simple ten-second strategy can break up hedonic adaptation a bit and let you realize just how grateful you are to have people in your life. I try to use it to savor the relationships I have on an almost daily basis (especially for family members, my husband, etc). It's can be a huge appreciation booster!

pickle_fish_10 karma

We know from research that one of the reasons that experiences make you happier than material goods is that it is easier to compare the value of a material good to others (which is negative) but harder to compare experiences (positive). Do you think one of the reasons that social media is so detrimental to our happiness is that it gives us access to other peoples experiences in a way that we never had before, therefore making it easier to compare our experiences to others? Especially given that the way other peoples experiences are represented in social media is likely in a much more glorified way than they actually happen.

drlauriesantos7 karma

Yes, definitely! I think you hit the nail right on the head. Lots of us feel worse after looking at the vacations/bodies/jobs/lifestyles of people we see on social media, and what's worse is that a lot of that content is curated to look extra good (which make us feel extra bad)

jcmlx859 karma

Hello, Dr Santos! I wanted this opportunity to give you my biggest and sincerest appreciation for the Coursera course and your amazing podcast: they have really helped me through struggling times, when the horizon was not clear at all.

My question is: how have you deal with the huge amount of stress derived from your success on those 2 endeavours, based on the emotional load, the impact it is causing for people worldwide and the possibility of changing lives?

drlauriesantos28 karma

That's a tough personal one. I love the work I get to do with my podcast and coursera class. But it means I end up super busy. We have an episode coming out soon in the podcast on Time Affluence (the feeling of having free time) and I wound up bursting into tears while recording it cuz I was feeling so burned out. But I've been able to work on this by recognizing and being mindful of those feelings, and then engaging in practices known to help burnout scientifically (things like loving kindness meditation) as well as really getting strict about protecting my own time affluence. I too need to make sure I'm not pouring from an empty cup.

safaux12129 karma

How do I move beyond my competitive nature to let myself enjoy the right things in life? I know that getting into a really good school and getting a really high paying job won't make me happier, but how do I deflect this sort of miswanting? I understand this is rooted in social comparison but how can I really internalize that paradigm shift for myself?

drlauriesantos16 karma

It's hard. I see this in my Yale students all the time. I think the key is taking time to mindfully notice how you feel. How did that award or perfect grade really make you feel? Versus taking time off, or doing something nice for someone else? If we notice that the comparisons and chasing these things are hurting us, that can help us update our preferences.

rianneland9 karma

Hi Dr. Santos, I have 2 questions for you related to the current covid-19 situation.

I follow the course "The Science of Well-Being" where you show that we get happier from purchasing experiences vs. material. Due to covid-19, experiences are canceled or postponed to an unknown date, and it's hard to get new exiting experiences right now because we all have to stay home. How does this affect our happiness and how can we cope with the continued disappointment of yet another future experience being canceled?

Next to that, I read all over the internet that it's super important to have a routine during these days at home, what is your view on this? Since variety seems to be better for breaking hedonic adaptation and setting reference points.

Thanks in advance for your answers! I really enjoy the course :)

drlauriesantos16 karma

Great question. It's true that experiences improve our happiness more than material possessions, and that that a lot of us are hurting from experiences we're missing out on right now. (Just to take on example— my seniors at Yale are devastated to miss commencement. They were on spring break away from campus when they found out they weren't allowed to come back and finish all the parties/fun of senior year. Many of them are actively grieving that loss.) But that good news is that we can create new experiences: game nights with friends, spa dates with our kids, or even a socially-distanced picnic with friends. I think we'll also realize wind up savoring experiences even more after this crisis. I'm already excited about things I took for granted before— a quick trip to the movies or a vacation. We'll all realize how much we weren't appreciating these things when we get them back.

re: routines— yes, also super important right now, mostly to reduce the feelings of uncertainty and choice overload we're all facing right now. To learn more about the power of easier choices, check out this episode of The Happiness Lab: https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/choice-overload

nominadehuesos6 karma

Dear Laurie – thank you for creating this class. It’s extraordinary and packed with useful research from psychology.

My question: If we find that we’re not putting into practice our signature strengths in our jobs, should we change careers and jobs and look for another place where we can exercise them? Or how can we find moments to put them into practice outside of our jobs?

drlauriesantos8 karma

Oh, I'm so glad you asked this! We tackle this exact issue in an upcoming happiness lab episode (it'll probably drop two weeks from now). But the interim answer is that you can fix your current job through a process known as job crafting. We interview Amy Wrzesniewski who has some great work on this very topic.

monaginga6 karma

What advise do you give when you live with a negative person?

drlauriesantos9 karma

First just to validate here— I've had to live with and work with some. It can be hard! But I'd give two pieces of advice. First, this is a spot where compassion can be helpful. There was a while where I was using loving-kindness meditation to specifically deal with a tough co-worker, and it worked wonders. Second, remember that emotions are contagious. Which is bad in the sense that you can catch the negative person's emotions, but is great in that sometimes they can catch your positive emotions. We have a great podcast episode (https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-1-episodes/make-em-laugh) about how to harness these so-called "affective spirals" for you own good.

DownTheReddittHole6 karma

Hello and thank you Dr. Santos. I have been really wanting to find an authoritative figure like you to help me resolve the following:

I just listened to an inspiring TedTalk by the real Patch Adams. Dr. Adams is the happiest person I’ve ever seen and he attributes this to 1.5 hours of daily exercise and actively choosing to be happy. This being said, Adams does not treat any of his patients’ psychiatric disorders with pills. With recent research from John Hopkins and other credible institutions exploring alternative and controversial therapies involving: LSD, MDMA, Ketamine, and Psilocybin; my question is 1) What are your thoughts on using psychedelics to address mental health, and what are your thoughts on the pharmaceutical solutions found and propagated by doctors abiding by the DSM V (or whatever is used these days).


If you have time for a second question, who are some of the doctors or authorities in wellbeing that you most admire, follow, and use to educate yourself? Thank you deeply!

drlauriesantos11 karma

Great questions. There's some exciting new work coming out about Psilocybin and other psychedelic interventions. My sense is that scientifically speaking the jury is still out, but there are hints that we might see some important effects from this new line of research.

And re: folks in the well-being space I really admire, there are lots! Usually the people I drag on my podcast. But they include Liz Dunn (UBC), Nick Epley (U Chicago), Mike Norton and Ashley Whillans (Harvard), Jamil Zaki (Stanford), and Dave DeSteno (Northeastern). There are surely others I'm blanking on, but these are at least some folks doing really exciting stuff right now.

yopuedo5 karma

Hi Dr. Santos! First of all I would like to thank you for providing your "Science of Well-Being" course online! I am currently working on week 6 and I find every week to be very enjoyable and full of fantastic information!

Given the times we are currently facing - social distancing, reduced social interaction etc. - how can we exercise the strong benefits of social interaction in the following months (or longer) of people wanting to maintain distance from one another? Do we get the same benefits via Zoom and Facetime calls, or are they stronger in person?

Also, what can you tell us about your podcast? What topics will be covered, will you be interviewing different people, will there be Q&A's?

Thanks again for all you do! Looking forward to checking out the new podcast!

drlauriesantos8 karma

Thanks! re: social connection— the good news is that we can get a lot of the benefits of social connection through online formats, so long as they're in real time. So worth doubling down on those practices, especially at this time.

And the podcast is called The Happiness Lab (https://www.happinesslab.fm/). We have a whole recent season on tips for protecting your mental health during COVID-19, as well as a new season that just launched yesterday. We'll be covering how to make your job happier, how to better spend your money to feel better, and even the problems of tribalism. Should be a great season!

glad_to_be_here_2 karma

The world around us has changed dramatically due to COVID-19, and I have found my life profoundly changed for the better. I am managing Bipolar Disorder and PTSD as well as the constant ongoing recovery of an eating disorder. I know I am extremely privileged in being able to make the same income, but work far fewer hours, and have more time to actually work on the things that improve my life such as adequate exercise, adequate sleep, making healthy meals, spending more time to connect with people in my household, time for hobbies/flow mindset, and practicing mindfulness and gratitude, and much more. I can finally do all the things I wished I had time for that I know will dramatically help my mental health.

I don't necessarily think that a lack of education on what makes us happy or how to change our behavior is completely at fault for people being unhappy. I believe that the societal norm of things like having to work long hours to make ends meet, wasting so much time sitting in traffic, and all of the other things that take up time in our day are at fault as well. It seems a lot clearer (now that I have 5 more hours of free time each day) to implement these things that I know will contribute to my wellbeing.

So my questions is, do you think that changes like shorter work days, more jobs that can be done from home, more accessible/affordable programs for arts and fitness, and a generally slower lifestyle with more TIME for and emphasis on the things that make us happy is possible, and if so, do you think it may have a bigger impact than just education on "The Science of Well-Being" by itself?

drlauriesantos2 karma

Yeah, I think this crisis is making us realize a lot about our current society that could be better, and also for some of us that a break from work and a rethink of our priorities could be really critical.

AdeRay2 karma

If your current life is not a Wonderful Life then can negative visualisation still be used or does it sort of work against you?

drlauriesantos5 karma

My sense is that there's always something about your life that's good— that if you lost it would be bad. I think a lot of us are recognizing that now when lots of things we took for granted before (walking around with no mask on, seeing people we care about, etc) are gone. So worth finding those things before they go away and savoring them.

kittipo2 karma

Hey Dr. Santos,

I am going through your course with my youth group and some of the youth brought up that perhaps we are not getting the full picture with the studies presented in the class about expectation vs. reality.

For example people being unhappy after taking a weight loss course, there is no info on what the diet plan was or how intensive of exercise people had to do.

So my question is yes on paper all of the data seems to corroborate your idea that money, beauty, love does not bring you happiness but how do we make sure that we are representing the data accurately?

drlauriesantos6 karma

It's always a tough question, as all we have our the scientific papers. I try to give direct citations to the papers both on coursera and in the podcast just to my learners can evaluate the evidence directly. I personally only present findings I think are really solid scientifically, but there's always the need for more research, with other populations, etc. But we need to do the study because our intuitions about how we ourselves would feel are often wrong!

lookingrightone2 karma

[question] how to live stress free life as a parent?what is science of well being formula behind stress free life ?

drlauriesantos8 karma

First off, just to validate— parental stress is real! And it’s worse now during this crazy time than usual. But there are a few tips you can use to help. The first is self-compassion— basically not beating yourself up about not being the perfect parent. A lot of parenting expectations are ones we inadvertently put on ourselves. So dialing back the self-shaming can be really powerful.

A second piece of advice would be to focus on the stress itself. We can’t control our stressful circumstances, but there are lots of ways stop making it worse. We can do that by prioritizing behaviors that fight stress— exercise, making sure we get enough sleep, connecting with our social supports. But we can also directly act in ways that regulate our stress response through our breath. A lot of the physical feelings of stress come from our fight or flight system, the sympathetic nervous system. But we can put the breaks on that system by engaging its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system. That one is our rest and digest system. And we can kick that into high gear simply by taking a few slow, deep belly breaths, which engage our vagus nerve. So the next time parenting is causing that stress response, literally stop to take a few deep breaths. I know it’s advice that sounds lame, but scientifically speaking, it works!

t-rrrex1 karma

Dr. Santos,

Implementing the practices you discuss has had a positive benefit in my life. Thank you for putting all of this together for us. Once initial practices are implemented, is there a need to increase or change them. For instance, is there a benefit to meditating two hours a day instead of 15 minutes? How can we choose the optimal time we spend in engaging in these activities?

drlauriesantos2 karma

So glad to hear these practices are helping! I think the key is to keep paying attention to how you feel. If the practices are still having a positive effect, then don't fix it if it ain't broke. But if you're noticing a backslide, then it's worth switching things up a bit or increasing the amount of time/effort you put in.