I was signposted to a Science of Wellbeing course run by Yale University online through Coursera.
It has some really helpful research information that backs up much of the things that I was learning or often knew, but chose not to act on!
In the first week I measured my authentic happiness, which was 3.67/5, this is a baseline in order to measure any increase in authentic happiness following the course. It was interesting to take the next survey to look at my character strengths and virtues. The synergy between courses was interesting. Some of the key points that I think are worth sharing follow.
So, it is not enough to learn or know something, we need to put these ideas into action. That may sound simple and obvious enough. However, it often isn’t simple. There are so many distractions and promises of shiny, sparkly things that distract us from what we really want and what will really make us happy and therefore improve our wellbeing.
There is an argument that Governments should do more to nudge us to make decisions in our lives that will lead to happiness and wellbeing. But actually often the opposite is true. Those who really want to live a life full of contentment, have to battle against a myriad of media, consumerism, capitalism, busyism (is that even a word?).
During the course, we looked a nmber of ‘rewirements’. These are things that if we aim to rewire our brains to focus on these goals, rather than more materialistic goals, will, according to the research, make us happier. So if you wanted to try these, you could follow these suggestions.
Try savouring one thing every day for seven days. Stay in the moment whilst doing whatever it is. Share with someone else, take a photo, talk about it, mention it on social media. Every night, write down what it is that you savoured and recall the experience, really try to experience the feeling again. Practice gratitude for the experience. I found this quite hard. I think this exercise is somewhere between mindfulness and gratitude journalling.
There has been a lot written about practicing gratitude and journalling gratitude. As you may have read in previous posts, I love practicing and journialling gratitude. I write every morning and evening in my journal. The course, recommends a book by Robert Emmons entitled The Power of Gratitude. He puts forward that this practice can heal past hurts and can improve your life. He also says that it is important to acknowledge that other people or forces did this for you. There are different levels, we are all grateful for a present that we have been given. The next level might be that we practice gratitude and it becomes a habit. So this would be keeping a gratitude journal. This level is a good start and helps us to feel happier with a lives. However, being grateful as a way of life really helps us to be deeply happy and contented. Being grateful in all of life’s experiences tends to make the difference and helps people to live more fulfilling lives. This doesn’t mean that we are always grateful, even for the terrible things that happen in life, but that we look for the opportunities for learning or growing out of deeply challenging things that happen. People who live grateful lives, they tend to be more helpful and social, giving to others. Emmons says that people who see life as a gift rather than a burden are those who are living and practicing grateful living.
One of the key concepts discussed in this course was the idea of mis-wanting. The term was introduced by Tim Wilson and Dan Gilbert. As humans, the research suggests, we mis-want lots of things in our lives. Things that we think will make us happy often don’t make us as happy as we perceive they will. Things, such as expensive cars, big houses, a job that pays more and so on. Of course, we are also told often that we want these things and that owning them will make them happy. However, certainly for those of us who live in wealthier countries, there is no correlation between life satisfaction and earning a high income. Once we have our basic needs met, more money does not make us happier. I am sure that we have all thought; ‘If only I had ………… I would be happy’. We think (and popular culture tells us) we need ‘awesome stuff’ to make us happy. Even thinking about wanting ‘stuff’ (materialsim) actually makes us less satisfied with our lives. Research shows that non-materialists tend to be happier. It isn’t only wanting things that leads us to mis-wanting. Research suggests that married people are happier for the first year or so, but after that, there is no difference. If you are in a marraige that isn’t a good one, it definitely doesn’t make you happier. Spending time on your looks, research shows, doesn’t make us happier. In one piece of research, those who lost weitht were unhappier than those who stayed the same or put weight on! Cosmetic surgery – those who want it are generally less happy than the general population and are even more unhappy after they have had the surgery. Getting good results in exams doesn’t make people as happy as they thought it would. Also, we see things that we have or that happen to us in relative terms. Research has looked at olympic medallists to look at their levels of happiness. Those that won a gold medal, as you might imagine were happy. However, those that won a silver medal, were less happy than those who won bronze. The silver medallists were apt to be disappointed in their performance, because they thought that if only they had done that little bit better, they could have won gold. Whereas, those who won bronze were happier because they nearly didn’t make it to the podium at all!
All this leads to the conclusion that our mind plays tricks on us – a lot! So, why do we not know what makes us happier or more contented? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, we are aiming for the wrong things to make us happy and our minds strongest intuition is often totally wrong. We are genetically programmed in our apptitude for happiness, 50% of our happiness is in our genes and 10% is down to our life circumstances. However, a massive 40% of our happiness comes from our thoughts, attitude and actions. This 40% is under our control.
Our minds are complicated, but the overwhelming message from this learning is that there are a lot of things we can do to help nudge our minds into feeling more content and helping to improve our mental and physical health. It does take commitment, but if really want to be happier, then we can make a habit of positive attitude leading to a more positive life. If the time isn’t right for you now, feel free to pop back when you feel ready!
By the end of the course, I had managed to lift my authentic happiness score to 4/5.