What makes us happy? What truly contributes to our sense of wellbeing? During this time of social distancing when we are unable to be in our normal routine, it is important to keep in mind what actuality improves our wellbeing and happiness. As I have been working from home these past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do a little learning. Recently, I completed a free online Corsera course called the Science of Wellbeing through Yale University taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
According to research cited by Santos, the things we think will make us happy, in reality, don’t improve our wellbeing. Santos calls this “miswanting.” The things that most Americans believe will increase their happiness such as having a good job, lots of money, possessions, true love, attractive physical appearance and success do not make us as happy as we think they will. As soon as we achieve them, we want more. We adapt to the new normal, get used to having what we thought would bring happiness, the novelty wears off, and what we wanted so badly, soon becomes mundane and perhaps even boring. Familiarity does breed contempt when thinking about happiness.
So, the question is: How do we achieve true happiness? If achieving what we think will make us happy, actually doesn’t, then what will? The answers may surprise you.
According to the research presented in the Science of Wellbeing course, having social contacts increases our happiness. This is especially significant during this time of social isolation. Making a point of increasing contacts with people via phone calls or video messaging will brighten your day. Writing a letter, sending an email or text will benefit you and the recipient. Spending time with those you are social distancing with engaging in reading books, playing games, doing puzzles, cooking together, remembering past experiences, planning future experiences, sharing something you appreciate about someone will increase happiness. Even something as simple as making eye contact, smiling or waving at someone you see on the street will increase your mood and theirs as well.
Acts of kindness are another important factor. Doing something kind for someone else will increase your happiness more than doing something nice for yourself. Random acts of kindness may seem cliché, but actually improve happiness.
Taking care of yourself by getting exercise, good nutrition, and enough sleep will also increase your mood. Even changing your environment a bit, by putting unhealthy snacks in the cupboard instead of on the counter or putting fruit or healthy snacks in plain sight can improve your nutrition and wellbeing.
Participating in activities that you enjoy and find rewarding, where you lose track of time, and use your strengths is another strategy to increase your wellbeing.
Even in these days of isolation and lock-down, small things that you might not expect can brighten your day. Engaging in simple changes in your environment, your actions and thoughts can make a difference in your wellbeing and the happiness of those around you.
Next time we will discuss another aspect of happiness: Gratitude.
If you are interested in participating in free, online learning, follow this link to Corsera’s online courses: https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=free
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.