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The professor behind Yale's popular online course, The Science of Well-Being, shares tips on how to feel happier right now

Published by Business Insider on Wed, 31 Mar 2021


<bi-shortcode id="disclaimer" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="insiderpicks">&nbsp;</bi-shortcode><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/category/e-learning" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5f3be4dca3eafa001de06b05-1667/Why the Science of Well-Being is resonating right now 4x3.png" border="0" alt="Why the Science of Well Being is resonating right now 4x3" data-mce-source="Alyssa Powell/Business Insider"></a></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><bi-shortcode id="table-of-contents" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="h2">Table of Contents: Static</bi-shortcode><p>As 2.9 billion people started to shelter in place at the start of the pandemic, Yale professor Laurie Santos' online course, <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/'id=35871X943606&amp;isjs=1&amp;jv=14.2.0-stackpath&amp;sref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com%2Fpost%2Fpreview%3Fpost_id%3D5f452c287924a1118003d386%26mode%3Ddesktop&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.com%2Fdeeplink%3Fid%3DEHFxW6yx8Uo%26mid%3D40328%26murl%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.coursera.org%252Flearn%252Fthe-science-of-well-being%252Fhome%252Fwelcome%26u1%3Dxid%3Afr1598368815546dcb&amp;xguid=01DMBET0A3SRVH4NAFZ0SQYSKZ&amp;xs=1&amp;xtz=240&amp;xuuid=0481df06e75f2cdce6fbb2ea86a62d42&amp;xjsf=other_click__contextmenu%20%5B2%5D" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">The Science of Well-Being</a>, experienced an explosion in signups <strong>with over 3.3 million total enrollments.</strong></p><p>Offered on <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-coursera" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Coursera</a>, the class is based on Santos' 2018 Yale course Psychology and the Good Life, which became the school's most popular course of all time.<strong> It tackles the psychology of personal happiness, debunking common myths and providing actionable, behavioral science-backed steps to feeling more fulfillment</strong>. (You can read <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coursera-yale-science-of-wellbeing-free-course-review-overview" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a review of The Science of Well-Being on Coursera here</a>.)</p><bi-shortcode id="commerce-link" class="mceNonEditable" data-cardtype="small" data-pid="5e71371cc4854077e66fb9d7" data-purchase-option="">The Science of Well-Being (small)</bi-shortcode><p>While the online course was especially popular during the pandemic, the mental health lessons and takeaways are applicable to all situations. <strong>To get a professional's take on happiness and better understand why this course keeps resonating so deeply with so many students</strong>, I caught up with Professor Laurie Santos.&nbsp;</p><h2><strong>Professor Laurie Santos' advice on how to feel happier:</strong></h2><h2>Ask yourself how a particular activity really feels as you're doing it.</h2><p>I asked Santos one of those no-stupid-questions questions: How do I really tell if an activity is making me happier'&nbsp;</p><p>"One of the interesting things about our emotions is [that] <strong>we usually know how they feel, but they're often buried because we don't take time to be mindful or be present with how things are feeling,</strong>" she said. "Everyone struggles with this because mindfulness takes a little bit of work."</p><p>After some time on Twitter, Santos will say to herself: "Okay, that was 20 minutes. How did that 20 minutes feel'"</p><p>If you're not sure about a TV binge or staying up late, Santos suggests asking yourself: "How did this make me feel' Am I more energized' Do I feel like I've wasted some time productively or do I feel gross or apathetic'"</p><h2>Think about mental health as a dietsome activities are harmless junk food, but sometimes your mind needs a salad.</h2><p>Santos also talked about mental health using the analogy of a well-balanced diet, with a cheesy Bravo series as the hot fudge sundae treat.</p><p>"It might be that we need [it sometimes], but that may not be the only nutrition we need to take in," she said. "Sometimes the things that feel really easy<strong>the quick social media check &nbsp; may not be the most nutritious.</strong> Sometimes we need to put work into things that will ultimately make us feel better in the end [like a call with friends]."</p><p>Some days you're going to need your junk reality television <em>du jour</em>. But you should also plan to balance it with quality conversations with friends, exercise, or even a walk outside.</p><h2>Recognize that your brain's paths of least resistance don't necessarily lead to happiness.&nbsp;</h2><p>We often look to things that are easyresting, watching TV, scrolling through social mediawhen really, the things that fulfill us and improve our happiness take a little bit of work.</p><p>According to Santos, what we crave often diverges from what we actually like. For example, you may gravitate to tapping through people's Instagram stories, but, after an hour, be left wondering why you wasted that hour. <strong>Similarly, you may not initially crave exercise, but can find yourself immediately happy you did it after a quick run or yoga class.</strong></p><bi-shortcode id="commerce-link" class="mceNonEditable" data-cardtype="small" data-pid="5e71371cc4854077e66fb9d7" data-purchase-option="">The Science of Well-Being (small)</bi-shortcode><h2>Write down ideas for how you'd ideally spend random small pockets of free time in a day.</h2><p>Our lives are full of what Harvard Business School professor Ashley Williams refers to as <strong>"time confetti"</strong>little specks of five or 10 minutes broken up throughout the day.</p><p>What do we do with our pockets of 10 minutes in between meetings, classes, and errands' Instead of calling a friend, many of us scroll through Facebook or Instagram.&nbsp;</p><p>"If I spent that 10 minutes doing a quick gratitude meditation, or if I spent it running up and down my stairs or even just taking a pause to look outside my window, that would actually probably be better than Facebook, but it takes a little work," Santos explained. "One strategy for [using time confetti] is <strong>to scribble down the things that you really want to do</strong> so that if you get a break, you can say, 'Oh, let me do this instead.'"</p><h2>Try challenging activities that require your presencesuch as learning a new language or meditation.</h2><p>Even though the startup costs for activities like <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/best-online-resources-to-learn-new-language" target="_blank" rel="noopener">learning a new language</a> can be higher than lounging on the couch, they're worth it, even if our brains think otherwise.</p><p>"Challenging activities give us what positive psychologists call flow," Santos explained. <strong>"[Flow] is the state where we're feeling really present and involved and it's kind of hard, but doable.</strong> It's not so easy that it's boring. And research suggests that flow states feel really good. They make time pass in an enjoyable but quick way; you're really present, and there's lots of research suggesting that anytime we do things where we're more present, we enjoy that activity more."</p><p>She went on to say, "Leisure feels better when we're a little challengedwhen we're doing something that's a little hard. I think seeing people who are learning how to bake something new or trying to learn a new language or something that's a little bit more activeeven playing games over Zoom with friendsI think those things can sometimes feel better than the really inactive stuff, even though the startup cost is higher."</p><h2>The bottom line</h2><p>To improve your mental well-being and overall happiness, you may want <strong>to prioritize social connection and challenging activities</strong> (exercising, learning a new language, cooking, and meditating are some good starter options). Lastly, try to find a way to adapt the activities that made you happy before the pandemic to the way you live right now.&nbsp;</p><p>For more on how to increase your own well-being, you can take Santos' course <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/'id=35871X943606&amp;isjs=1&amp;jv=14.2.0-stackpath&amp;sref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com%2Fpost%2Fpreview%3Fpost_id%3D5f452d32243817040c4fa11c%26mode%3Ddesktop&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.com%2Fdeeplink%3Fid%3DEHFxW6yx8Uo%26mid%3D40328%26murl%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.coursera.org%252Flearn%252Fthe-science-of-well-being%252Fhome%252Fwelcome%26u1%3Dxid%3Afr1598369082645gad&amp;xguid=01DMBET0A3SRVH4NAFZ0SQYSKZ&amp;xs=1&amp;xtz=240&amp;xuuid=7b134a64bc59afb48bd89c2c6ed1762b&amp;xjsf=other_click__contextmenu%20%5B2%5D" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">online for free</a> or listen to her podcast, "<a href="https://www.happinesslab.fm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Happiness Lab.</a>"</p><bi-shortcode id="commerce-link" class="mceNonEditable" data-cardtype="button" data-pid="5e71371cc4854077e66fb9d7" data-purchase-option="">The Science of Well-Being (button)</bi-shortcode><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/yale-professor-of-happiness-course-shares-advice-on-how-to-be-happy#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p>
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