Even if you’re not a news junkie, there seems to be no shortage of reasons to be pessimistic in today’s world. There is so much negative information swirling around us each day that it may be hard to find the silver linings. But recent research tells us that happiness is within our grasp and even during challenging times, we can practice activities that will increase our happiness and satisfaction with life.
According to a recent CNET post, in 2014, two University of California, Berkeley psychologists designed and offered an 8-week course to students in the science and practice of finding happiness. The course taught students about the science of connection, compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness. Those enrolled in the Science of Happiness course were also expected to complete a series of activities that research suggests boosts happiness.
Among those who did all the assigned activities, students reported their positive feelings increased with each week. Participants who completed the happiness exercises in addition to reading the course material and watching guest instructor videos said they experienced increases in happiness and a decrease in stress. The course is free to audit through edX or listen to the Science of Happiness podcast for strategies on living a happier life in any circumstance.
Many people believe that experiencing happiness is not something we can control. But research is increasingly proving that external forces such as wealth, possessions, or status have less to do with a high sense of well-being than we might imagine. Although some degree of financial stability can lower stress, developing skills to cope with setbacks and loss helps people navigate life, learning along the way how to seize each day and find more joy.
We can’t hear it often enough, especially during a pandemic, but staying socially connected and nurturing close relationships is vital for health, well-being, and longevity. Helping others also ranks high among the kind of activities that support a happy life; a small random act of kindness feels good both in the giving and the receiving.
With American Thanksgiving around the corner, and many people lamenting social distancing that may be required to keep loved-ones safe, practicing and expressing gratitude can keep the focus on the positive. The brain can actually be trained with practice to shift away from stresses or annoyances and focus on the good. A gratitude journal can help with this process. Mindfulness can also help reduce stress and increase happiness by allowing the brain to focus on the present rather than the past and increase self-acceptance. Treating yourself with compassion rather than criticism may be more difficult to achieve since we are often our own worst critic, but if our inner voice could speak as if to a friend or loved one, how much happier could we all become?
Learn more about enrolling in a free Yale Science of Well-Being online course here.