Happiness: 14 Ideas Leading to International Day of Joy

The most popular course in Yale's history: Psychology and the good life.

Posted Mar 09, 2018

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

About the time I was reminded of the upcoming International Day of Happiness, March 20th, I found a notice in my too cluttered email inbox from Yale discussing their happiness class. According to the Yale Daily News, February 4, 2018, a total of 1,147 students are currently enrolled in 'Psychology and the Good Life,' making it the most popular course in Yale’s history.  It is also being offered online.  Taught by Professor Laurie Santos, she wants to teach students how to be happy.  She talks about what it is that people think might make them happy but making the point that these ideas do not necessarily sync with lasting life satisfaction. 

And she  tried to make a point about grades and happiness in a rather creative way.  She told that class that she was running an experiment and would give all of her students D’s to see if a bad grade would affect their happiness. Keep in mind that Yale is a grade driven university.  

It created such a stir that she heard from students, college deans and even parents concerned about her pronouncement. Her goal was to help students realize that there are paths to happiness that do not involve grades.

The YDN noted: "Perhaps after the class, some students will realize that 'there is a different path,' Santos said. 'And that path, which involves focusing more on learning and growth rather than just fixating on grades, may lead to just as much success — and certainly more happiness.'" 

Studies on the relationship between happiness and grades range in results depending on the age of the student and specific goals.

As we think about this, here are 10 ideas from Action for Happiness.  Each idea has links on their website with detailed information. In brief:

  1. Do things for others: Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness.
  2. Connect with People: Relationships are the most important overall contributor to happiness.
  3. Take care of your body: Our body and our mind are connected. Being active makes us happier as well as being good for our physical health.
  4. Live life mindfully: Ever felt there must be more to life? Well good news, there is! And it's right here in front of us. We just need to stop and take notice.
  5. Keep learning new things: Learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged.
  6. Have goals to look forward to: Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these need to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. 
  7. Find ways to bounce back: We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose our own attitude to what happens.
  8. Look for what's good: Positive emotions -- like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride -- are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an 'upward spiral', helping to build our resources.
  9. Be comfortable with who you are: Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong, increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience and our well-being. It also helps us accept others as they are.
  10. Be part of something bigger: People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do.

These 10 Keys to Happier Living framework were jointly developed by Vanessa King and the Action for Happiness team in 2010. They pointed out that these are "based on an extensive review of the latest research evidence relating to psychological/mental well-being."

Plus 4 more ideas related to gratitude that spark happiness

Gratitude is considered a key factor in happiness.  Michael Craig Miller, M.D., at the Harvard Medical School, wrote, "In Praise of Gratitude," The Harvard Health Letter. He said:

In the relatively new field of positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness. Expressing gratitude helps people feel positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

 Here are 4 more ways to generate gratitude and happiness.

  1. Smile: Begin and end your day with a smile. What if you don't feel like smiling? Find something that will bring a smile to your face. Look through a magazine until you find a picture that helps you bubble over with laughter. Smile at someone you love, even if they have been hurtful to you. How? By recalling a happy moment the two of you shared.
  2. Make gratitude visits: Make an unexpected visit to someone who needs you. And if you cannot go in person, send a little thought gift.
  3. Say "Thank you." So often during the day we take little kindnesses for granted. Someone holds the elevator for us or opens a door. A person in line sees we have only two items and lets us get ahead. How many times have you seen this happen and the person who received the gracious gesture simply nods his or her head and goes back to talking on a cell phone rather than saying the words "thank you."
  4. Write Thank you notes: Find a place in your home to turn a table into a gratitude desk. 

The additional four thoughts are from Gratitude as Science: 4 Paths Lead to Love and Happiness/ Psychology Today based on my interviews with Robert Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. 

Copyright 2018 Rita Watson