Podcasts

How to Be Happier in Tumultuous Times – with Laurie Santos

Laurie Santos

We are experiencing incredibly strange times resulting in dramatic and profound changes in our lives at work and at home. Many of us are filled with more negative emotion and stress than usual which has taken a toll on our mental health.

What can we do to be a little bit happier as women in this challenging time? Yale professor of psychology and happiness expert Dr. Laurie Santos will share evidence-based tips that can be used now to help you uncover happiness in general—and particularly in the context of this strange time we find ourselves in.

This episode is a replay of a Conferences for Women special session with Dr. Santos and offers a teeny-tiny (yet jam packed) version of her class at Yale – the most popular class at the University!


Laurie Santos

DR. LAURIE SANTOS is an expert on human cognition, its origins, and the evolutionary biases that influence our all-too imperfect life choices. She is also knowledgeable in how behavioral change through positive psychology can lead to a happy and fulfilling life. Currently, the big project of Santos is to positively influence the culture of Yale University by teaching happiness and well-being. She created a course so meaningful that it became the most popular class taken at Yale in over 316 years. In her course, Psychology and the Good Life, Santos teaches her 1,200 students about behavioral change through positive psychology. Santos wants her students to be more grateful, procrastinate less and increase social connections. She believes that those positive habits will decrease mental health issues on campus and create happier and more motivated students. The popularity of the class has prompted Yale to create a free online course. She is the host of the podcast, The Happiness Lab. Santos was appointed Head of Silliman College on July 1, 2016 to a five year term. She is a professor of psychology at Yale University, where she serves as director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory, as well as the Canine Cognition Center. She teaches one of Yale’s most popular undergraduate courses, Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature. She earned her PhD in psychology from Harvard University. Her numerous awards for science, teaching, and mentorship include the Stanton Prize from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology for outstanding contributions to interdisciplinary research. @lauriesantos

 

Celeste Headlee

Celeste HeadleeCeleste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

 


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Transcript of Dr. Laurie Santos’ Talk on Happiness in 2021

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be talking to you all today about what we can do to be a little bit happier as women in this strange and challenging time, right? It’s no secret that COVID-19 has been a bit of a mess in terms of the kinds of things we should be doing to be a little bit happier, right? We are all facing this very strange time with lots of mental health issues. But what I’m going to go through today are some evidence-based tips that you can use to feel a little bit better. I’m going to start with how I got interested in the science of happiness because, to be totally honest, it’s a little bit of a strange thing to be studying. And then I’m going to spend most of my time going through what the evidence really suggests about how you can feel a little bit better. So you’re going to leave with lots of science-backed tips for how to be a little bit happier.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
But just to start with the introduction, as mentioned, I’m a professor at this wonderful school at Yale University. I’ve been teaching there for over a decade. But just in the last couple of years, I took on a new role at Yale. I became one of their heads of college. And this is a strange way of saying that I, as a faculty member, live on campus with students. I hang out with them in their courtyard. I hang out with them in these interesting ways. What I realized is that I didn’t actually like what I was seeing in this new role as a head of college. I was seeing the college student mental health crisis up close and personal, with so many students reporting that they were feeling depressed and anxious and just stressed out. It’s worth noting that all of this was before COVID, right? So this is even before COVID times.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so I wanted to do something to help my students. I didn’t like that they were facing this mental health crisis. And so I decided to help them out by designing this totally new class. The idea behind the class was that I was going to teach the students everything my field knows about how to live a more flourishing life; to live a life that’s free from stress, free from depression and anxiety, and all the science-backed tips they can use to feel better. I christened it something a little sexy because I wanted it to pop out of the course catalog. I called it Psychology and The Good Life, hoping students would notice it. But it was a new class on campus, so I figured probably 30 or so students would take a totally new class.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
You can imagine my surprise when I walked into a classroom that looked this. This is what it looks when a whole. quarter of the entire Yale student body is deciding to take your class; over 1,000 students. And so, this was cool because it showed me that students were voting with their feet. They didn’t like this culture of feeling stressed and anxious, and they really wanted to do something about it to promote their wellbeing. So it’s worth noting in the story, as I mentioned, that this was a while ago; this is back in 2018, right, when things seemed a little bit kinder and gentler. It might have been [inaudible 00:02:53] to be talking about all of our mental health back in 2018. Nowadays, in 2021, it’s feeling a little different when it comes to our mental health.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
In fact, if I was to describe our current mental health, I’d sort of describe it as a bit of a dumpster fire here in 2021. I’m not sure what the last 12 months have looked like for you, but mine have been filled with a lot more negative emotion than usual and a lot more stress. I think, of course, we know why that is, the COVID-19 crisis is changing so much of our lifestyles in a variety of profound ways. We’re not able to hang out with the people we love anymore. We’re not able to hang out with our friends and family members. We’re not seeing our work colleagues as much any more; for those of you who are working remotely, maybe your kids are working from home, right? All these routine changes on top of the obvious that we’re dealing with a global pandemic that’s literally killing people and is disproportionately affecting people of color.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
This is an awful, challenging, scary time, and it raises the question of, well, what can we do in a challenging time like this to feel a little bit better? And that’s the thing I actually want to address in my talk today. I want to talk about how we can become happier in general but particularly how we can use these strategies in the context of this strange time we find ourselves in in 2021. What are strategies we can use now to feel better? And that’s what I’m going to do over the next half hour. I’m going to squish my entire Yale class into 20 minutes or so, so you can get all the insights that my students get. But to do that, I have to do the really teeny tiny cliff notes version.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so we’re going to do a little bit of a listicle version. I’m going to go through the top six insights that we get from the science of happiness, things that research shows us really will work to improve our wellbeing, starting with top insight number one, which I think is really critical because it shows us that this whole enterprise of using a scientific approach to improve our happiness is not just possible but really important during COVID-19. Top insight number one is that our happiness is still important even in these challenging times. We can often think, as my students might call our happiness, that happiness is a first world problem, it’s the thing you worry about when everything else is going well. We think that that makes sense because good circumstances lead to happiness. If things are going well, then your happiness will follow.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
But the research shows that we get the causality backwards when it comes to our happiness levels. We think good things happen and you become happy. But the research is starting to show us that happiness might be causally related to getting good things in the future. Let’s take something that we all know is really important right now, making sure that we have some economic certainty. So many folks are worried about their jobs, worried about their salaries, and so on. Is this the kind of thing that can be affected by happiness? Well, there’s lot of research actually looking at this, not whether or not you have a nice salary check and you become happy, but again the opposite causal pattern, does your happiness lead to a higher salary, does your happiness lead to getting a better job, does it lead to more job satisfaction?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
There’s some research that’s looked at this directly. Researchers bring in 18-year-olds, so folks when they’re graduating high school. They measure their cheerfulness levels, and they look at whether or not those cheerfulness levels predict people’s job attainment, so whether or not they get a job, not at 18 but at age 27 and even later at age 35. They also look at whether or not cheerfulness predicts people’s salary and their job performance. In all these cases, what researchers find is that your cheerfulness matters. Your cheerfulness at age 18 predicts whether or not you’ll have a job at age 27, whether you’ll like that job at age 27, even how you’re doing during that job at age 27. And we seem to know a little bit about the causal mechanism, at least, of your cheerfulness predicting a higher salary, but it seems to predict a higher salary because if you’re happier you tend to do better at your job.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
In fact, there’s lots of evidence suggesting that happier people come up with more innovative solutions. One study that looked at this brought doctors into the lab and gave them a really tough medical problem. If you remember that TV show, House, you might remember House was this doctor who would have these really hard medical diagnoses. What predicts whether or not a doctor is going to be good at that? Well, lots of things, but one thing the research shows is it’s also a doctor’s mood. These researchers gave half of the doctors that came in for this study a moment to feel a little bit of laughter. So doctors got to watch a really funny video, so they’re in a good mood.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
What did they find? Well, it turns out that the doctors that were in a better mood were significantly more likely to figure out the innovative solution. Our creative solutions are super important in the context of COVID. And one of the things that predicts whether or not we’re going to get there is just our mood. So all things in our job domain seem to depend on our happiness levels. It seems to predict whether or not we get a job, whether we’re happy with our job, what our salaries are, if we’re doing well, if we’re coming up with creative solutions.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
But even maybe more importantly in the context of this crisis, our happiness levels also seem to predict something about our immune function. One study by Colleen and colleagues looked at this directly. They brought subjects into the lab and exposed all subjects to rhinoviruses. These days, we’re all talking about coronaviruses, what are rhinoviruses? Well, these are the viruses that cause the common cold. So subjects come in, they have to sniff this thing that has a bunch of rhinoviruses in it so they’re all exposed to rhinoviruses. The question is just, who gets sick? What the researchers looked at was the subject’s positive style. You tend to be a high positive style person, you’re so joyous all the time, and in a good mood, or are you’re low positive style person. You’re kind of down in the dumps more often and so on.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
I’ll show the graph of this just so you can see. I’m going to plot the percentage of colds that individuals in these different positive style group got. Again, low positive styles, they’re down in the dumps sort of style. Higher positive style is you’re feeling good. And this what the researchers find. Basically, individuals in the low positive style group are catching colds at almost twice the rate of those in the high positive style group. Now, does that mean you throw away your mask and don’t social distance and just get in a good mood? No. Obviously, there’s lots of factors involved in our immune function. But the research really shows that our mental health, our cheerfulness level, our positive style, that’s one too.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so all this goes to say that we might think about, “Once I get through this crisis, I get to worry about my happiness, right? I’m just going to focus on that when things are better.” Research suggests no. One way we might be able to help ourselves get through this crisis is to focus on our happiness first. Happiness still matters now. It might be causally related to all the other things you want to in your life. And so this is why I tend to start my talk with this image here. I think it really sums up how we should be thinking about happiness, which is it’s supposed to be a big thing in our lives, as big up there as our career and so on. And also, I think that this image shows that we can create our happiness over time. That’s what the insights from the rest of the tips show us.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Happiness isn’t just something we’re born with, it’s something that we can use behaviors to achieve. And the rest of the tips are about those behaviors, what are the kinds of things you can do to really feel better? Starting with top insight number two, which is that if we want to be happier right now, we need to make time for what I’m going to call nutritious social connection. Every available study of happy people suggests that happy people are more social. They spend time with their friends and family members. They make time for the people they care about. They even are physically around other people more often. One study in Positive Psychology announced that a necessary condition for high happiness is that you tend to be a little bit social. Right?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
This is super important for building our happiness over time, right, being social. And, of course, this is tricky right now, right? Many of you are practicing socially distancing, maybe you might not be working in the same way with your teams, you might be working from home. You might not have seen your close friends and family members for a year at this point, right? It’s starting to feel really frustrating. But the research also shows that it’s negatively affecting our happiness. My favorite metaphor for happiness is it’s like a leaky tire. It’s going to go down over time. We need to infuse it with things that pump up your wellbeing.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And right now, all those little social moments from talking to the barista at the coffee shop to hanging out with someone at the water cooler to seeing your close friends, we’re not doing that as much anymore. So what can we do to build up our happiness given this? Well, the advice that I give my students is that it’s become even more important to intentionally find what I’m going to call nutritious social connection. I often use these analogies with my students about nutrition and healthy eating, so I’ll use that analogy with you. If I put up this image right here and I asked you, “Hey, is this stuff nutritious?” you’d say, “Yeah, look at all good plant-based veggie goodness. That’s would be nutritious if you ate it. You’d feel good.” How do you know that? Well, you might know about the science of nutritious but more you might have tried some of these things and know that if you eat this stuff you feel better than if you eat a bunch of fast food, right? You’d mindfully notice how this makes you feel.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
This is the same approach we need to take with our social connection. We need to pay attention to how different kinds of social interactions make us feel, and build in the stuff that feels good very intentionally right now rather than the stuff that doesn’t feel so good. So what are social connection that might feel good? The normal, everybody hanging out together, grabbing some food or something together in small groups in real life, that’s going to feel awesome. We’re not doing that as much anymore, so what are good substitutes? Well, I’m kind of preaching to the choir since we’re having this conversation over WebEx, but one mechanism is just to use technology to try and connect with someone else.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
If you hang out with a few friends for a Zoom happy hour or get together with folks at work for not a work call but something fun with Zoom, is that going to feel nutritious? Probably. If we can connect in real time with others, that often feels really good. But again, you need to mindfully notice, maybe it might not feel so great after a whole day sitting down watching a bunch of Zoom, WebEx calls, right? You might need to pace it out. Just like you wouldn’t eat 14 salads in a row, you might not want to have the 14 Zoom call in a row. But the key again, mindfully pay attention to how this is feeling. If you notice that things feel good, intentionally build them in.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
What are other ways to socially connect? Picking up the phone and calling someone. We often don’t realize that we can use the phone not to be checking our Instagram or email but also to pick it up to call a friend. Does this feel nutrition? Again, like healthy eating, it has a bit of a startup cost, you got to schedule a time and so on. The research really shows it’s going to make you feel better than we often expect. What’s a way to social connect that might not be so good? Again, a different use for the phone, picking it up and checking your Instagram feed, checking your email. It is technically a way to be social but it might not be social in the way we think, right? This might not be feeling nutritious. It’s like the NutraSweet of social connection. We think it’s going to taste good, but it doesn’t give us that nutritious sense that we’re connected to others.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
So that help insight number two, we need to be making time for nutritious social connection. This is going to matter much more than we really think. That gets us to top insight number three, that we think it’s really important for our happiness, which is if we want be to like happy people, we need to be focused on helping others. This is something that’s a little cultural right now. Not that helping others is bad, but we tend in tough terms to want to focus on ourselves. There’s a lot of this talk about self-care, treat yourself, do nice things for yourself, right? This is what we think is going to build us up. But the science shows that that’s not what happy people do, happy people tend to be other oriented. They spend their time on other people, they spend their money on other people.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Research shows that if I force you to spend your time and money on other people, that will actually improve your wellbeing more than if I allowed you to spend your time and your money on yourself. We know this from a lovely study by Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues. She goes up to people on the street and gives them some money and tells them how to spend it. Subjects are walked up to on the streets, she’s asks them if they want to be in the study. They agree, they’re asked to rate their happiness on a standard, well-validated happiness scale that we use. Then subjects get some money. In this case, subjects get either five or $20. Then they’re told how to spend it. Liz says, “By the end of the day, you have to spend this money on yourself, or by the end of the day you need to spend this money on someone else. Do something nice for someone else.”

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Then subjects agree that Liz will call them later. We’re going to look at how people’s happiness changes over time. They’re going to re-rate their happiness, and we’re going to look for changes, right? So Liz realizes people don’t totally get it. Sometimes their minds lie to them about what’s going to feel good. So she has a different group of subjects predict, “If you were in this study, which one of these conditions would feel better?” What she finds is that people predict the treat yourself kind of condition. People predict that spending money on themselves is going to feel better than spending money on other people. But what really happens when you do the study is just the opposite. At the end of the day, even at the end of the week, people who spend money on others are happier than people who spend money on themselves.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so this means we have to rethink this notion of self-care. It’s not as healthy as we often think. Happiness comes from being other oriented. This is the time when we can use little pockets of extra time and money that we’re getting in a way that might help others. What do I mean by this? Well, if you’re working from home or you have a different routine, you might not be going to your local coffee shop as much or maybe you’re not spending some money on your commute every week. What could you do to use those little chunks of money to do something nice for someone else, whether that’s help a local business, give a gift to a friend, and so on?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Some of you, maybe if you’re not commuting as much, might be getting little windfalls of time. Instead of flopping down to watch TV with that time, what could you do to spend it on someone else? If you can find more ways to be other oriented and help others you’ll be happier. That’s top insight number three. Now we get to top insight number four. Another thing we don’t expect, but the research shows that if we want to be happier we need to take time to be grateful. We know gratitude, thankfulness, it’s so important, but a lot of us don’t tend to do that, right? We spend our time griping and feeling sad. That sort of makes sense because 2021, 2020, it has not been an awesome time. If it had a Yelp grading, it wouldn’t really be like happy Yelp grading.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
But the research shows that it’s still important even in challenging times to make time for the things that you’re really grateful for, to count your blessings. One study showed that the simple act of writing down three to five things you’re grateful for every night can significant improve your wellbeing in as little as two weeks. Totally free, just a big boost in wellbeing just from this simple act of paying attention to what you’re grateful for. We get even bigger boosts into our wellbeing when we don’t just think about our gratitude privately but we actually express our gratitude to others, thank the people around you. This, it turns out, has tons of different benefits. One benefit is for the performance of the people around you. When they hear your gratitude, they tend to improve their performance.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
We notice from one study by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino. They did this lovely study where they bring fundraisers in from the university, the thankless people who call you and ask for money from your former college as an alumnus. They bring these folks in, and they try to see what they can do to improve their performance, and they do this by expressing a little gratitude to these folks. So half of the folks in the room, their superior, their boss comes in and sincerely express his gratitude. They say, “Look, we’re so grateful for everything you’ve done. Thank you so much for your work. Because of the work you do, we can do X, Y, and Z at the university. You’re really valued here.” The question is, what happens to individuals’ performance?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
The performance goes up but it goes up pretty substantially. In fact, Grant and Gino found that fundraisers who received this gratitude wind up increasing their calls and their performance by 50%. Imagine how your team’s increasing performance by 50% simply through the act of expressing gratitude. But it’s just not the performance we can increase, we actually increase everybody’s wellbeing all around, including the person who expresses gratitude. In that situation, the boss who comes in and says thank you, that individual’s going to get a wellbeing boost too. We know that from studies that have people come in and kind of, again, force them to express gratitude to people in their lives. One of my favorite versions of this study comes from the researchers Marty Seligman and his colleagues. He has his subjects do a gratitude visit. So he tells his participants, “In the next week, I want you to write a letter of gratitude to someone who’s helped you or been especially kind to you but they’ve never probably been thanked. Then deliver that letter in person to the person in question.” Right, pre COVID where you could show up and express your gratitude.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
What do people predict? People predict this will be fine or maybe a little awkward. They don’t realize the longstanding effect it can have on their wellbeing. And I’ll show you that longstanding effect here in this graph. I’m going to plot people’s self-reported happiness on the Y-axis and how people react to this gratitude visit, that’s going to be the white bars, versus a control condition, those are the black bars where people just list a few happy memories. What Seligman and colleagues find is there’s no difference in people’s self-reported happiness before this gratitude visit. Right after the gratitude visit, people’s happiness pumps up. What’s amazing is that people show us a significant pump in happiness that last. He followed subjects up to six months, and he finds that people self-reported bump in happiness last from between one to three months.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Which is incredible that the simple act of expressing gratitude can bump up your happiness. We’re having this conversation at the beginning of March right now, happiness bump-up through Memorial Day weekend, that’s seems incredible, but that’s the power of gratitude. So here’s your homework, you invite the Yale lady to come talk and you get some homework. Your homework is really to do this: who could you express gratitude to and really help them but also give yourself a little bit of a bump? That’s top insight number four, we need to be practicing and expressing gratitude, whether that’s at work, in our home life, in all different domains.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Now we get to top insight number five, which is that if we really want to be happier, we need to be in the present moment and savor the good things. This is something you might have heard too, this idea of being in the present moment, be mindful, just pay attention to what it feels like to be you in this moment right now. We get that this is important, but we don’t spend a lot of time doing it. In fact, we spend most of our time not being in the present moment, kind of mind wandering, like this guy’s picture right here where you’re thinking about a million different things, what you’re going to have for dinner, that weird conversation that you had with your kid, like a million different places other than I am here and now.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Researchers estimate that we do this kind of mind wandering just under half the time. So half the time we’re just simply not paying attention to what’s going on. These researchers also show that this mind wandering has a big cost. In fact, researchers show that any [inaudible 00:20:36] thing you report mind wandering to, even if it’s a good thing like, “I’m going to take a vacation soon,” and your mind is wandering to that, you don’t feel as good as if you’re simply being in the present moment and paying attention to the here and now. So what can we do to that better? Oh this is just the data, these are how folks self-reflect on their mind wandering. When you’re mind-wandering to the unpleasant things on the left and neutral things, what you’re going to eat for dinner, or even these pleasant things, it’s not as good as that dot at the bottom, just not mind wandering at all.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so, what could we do to stop our mind wandering? Well, we have one great strategy, which is we can just pay attention and savor. So the next time you’re having a wonderful experience like eating a delicious ice cream cone think, “What can I do to pay attention to this? What does this taste like? How can I pay attention to this even more?” But if you want an extra dose of mindfulness, you can engage in a practice we know really improves it, which is the practice of meditation. Every time you meditate and take time to intentionally pay attention to your breath, that’s the time when you’re intentionally stopping that mind wandering. Research shows that the act of doing this can reduce activation in regions of your brain that mind wander.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
So meditation’s good, being in present moment is good, but it’s also worth knowing that being in the present moment isn’t just about savoring the good times, there’s kind of a corollary where we also need to be in the present moment, even if the present moment is not feeling so hot. And that something we know from COVID, right? We haven’t felt hot a lot. There’s been a lot of negative emotions going around. Our instinct can be to run away from them, but the research shows that there’s not a very smart strategy. In fact, some studies by James Gross and his colleagues show just what a bad strategy this is. He brings his subjects into the lab and has them watch a sad video. And he says, “Whatever you do, don’t experience the sadness. Don’t feel sad after watching that video, really try to suppress it.” What happens?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Well, subjects show cognitive changes. They actually do worse on a memory test afterwards. So you’re hurting your cognition doing this. But subjects also show cardiac stress. Even the simple act of suppressing your emotions in this little fake lab condition, subjects are actually doing worse over time. They actually experience stress in their heart because of this. You’re hurting your body too. So negative emotions, we shouldn’t be suppressing them, but there’s a question of how we can get through them. The science gives one strategy that’s particularly helpful. It’s a strategy that comes through a practice of meditation, one that’s been popularized by the meditation teacher Tara Rock. And it’s an acronym of meditation known as RAIN, standing for recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Let’s say you’re experiencing a negative emotion, you get some stressful email from your boss or you’re thinking about that negative conversation you had with your kid or you’re just looking at the COVID statistics, feeling stressed. You notice you have a negative emotion. That’s when you say, “Aha, I’m going to do RAIN.” The first step is just to recognize what that emotion is. Is it feeling overwhelmed? Are you angry? Are you feeling said? Label it and describe what it is. Recognize what’s happening.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And then you do the A which is to allow. You’re just like that bad Beetle song like Let it Be, you just say, “I’m going to let it be. I’m just going to hang out with this emotion while it’s there.” But you give your mind something to do while you’re hanging out with that emotion, you do the I, which is to investigate. With caring curiosity, pay attention to what this emotion feels like in your body. Is it making your clench your chest or your jaw? Are you experiencing some craving? Maybe you want to run away and check your email, try to a substance or eat something, right? Don’t act on those urges, just hang out with that emotion over time. And what the science shows is that emotions are like a wave, they’re going to crash and go away. If you could just give yourself something to do, you can learn more about how these things play out in your body, and you’ll sort of get through them.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And that’s when you do the last step of RAIN, the nurture. What can you do to take care of yourself given that you’ve been through this emotion? How would you advise a friend to take care of themselves when they are going to through that emotion? What can you do to do that for yourself? Research shows that engaging in practices like RAIN allow individuals and first responders, super stressful jobs, to reduce burnout. So it’s a powerful technique for getting through these tough times. That’s top insight number five, we need to be in the present moment, both when things are good and when things are yucky.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Now we get to my final sixth tip, which is if you want to be like happy people, you need to focus on becoming wealthy and not in terms of money, in terms of time. We all have a sense that money will make us happier, but it doesn’t. In part because the more money we get, the more money we think we need. I’ll just tell you one quick study that’s looked at this. This is a study that asked folks, “Hey, what number could I put on your annual salary check, and if you got that amount you would never need anymore?” Researchers go out and they ask people at different income levels, so they ask folks currently earning $30,000, “Is that enough?” These folks say, “No, I really need $50,000 to be happy.” Right? But it turns out if you look at people who are earning more money, they’re not happy either.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
In fact, researchers looked at folks currently earning $100,000, asked them, “Hey, are you happy with that?” And they say, “No, to be happy, I really need $250,000.” So you never get to the goal but what’s [inaudible 00:25:26] is the goal get further off as you get more money. And so the research really shows that, again, if you’re leaving above the poverty line and you’re getting a reasonable income, more isn’t going to make you happier, more’s only going to make you want more. But there is a kind of affluence that it does significantly impact our happiness, and that’s what researchers call time affluence, the subjective sense that you have some free time.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
It’s the opposite of what many of us experience, which is time famine, where we’re literally starving for time. That, it turns out, is really bad for our wellbeing. In fact, researchers, Ashley Welling shows that if you self-report being time famished, really starved for time, that’s as bad as a hit on your wellbeing as if you self-report being unemployed. Now, you might be saying, “Time affluence sounds fantastic, but oh my gosh, but I have none it. I’m running a day care, I’m working from home. I’ve never been more time famished. What can I do?” Well, the good news is you don’t have to objectively open up more free time to feel more time affluence, your subjective sense that you have some free time. And that means that there’s two ways you can bump up your time affluence without opening up more time in your calendar.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
One is reframing the things that you are doing to recognize that you’re getting some time. So imagine you go out and buy take-out, some of you might have done that during the pandemic or get curbside pickup, you can take a moment to realize how much that action has saved you time. If you get takeout of a burger and fries, that’s a burger and fries that you don’t have to fry up, potatoes you didn’t need to chop, pans you didn’t have to clean, grocery stores you didn’t have to go to. If you think about it, just that act of getting takeout might have saved you a couple of hours.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Research shows that reframing our purchases as ones that save us time, you can make this feel like, “I actually saved myself some time. I can use that in a productive way.” But an even more powerful strategy for making good use of our time is to make sure we’re prioritizing our time confetti. One very strange feature of what we know about time patterns across time is that we, in fact, have more free time now than we ever have. It doesn’t feel like it, and it doesn’t feel like it because the free time we do have is broken up into these tiny chunks. That’s what researchers call time confetti, that five minutes of time confetti here and there before the Zoom meeting or that 10 minutes of time confetti when your kids goes to bed early.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
We don’t really make good use of it, but we don’t realize that that’s the free time we should really be maximizing. So what can you do to make good use of your time confetti? Researcher Ashley Willing recommends making a time confetti wish-list. So you have you to-do list for work, but you also have your to-do list that when you find yourself with five minutes you’re not just going to check email or go on social media, you’ll do something that really improves your happiness. Maybe you’ll scribble in a gratitude journal. Maybe you’ll set up a time to call a friend. Or maybe you’ll just do a quick meditation and take a couple of quick breaths.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Making good use of your time confetti can be a way to promote time affluence and really maximize the free time you do have. Okay, so that top insight number six. That means you’ve made it through all the top insights. You’ve graduated from this class at Yale. What I hope though I’ve done is that even in this really short period we’ve gotten a chance to go through some of the main findings that we know can really improve happiness, not just in general but during a really challenging time. I hope I’ve given you some tips that you can use, and I’m really excited to hear your questions for me about what we can do to improve happiness for this group even more. And with that, I will express my gratitude to the organizers and say thank you so much, I’m really looking forward to your questions.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
I think I’m getting my questions via my phone, and my phone just slipped out of my hand for a second. So if I pop off the screen to just go and grab it, and then come back to see the questions you’re sending me. Thank you so much. All right. Well, it looks like I’m already getting a bunch of questions, which is fantastic. They’re coming to me over text here, which is awesome. And so, one of the questions I got is, “In this time we all feel so uncertain. What are some happiness rituals that you have found helpful?” Honestly, I’ve found a lot of these happiness rituals that I’ve mentioned helpful. But a few that I’ll talk about here I think have been particularly useful for me.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
One of those rituals is just making sure that I’m engaging with baby steps well. We don’t have a lot of time right now. We’re super time famished. If I wanted to have really extensive social connection or do some fantastic random act of kindness for someone, I’m just not going to have time, right? And so allowing yourself to do baby steps has been a strategy that’s been really useful for me. So just text a friend. Just do something really quick like text someone a compliment. It will just take a couple of moments to do a couple of deep breaths and pay attention to my breath. Finding ways to allow myself to do in tiny doses has been really important, part because I don’t feel as guilty about it. But also, I actually have the time to get those in. And so as you’ve heard these tips, find these teeny tiny strategies and ways to get them in small amounts of time can be incredibly profound.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so a next question is, “Is there any kind of research on the kinds of social connection that are the most nutritious? Is a phone call more nutritious than a video call and so on?” I think, honestly, the research shows that all of these things can be nutritious if done in the right context and with the right kind of attitude. What do I mean by that? Again, is a video conference going to feel like it improves your social connection? Yeah, in theory. But if you’re exhausted, you’ve been sitting in the same chair for a long time, your eyes are glazing are over because you’ve been looking at a screen for too long, maybe it’s not the right time for that video conference.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And so this is the key of why I talk about mindfully paying attention to the sorts of things that are nutritious. You have to notice what’s good for you and be good about intentionally building again more [inaudible 00:31:01] of it. It’s just like nutritious. If you realize like, “Oh, I have an allergy to this fruit or I might not have an allergy but every time I eat it, it makes me feel yucky,” you want to remove it from your diet. The same is true for social connection, you got to build in the stuff that feels really good for you. And you need to do intentionally. Again, naturally we get boosts to our little leaky tires from social connection all the time, simple things like chatting to the barista at the coffee shop or running into folks at work. Because we’re getting less of that, we need to make sure we’re prioritizing it even more.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Okay, so next question is, “What cultural nuances have you observed in your research? For example, are some cultural practices prioritizing happiness more than others? What is culture teaching us about happiness?” I love getting this question because every year, in fact, this is going to come out next weekend in fact, so stay tuned, the United Nations publishes what they call a World Happiness Report where they look at countries around the world and rank the in terms of their happiness. Usually it’s the Scandinavian countries that do really well, right? You might think, “Oh, those folks are just genetically hardwired to be happier.” The research suggests not so.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
In fact, what’s going on is that they’re culturally more happy and partly because culturally they’re prioritizing exactly the tips I just told you about. So let’s take Scandinavian countries, think the Danish folks and Sweden and so on. They are happy in part because a lot of the tips I just mentioned they’re engaging with, social connection, a lot of community activities. They’re not using cars as much, they run into each other more, take walks together. Time affluence, right, they have more vacation time over time culturally, savoring this act of paying attention. Think of [huga 00:32:43] and these sort of tips where in the cold savoring this time together.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
They’re happier not because they’re genetically hardwired to be happier, the research suggests, they’re happier because they’re culture is prioritizing these tips. So if you don’t necessarily live in one of the happier countries, maybe a lot of you are coming in from the US right now, and we’re not super happy for a relatively rich nation. The key is that you can create local cultures that maximize these things. You create a culture in your family. You create a culture in your job and in your teams. What can you do to build in things like gratitude, more social connection, a teeny bit more time off or a little bit more time affluence where you subjectively get a sense that you have some time off? What can you do to create a local culture that’s maximizing all the tips I just mentioned? All of us can restructure our lives to have more of these, it just takes a little bit of creative planning. So that’s the sense of culture here.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Another question I get, which is actually one I get from my Yale students a lot, so I’m happy that you asked it is, “Where should you start?” I mentioned all these different insights, which of these has been shown to have the most impact? There’s a couple of different ways to answer that question. One is, often people ask this when they’re feeling incredibly time famished, like, “I don’t have time for all six. Just give me the one that works best.” I get it, right? That’s when I get back to this idea of what’s worked best for me, these baby steps, right? You don’t have to do all of these perfectly. You don’t have to write 300 pages of your gratitude journal or engage with million random acts of kindness. Just scale it back and do tiny versions of these things.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
If you think in terms of that, then you might be able to fit in all of these insights where you don’t necessarily have to pick one. So that’s insight number one, but the second way to answer this question is, what’s going to have the biggest impact for you? And the answer there is very individualized because we naturally vary in whether or not we’re doing the stuff anyway. Some of you might say, “Oh, I’m super grateful. I’m just a naturally grateful person.” Or some of you might say, “I’m naturally getting a lot of social connection.” Or maybe you just have a lot of time affluence because your work has changed in a way that you have a lot more free time, right?

Dr. Laurie Santos:
The insight that’s going to have the most impact for you is the one that you’re not doing right now. All of you might have seen one of these and thought, “that’s one where I need to put some work in,” that’s the spot that is going to work for you. That’s where you’re going to get the most happiness bang for your buck. If you’re already really socially connected, doing more is not going to help, but if you’re really not socially connected, if you’re feeling very lonely, then intervening there is going to have a big effect. So it’s kind of not the nicest advice, it’s like, pick the one that’s hardest, and that’s the one that’s going to be more helpful for you.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
Next question which I think is a very relevant one, especially since we’re having this conversation over WebEx, which is any tips for bringing more connection to remote work or making meetings happier? This is something we’re all facing right now in the context of COVID-19 where, again, the normal water cooler conversation, the normal social connection we get from our teams, even the normal trust and effectiveness we have in our teams, it is trickier now doing this stuff in the [inaudible 00:35:52] context in which many of us are working. But there are tips that we can use to do it better.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
One is to explicitly schedule time just for the goofy social stuff. We’ve gotten very good at doing normal work stuff over these kind of interfaces, right? We can have a staff meeting this way or a brain storming session. We don’t often have the fun water cooler parts, right, but you can schedule those. You can set up 20 minutes of the meeting before. You’re not allowed to talk about work stuff, you’re just allowed to have the water cooler conversation, and gossip, do something fun. You can set up time that specifically for that, like not even at the start of a regular meeting, but just folks are on the Zoom call and you can pop in like it was an office or like it was a conference room and chat with folks. Using these technologies for the fun stuff can be really helpful.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
A second way we can build more happiness into these remote events is to take a page from the tip about gratitude, right? Many of us just start the meeting like, “All right, let’s just get down to business. But what if you started the meeting with a little not of gratitude? Whether you’re the team leaders and you just express what you’re most grateful for about last week’s work week, a person that you’re really grateful for. I’ve heard of businesses who have a thing, either a stuffed animal or a plant, and every week somebody passes the plant on to someone they’re grateful for. So then the next week, the person at the plant has to give it away to someone else they’re grateful for. That’s pre COVID when you’re literally passing the plant. But these are all mechanisms we can use in the remote world to experience a little bit more gratitude.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
As you’ve just seen, that’s going to boost up everybody’s wellbeing. It’s going to make folks feel more socially connected. But it’s also going to make you perform better, right? I mean, that’s what some of the research on gratitude shows that it affects performance. So it’s a huge win-win in these remote situations when we all need a little performance enhancer, gratitude can be that for a lot of us. Scrolling through for one or two more questions. Another question I’ve gotten is, “Is there one of the six steps that resonates particularly well with unhappy teenagers?” That group that I work with the most. The good news is that all of these tips seem to relatively universal and they seem to be, when you do the developmentally appropriate version, really good for our kids too.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
I mentioned setting these cultures that are happier. Setting up your home life to promote some of these can be particularly affective. I think our teens right now, especially ones that are doing remote learning are struggling a lot with social connection. So as a parent, if you can set up opportunities for your teens to get together in a social way that’s safe with their friends, that can be profound to help them with that. I think setting them up, especially when they’re getting teenage grippy mood to think about things that they’re grateful for can be quite fun. These are the kind of thing you can do around the dinner table and so on.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
I think working with teens to do a strategy rain, for example, where they’re allowed to recognize and be cool with their negative emotion, and teaching them that that’s okay and there are strategies they can use, all of these the research shows can be particularly powerful. But a final way to deal with unhappy teenagers, especially if they’re your family members who are that unhappy teenagers, is to focus on your own happiness, which sounds strange. But the research shows that we experience a lot of emotional contagion. The emotions of people around us affect us. You know that if you have a Debby Downer in your house or in your team at work where their negative emotions affect you.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
But you also know that if you have a particularly optimistic or happy person around you, when you’re around that person who’s really energized, they can affect your happiness too. That means that you can be the seed of whatever emotional energy you want in your family, in your teams, but particularly with your kids. There’s a lot of experiments showing that emotion contagion goes in the direction of status. In other words, the mom and the dad, they’re going to be the ones whose emotions affect the kids more than the kids emotions affect the moms. It’s not what we think as parents, but it’s actually what the data show. This is some work by Wharton Business School professor, Sega [inaudible 00:39:54]. She talks about what’s called an affective spiral.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
You know the affective spiral. If you walk in and your teen is in a really bad moon, then you catch the mood, and then you go talk to your spouse, and then your spouse is in a bad mood. You can get these spirals that go down. But you can also get these spirals that go up too. If your teen is in a super good mood and then you catch that and then you go on a work call and you’re in a good mood, these things can transmit. [inaudible 00:40:16] recommends that you see yourself as the seed. You work on your own happiness and your own emotions. You experience gratitude. You do all the right stuff and then you’re going to bring that position energy and that’s going to affect them too. And so that’s my favorite tip rather than just introducing teens to these techniques, because I think that’s really useful too, apply these techniques in your life. Focus on your happiness. And this is the way that you can affect people around you quite positively.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And it’s nice because it gives you a little bit of permission to feel a little bit happier too. And then I think what’s probably going to be final question, so we can wrap up, “What is the best way to talk someone on my team who I think may be unhappy and might not be following these kind of tips?” I think the answer here is very similar to the question I just answered, right, which is this another domain where affective spirals matter a lot. The reason we don’t like unhappy folks in our team is they bring us down. They’re the star of the affective spiral that go down into the dumps. But we can really be one that’s the opposite. I mean if you’re in a happy mood, does that mean the negative person on your team is instantly going to be happy for ever? No. But it’s going to have a positive effect.

Dr. Laurie Santos:
And we can start infusing some of these things into our team. Even if your team doesn’t have a policy of expressing gratitude at the beginning of every meeting, you can start that. Start the meeting and be like, “Hi, everybody, I just want to say, can we give a shout-out to Jane on the team because Jane did this awesome thing, right?” You can just start by having yourself be the person who’s using these tips and expressing them, expressing and noticing like, “I’m feeling a little anxious. I’m feeling my [inaudible 00:41:52]. I’m just going to be there.” Right? You can do rain. You can give your team a little bit of time, especially if you’re a leader, you can find ways to infuse these tips in. So rather than thinking in terms of, “I’m going to tell my team members that they all have to follow this,” you can just set a good example. The research really shows that more than we think that’s going to affect our team too.

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