Nationally acclaimed psychologist, professor and podcast host Laurie Santos shared an array of tips of how to promote happiness and the science behind them Tuesday during a virtual lecture sponsored by Oregon State University.
“Happiness is possible, but we need to change our behaviors and our mindsets,” Santos said. “Engaging in behaviors of social connection and gratitude, engaging in mindsets of presence and focusing on your time, these are simple changes that we can make but they can have a big effect on our well-being.”
Santos spoke as part of Oregon State’s Provost’s Lecture Series. Her talk was viewed by about 750 people. She is the Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon Professor of Psychology and head of Silliman College at Yale University and an expert on human cognition and biases that impede better choices.
Her course, “Psychology and the Good Life,” is Yale’s most popular course ever and has been taken by over 3.3 million people to date. Her podcast, “The Happiness Lab,” has been downloaded over 65 million times.
Santos spent most of her talk outlining a series of science-backed tips that she said help instill happiness in people. They included:
- Making time for social connections. She said research shows that happy people are more social. She cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of the negative impacts of what happens to people when social interactions are lost.
- Helping others makes people happier than they expect. She mentioned research findings that indicate people are happier when they donate to charity, volunteer their time and spend money on others versus themselves.
- Practicing gratitude. She referenced a research study in which people were asked to write a thank-you note to someone, hand deliver it to the recipient and read it to them. This act boosted the happiness of the note writer for several months, she said.
- Being in the present moment even if it feels awful. She said research shows people can’t simply get rid of negative emotions by trying to reject them. As an alternative, she mentioned a technique known by the acronym RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) as a method to overcome negative emotions.
- Becoming wealthy in time, not money. She said that “time affluence,” the sense that one has ample time available on a daily basis, can increase happiness. She also stressed the importance of strategically using small chunks of time, which she said other researchers have termed “time confetti.” She encouraged her audience to make a time confetti wish list that can be drawn from when short blocks of time arise.
Following her talk, Santos was joined by Dr. Brian Primack, dean of Oregon State’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, for a moderated question-and-answer discussion.
Primack asked her what one or two ideas are most critical for someone interested in focusing on happiness. Referencing the happiness tips she outlined earlier in her talk, Santos said she encourages people to focus on areas that don’t come naturally to them.
“The key is all of these practices seem to really help us, but you personally probably know the ones that you need more than others,” she said. “So, investing in those will help a lot.”
Primack ended the event by asking Santos what is needed to help the science of happiness move forward. Santos focused on the importance of reaching individuals at a younger age. She mentioned a new course she recently created for middle and high school students called “The Science of Well-being for Teens” and also a partnership with Sesame Street to teach the content to even younger children.
“A lot of the stuff you just heard about, ‘be present, savor, make sure you have some time, allow your emotions’ are the kind of things little kids can do,” she said. “The hope is we can find ways to better teach this stuff earlier and earlier.”
Santos’ lecture was the second and final event in the 2022-23 Provost’s Lecture Series. The Provost’s Lecture Series is a partnership of the Office of the Provost and the OSU Foundation. It brings renowned thinkers, writers, scientists, artists and leaders to OSU to engage, challenge and inspire.
Two in-person lectures are already scheduled for the series next academic year on the Corvallis campus. Diana Henriques will give a talk titled “Why Financial History Matters” on Nov. 8, and Michael Pollan will be on campus for “A Conversation with Bestselling Author Michael Pollan” on April 2, 2024.