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Happiness in a world of stress

Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos expected around 50 students when she first offered her intro to happiness class titled, “The Psychology of the Good Life.” Imagine her surprise when more than 1,000 students, a full quarter of the stressed-out student body, signed up.

When she offered the course online, 400,000 people registered. Professor Santos now also shares her tips as host of the podcast, The Happiness Lab.

Even on mellow Maui her science-based suggestions and observations offer ways to deal with stressors like the global pandemic and job worries. Not all that surprising, many of the happiness factors she has quantified through scientific study are backed up by age-old axioms, such as: “Money cannot buy happiness,” “Take a deep breath” and “It is better to give than receive.”

Santos has found that human intuitions of what causes happiness often do not jibe with reality. Ask folks what would make them happier and many will list money, job advancement and committed relationships. Poor single people with dead-end jobs can be just as happy or sad as rich, well-married high achievers.

It is more about habits. Things like positive social interactions, getting enough sleep, finding free time to decompress, being mindful and doing generous acts are more likely to make you happy than driving a fancy car or being the highest wage earner on the block.

This sounds like the Aloha Spirit. In the middle of a pandemic, and with unemployment on the island still near record highs, it is good to hear our island lifestyle gives us a leg up.

Santos says scientific research shows that human resilience allows people to not only endure tough times, but also to come out of them as happy as they were before. What doesn’t kill us really does make us stronger. Understanding and accepting this resilience make it easier to move forward from trauma and hardship. Others have done it and so can we.

This dive into Santos and her work was inspired by something a friend said last week. While talking about the polarization in America, he said it is our choice to live in a world of grievance or a world of gratitude.

Are we angry and distrustful? Or do we see the good in others and entertain hope? It is vital to know that no matter how agitated by the news we get, our take will almost certainly have zero impact on the nation or the world. It can, however, make a world of difference for us and for those close to us.

Our thoughts affect our moods.

Smiles are contagious.

Kindness is free.

Santos says it is normal to feel lousy once in a while. If you are feeling low, take time to be kind to yourself and to others. Research shows you will be happier when you do.

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