How to Be Happier in 5 Research-Proven Steps, According to Popular Yale Professor Laurie Santos

Nature doesn’t care if you’re hap­py, but Yale psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Lau­rie San­tos does.

As Dr. San­tos points out dur­ing the above appear­ance on The Well, the goals of nat­ur­al selec­tion have been achieved as long as humans sur­vive and repro­duce, but most of us crave some­thing more to con­sid­er life worth liv­ing.

With depres­sion ris­ing to near epi­dem­ic lev­els on col­lege cam­pus­es and else­where, it’s worth tak­ing a look at our ingrained behav­ior, and maybe mak­ing some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to boost our hap­pi­ness lev­els.

Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life, Dr. San­tos’ mas­sive twice week­ly lec­ture class that active­ly tack­les ways of edg­ing clos­er to hap­pi­ness, is the most pop­u­lar course in Yale’s more than 300-year his­to­ry.

Do we detect some resis­tance?

Pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy — or the sci­ence of hap­pi­ness — is a pret­ty crowd­ed field late­ly, and the over­whelm­ing demand cre­at­ed by great throngs of peo­ple long­ing to feel bet­ter has attract­ed a fair num­ber of grifters will­ing to impart their proven method­olo­gies to any­one enrolling in their paid online cours­es.

By con­trast, Dr. San­tos not only has that Yale pedi­gree, she also cites oth­er respect­ed aca­d­e­mics such as the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago’s Nicholas Epley, a social cog­ni­tion spe­cial­ist who believes under­so­cial­i­ty, or a lack of face-to-face engage­ment, is mak­ing peo­ple mis­er­able, and Harvard’s Dan Gilbert and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Tim­o­thy Wil­son, who co-authored a paper on “mis­want­i­ng”, or the ten­den­cy to inac­cu­rate­ly pre­dict what will tru­ly result in sat­is­fac­tion and hap­pi­ness.

Yale under­grad Mick­ey Rose, who took Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life in the spring of 2022 to ful­fill a social sci­ence cred­it, told the Yale Dai­ly News that her favorite part of the class was that “every­thing was cit­ed, every­thing had a cred­i­ble source and study to back it up:”

I’m a STEM major and it’s kind of my over­all per­son­al­i­ty type to ques­tion claims that I find not very believ­able. Obvi­ous­ly the class made a lot of claims about mon­ey, grades, hap­pi­ness, that are coun­ter­in­tu­itive to most peo­ple and to Yale stu­dents espe­cial­ly.

With Psy­chol­o­gy and the Good Life now avail­able to the pub­lic for free on Cours­era, even skep­tics might con­sid­er giv­ing Dr. San­tos’ rec­om­mend­ed “re-wire­ment prac­tices” a peek, though be fore­warned, you should be pre­pared to put them into prac­tice before mak­ing pro­nounce­ments as to their effi­ca­cy.

It’s all pret­ty straight­for­ward stuff, start­ing with “use your phone to actu­al­ly be a phone”, mean­ing call a friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber to set up an in per­son get togeth­er rather than scrolling through end­less social media feeds.

Oth­er com­mon sense adjust­ments include look­ing beyond your­self to help by vol­un­teer­ing, resolv­ing to adopt a glass-is-half-full type atti­tude, cul­ti­vat­ing mind­ful­ness, mak­ing dai­ly entries in a grat­i­tude jour­nal, and becom­ing less seden­tary.

(You might also give Dr. San­tos’ Hap­pi­ness Lab pod­cast a go…)

Things to guard against are mea­sur­ing your own hap­pi­ness against the per­ceived hap­pi­ness of oth­ers and “impact bias” — over­es­ti­mat­ing the dura­tion and inten­si­ty of hap­pi­ness that is the expect­ed result of some hot­ly antic­i­pat­ed event, acqui­si­tion or change in social stand­ing.

Below Dr. San­tos gives a tour of the Good Life Cen­ter, an on-cam­pus space that stressed out, social­ly anx­ious stu­dents can vis­it to get help putting some of those re-wire­ment prac­tices into play.

Sign up for Coursera’s 10-week Sci­ence of Well-Being course here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Sci­ence of Well-Being: Take a Free Online Ver­sion of Yale University’s Most Pop­u­lar Course

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy & Neu­ro­science Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Hugh E. Brennan says:

    These arti­cles are every­where, yet, I note they ignore “The Sci­ence.”
    Sur­vey after sur­vey demon­strates mar­riage, fam­i­ly, church, ser­vice, com­mu­ni­ty, nature, and a bit of fru­gal­i­ty. That’s it. Get mar­ried, stay mar­ried, raise a fam­i­ly, go to church. Worked for great grand­ma, works today.
    Pop­u­lar? Trendy? cut­ting edge?

  • Seth says:

    I am a per­son of faith and doesn’t make me per­fect or judg­men­tal towards oth­ers. But it does help me stay ground­ed and hum­ble, and there are things big­ger than me. I reg­u­lar­ly vol­un­teer don’t drink and do my best to respect all peo­ple. Late­ly, I’m find­ing the need to be more social. With friends and oth­er adults because I put so much time into a kids to be a super dad and vol­un­teer­ing. I find peo­ple put too much val­ue into pop­u­lar cul­ture and polit­i­cal move­ments that are always chang­ing. They put too much val­ue into tech­nol­o­gy mate­r­i­al items. Ani­mals over peo­ple and I am a huge dog lover. Human con­nec­tion means more than all those things I just men­tioned. But peo­ple are so guard­ed, ego­tis­ti­cal and frankly weak. This all leads to depres­sion and super egos and feel­ing like you con­trol every­thing through your phone. When actu­al­ly, you have no con­trol. My catholic faith has nev­er taught me to hate. The world push­es us to think of each oth­er in extremes. I have all types of friends. It is not an act for pop­u­lar cul­ture sake.. I was raised to love all peo­ple way before these pop­u­lar cul­ture and polit­i­cal move­ments. Most of you just learned this that’s why you over­re­act to any per­ceived injus­tice., . it seems that peo­ple are all about them­selves, their stuff and then a polit­i­cal move­ment pops up that you don’t under­stand- just jump on it !!! when that’s over they go back to being pop­u­lar cul­ture self­ish. Con­nect with nature con­nect with ocean eat right believ­ing in some­thing more than your­self. I espe­cial­ly find a lot of these move­ments dis­turb­ing as a black man because all the sud­den dur­ing Trump peo­ple sud­den­ly liked us and want to help us, when they should’ve doing nat­u­ral­ly before.

    Sor­ry for the typos 🫶🏾🫶🏾

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