Given the current Covid-19 situation which i will not go into, I was suddenly left with so much more time on my hands, which I tried to spend wisely.
Out of the abundance of options of what to do during quarantine, I chose Yale’s free class called “The Science of Well Being” and I’d like to share with you the most important ideas.
First of all, to establish why we are (somewhat) unwell, we must recognise a few annoying features of the mind. We are all different, yet our minds work relatively similarly when it comes to the following:
- Our mind’s strongest intuitions are wrong, which leads to often wanting the wrong stuff, a.k.a miswanting. The perfect job, the perfect marriage and the perfect body are often considered aspirations worthy of pursuit. Yet once we have them, they fail to bring the expected happiness. On the same note, we often expect unfortunate events such as low grades to provide major misery, when, in fact, studies show, they don’t. See this is what we mean by annoying feature – we are being tricked by our own mind, so we end up making false predictions which later fail to provide the expected results.
- Our minds don’t think in term of absolutes, but in terms of relatives. This means that maybe we could be happy, but we ruin our chances as soon as we start comparing ourselves to others. Social media is one of the main culprits here and even if we don’t ditch it completely, finding constructive, positive ways to use it could make a drastic difference to our general well being. As it turns out, comparison is the thief of joy.
- Our minds adapt to change (a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation), which means we get used to stuff. All of the perfect things mentioned in the first paragraph fail to make us happy because we rapidly get accustomed to them and consider them our new normality. We forget to take a minute and enjoy what we have and we don’t express gratitude. We just want more.
- We don’t even realize we have hedonic adaptation, so our predictions are often wrong. There’s something even worse than hedonic adaptation – we’re ignorant to it. As a result, we make wrong predictions about the important things in life and we often sacrifice experiences for material possessions. Being static and prone to bringing less and less joy every day, these material possessions fail to please, whereas an experience, which is dynamic is far more rewarding as it brings joy both while being lived, but also while being reminisced time and time again.
So far, so bad. It looks like our minds are broken, so we’re doomed. Or are we? In order to cope with all these annoying features, we do have several tools, we just need to make a conscious effort to use them. Yale even recommends downloading their Rewi app, which helps you track how often you use these tools:
- Savoring – taking a moment to step back and observe what you’re experiencing as an outsider. It can be a delicious meal, a beautiful song or an amazing sunset and it takes no longer than a few minutes, but it makes you feel glad to be alive.
- Gratitude – which I consider the most important tool of all. Taking a few minutes every evening and every morning to count your blessings can do wonders for your mood and for your life.
- Kindness – probably this is not something you’d mention when being asked what makes you happy, but it’s something you should pursue more than you think. When comparing buying something for yourself versus buying something for someone else, every study conducted shows the same result: we’re happier when we do something for others. This applies to both immediately after and weeks later, so start thinking of ways to do good right now!
- Social connection – both deep, profound connections with friends, but also what we consider “meaningless” encounters with strangers can impact our mood tremendously. Humans are social creatures, so we need these interactions so much more than our annoying minds think.
- Sleep – 8 hours of sleep impact not only our mood, but also our health. So, don’t ever sacrifice sleep thinking you’d have more time and more productivity. It’s the other way round.
- Exercise – just as sleep, exercising is a catalyst for feeling good both mentally and physically and should not be neglected.
- Mind control – consists of two major practices: daily meditation and setting goals in an appropriate way. Even 5 minutes of daily meditation do wonders for our wandering minds. When our minds wander, they often lead us to over-analyzing past actions or over-worrying about the future, but we forget the present, which is actually the only time we ever experience. Even our future will be experienced as present once it arrives. When it comes to goal setting, the acronym WOOP is the only way to do it: Wish, determine the best Outcome you could get from it, recognise the possible Obstacles and Plan accordingly. This will help you be prepared and not give up when an obstacle pops up and actually reach your goals.
I know this is a rather long text, but these are only a fraction of all the good ideas and practices I extracted from the course. Now applying all of them is a whole other issue I’m currently struggling with. But I highly encourage you to take the course yourself and tell me what you think.
You can find the full course on www.coursera.org