Laurie Santos: The Happiness Lab – You Are Not So Smart

Check out the You Are Not So Smart Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • More money only solves your money problems. Odds are, it won’t affect your overall happiness levels.
  • A recent National Health survey of college students found
    • Over 40% of students are too depressed to function
    • Over 60% are overwhelmingly anxious
    • Over 80% feel too overwhelmed to get stuff done
    • Over 10% actively considered suicide in the past year
  • Around the world, loneliness is reported at double the rate it was in the 1980s, in every age category
  • We as human are horrible at predicting what will make us happy
  • After a while, people tend to revert back to a baseline of happiness (good or bad events don’t affect your happiness, long-term, as much as you think)
  • Positive interactions with strangers can boost your mood way more than expected
  • Socializing is a better mood-booster than eating, shopping, relaxing or watching TV (even if it’s with a stranger)

Intro

  • Laurie Santos (IG: @lauriesantos, T:@lauriesantos) is a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University
    • In January 2018, her course, “Psychology and the Good Life,” became the most popular course in Yale’s 300- year history
    • Check out her podcast – The Happiness Lab
  • Host – David McRaney (@davidmcraney)

Does more money = more happiness?

  • Most people believe that if they had more money their problems would go away
    • Laurie says this is only true if you’re desperate (i.e., if you were in need of a roof over your head or food)
      • Research shows that beyond an annual salary of $75k/year, happiness levels off

Why doesn’t money lead us to happiness?

  • We as humans aren’t good at predicting what makes us happy
  • “We create life plans that lead us away from happiness. We don’t know what makes us happy, but we don’t know that we don’t know that!”Laurie Santos

How did Laurie end up teaching a happiness class and turning it into a podcast?

  • As head of one of Yale’s colleges, she was required to live on campus
    • What she found: “College students seemed less happy than I thought they’d be” – Laurie Santos
  • So, Laurie had the idea to teach a class on the science of happiness with the aim that if students understood the science behind it, their lives and happiness would improve
    • She assumed 30-40 students would enroll in the course because it was an upper-level psychology class – she was shocked when 1200 students registered for it
  • The Happiness Lab podcast was a natural outgrowth of the class

Has something shifted in the life of college students now compared to 10-20 years ago that has affected their happiness?

  • “Yes, we know from surveys, that mental health is completely different now” – Laurie Santos
  • A recent National Health survey of college students found:
    • Over 40% of students are too depressed to function
    • Over 60% are overwhelmingly anxious
    • Over 80% feel too overwhelmed to get stuff done
    • Over 10% actively considered suicide in the past year

But non-college age folks are struggling with the happiness factor, too. Why?

  • Technology is leading to less interaction and more transactions
    • Examples:
      • ATM vs bank teller
      • At Starbucks, you can order online – you don’t need to talk to anyone
  • Simple, positive interactions with strangers can bump our mood way more than expected
    • Next time you’re waiting in a long line, talk to a stranger!
  • Researchers looked at those who scored in the top 10% on happiness surveys and found what they had in common:
    • They were more social/spent more time around humans than the average person
      • Conclusion: Being around other people is a necessary condition for happiness
    • Which daily activity makes us feel the best?
      • Socializing! – More so than eating, shopping, relaxing or watching TV

A Happiness Study

  • A study out of the University of Chicago gave people $10 Starbucks gift cards to talk to strangers on the train
    • Most thought this would be awkward or weird
      • But, after their trip, surveys showed that commuters found they experienced a better mood/more happiness when making a connection with someone they didn’t know

We use our intuition to decide what we’ll do to make us happy.  But, if we’re wrong, are we missing out on a chance for happiness?

  • We’re using intuition to design whole systems that actually reduce our happiness”Laurie Santos
  • Here’s an example:
    • Researchers pondered whether the Chicago transit system should try having a “chatty car” for people who want to talk
      • As it turns out, they’re actually rolling out a quiet car because that’s what people say they want
        • Laurie says – “But people don’t know what they want!”
      • Result:  Our intuition is leading us astray

Why are we so resistant to being social?

  • The cost of not being social = loneliness
  • Around the world, loneliness is reported at double the rate it was in the 1980s, in every age category
    • Loneliness impairs well-being and health
    • Feeling isolated is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Simple interactions, like a conversation with a barista, are important, but instead…. we stay quiet.  Why?
    • 1. Because we’ve designed a world where we don’t have to interact
    • 2. Its easier to scroll through our Instagram feed than talk to strangers
  • “Even though intuition tells us that talking to the person beside us in line or next to us on a train is going to suck, it’s actually better than we think” – Laurie Santos
  • Happiness isn’t about the intensity of interaction, but frequency
    • Quick fix: talk to people

What is impact bias?

  • Impact bias stems from the belief that you can predict how you’ll feel in the future
  • The truth: The good things won’t be as good and the bad things won’t be as bad as your mind leads you to believe
    • You overestimate the magnitude and duration of events—both good and bad
      • Examples – Marriage, child, divorce, death, job loss
  • Predicting the future is a relatively new ability for humans from an evolutionary standpoint (chimps can’t do it)

Hedonic Adaptation

  • After a while, people tend to revert back to a baseline of happiness (good or bad events don’t affect your happiness, long-term, as much as you think)
  • “We think, ‘I’ll get this job and be happy forever.’ We have this hypothesis as to how happy we’ll be, but we have a baseline we return to and it doesn’t take long to get back to it.” – Laurie Santos
    • This leads to continued dissatisfaction stemming from a mismatch between our prediction of how happy we thought we’d be and how happy we actually end up being

Laurie’s takeaway from all the research?

  • “Our mind lies to us about what we think will make us happy and we’re missing out” Laurie Santos
    • If you know the science, you can change things in your life to take control of your happiness
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