Episode 98: Science-Based Tools For Increasing Happiness| Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • “Nothing related to our mood exists in isolation.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • Sleep is a critical component of happiness: viewing direct morning sunlight within 30-60 minutes of waking will help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, and optimize cortisol & adenosine levels
  • Money can’t buy happiness but it does buffer stress
  • Natural happiness vs synthetic happiness: Natural – is associated with obtaining something either through gift or effort; Synthetic – obtaining through the action like focusing on social connection as a means to enhance happiness
    • The link between natural and synthetic happiness is the presence and attending to things deeply
  • We need to make an effort toward being happy: focus on the things that bring meaning and engage in things that bring meaning – adjust home and work environment so it’s pleasant for you
  • Happiness has two major components: meaning and connection 
  • Tips to increase happiness: (1) give money/effort/time to someone in need in an amount significant to them but manageable for you; (2) stay present and focus on what you’re doing, even if it’s not an activity you particularly enjoy; (3) build quality social connections; (4) consider a dog whether it’s through having a pet, dog walking, visiting the shelter, etc.
  • Make decisions with conviction: if we make a decision and stick to it we are happier than if we make a decision but have the option to change our mind – take the other options off the table after you’ve made a decision

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, Andrew Huberman breaks down the science of happiness, including the different types of happiness and how our actions, circumstances, and mindset control them. 

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Describing Happiness

  • Happiness involves joy, gratitude, and meaning
  • Language is not always a sufficient tool for describing states of the brain and body; it can be hard to put into words what happiness is, how happy we feel, etc.
  • General conditions of happiness based on literature: get good sleep, have meaningful social connections, pursue meaning, don’t focus on the pursuit of money
    • Paradoxically, the things we need to access happiness often contradict the pressures and requirements of building a life that allow you to have the resources to access tools
  • Even shallow interactions without building close bonds can give the feeling of genuine social connection
  • No single neurotransmitter or neuromodulator is responsible for the state of happiness – but it is true that people with lower levels of dopamine and serotonin at baseline self-report lower levels of happiness
    • Low levels or high levels of dopamine are related to depression and happiness or even euphoria

Trends In Happiness

  • Takeaways from the longest longitudinal study on happiness (75 years): (1) money doesn’t create happiness – past a certain level of income, happiness doesn’t scale with money (though it does buffer stress); (2) total amount of time spent working does not create happiness
    • Your current peer group has tremendous impact on how you view money – you might be able to meet the demands of bills but not the financial resources to socialize with peer group
  • The trajectory of happiness across one’s lifespan is a U-shaped curve: people in 20s tend to be happiest until responsibilities pick up in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; happiness picks up again in their 60s and 70s when demands reduce
    • But social timelines are changing – people are getting married later, changing careers more frequently, having fewer or no children, etc.
  • People age 25 or older tend to be less happy on their birthdays because we get a snapshot of where our lives are compared to peers, or what we’ve accomplished relative to age
  • Chronic users of nicotine (smoking cigarettes or vaping) and alcohol (more than 2 drinks per week) report lower levels of happiness than peers
  • Depending on the trauma, levels of trauma one year after the event are not much different than self-reported happiness prior to the event
    • Even major events like winning the lottery and tragedies like becoming paraplegic do not make people as happy or sad as you would be expected

Levers To Pull For Increased Happiness

  • Giving & prosocial spending: one of the central themes of gratitude is that giving increases happiness for the giver – this is true of giving money, effort, and time so long as the person needs help and it’s not putting you out
  • Stay focused on the task at hand: focus on the current activity (even if you don’t like the activity) leads to higher self-reported happiness than when your mind wanders to other topics (even if your mind wanders to happy topics)
    • Brief meditation of 13-minutes (research being done on 5-minutes) done consistently can enhance the ability to focus, mood, sleep, and cognitive performance
    • The ability to refocus has a significant impact on happiness
  • Quality social connections whether romantic, friendship, or casual daily interactions induce happiness, especially when we see them in the morning and early afternoon – we have a whole area of the brain tied to facial recognition, also linked to anxiety, fear, and well-being
    • Two forms of social connection: (1) presence and mutual eye contact – expresses shared attention, particularly if set and reset throughout the conversation (i.e., looking at each other, away, then back); (2) nonsexual physical contact (allogrooming activities such as styling hair, manicure, pedicure, etc.) stimulates neurons and creates well-being in the person being touched
  • Pets: even just seeing a dog stimulates happiness as much as receiving a gift – consider fostering dogs, visiting a shelter, or dog walking

Synthetic Happiness

  • Synthetic happiness: it’s not about telling yourself to be grateful or imaging happiness, it’s about managing the emotional and reward system of the brain –the anticipation of something can make you as happy as the thing itself
  • Synthetic happiness is at least as powerful as natural happiness but requires that certain situational criteria are met
  • Opportunity and choice impact states of happiness – you can leverage this to your advantage
  • We need to make an effort toward being happy: focus on the things that bring meaning and engage in things that bring meaning – adjust home and work environment so it’s pleasant for you
  • The environment has a powerful impact on mood
  • Certain patterns of music can be used to induce fear, anticipation, happiness, joy

Critical Value Of Light For Mood & Sleep

  • Getting as much UVB light in the eyes and on the skin early in the day is critical to sleep, wakefulness, and mood
  • Bright light at the wrong time in the 24-hour cycle can make your mood worse: dopamine output drops, “happy hormones” reduce output
  • UV exposure in the morning and day is important but avoiding light exposure at night is equally critical
  • Avoid overhead fluorescent light as much as possible between 10pm-4am – these lights will eliminate melatonin circulating in the brain & body and will hinder the ability to fall and stay asleep (instead, try soft lamps and dim screens as much as possible without straining eyes)
  • Viewing afternoon sunlight from sunset can help offset some of the negative effects of light viewing in the evening (10pm-4am)
  • Even just one night of dim light exposure during sleep (even if it doesn’t wake you up) may impair cardiometabolic function such as increased insulin resistance and decreased heart rate variability
  • During a night of healthy, deep sleep our body transitions through various forms of metabolic function – disruption will affect cardiac function and metabolic light
  •  Increase indoor artificial bright light during the day then dim way down in the evening – most of us do the reverse and get too much light at night and not enough during the day

Resources

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Notes By Maryann

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