During the past 10 weeks, I attended the “Science of Happiness” course. A course looking at the science behind our feelings of happiness. It gives student many techniques that he can practice to improve his own happiness, as well as tons of proven, research-based scientific information to back it up.
It was an absolutely wonderful journey that I highly recommend to those interested in gaining greater insight into positive psychology and the methods that lead to happiness, while examining the obstacles to attain it.
The “Science of Happiness” is the first MOOC (massive open online course) to scientifically explore the roots of a happy and meaningful life.
Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. The course also offers students practical strategies for tapping into and nurturing their own happiness, including weekly activities that foster social and emotional well-being and enable students to observe a measure of their own happiness along the way.
The course’s co-instructors, Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas, are not only leading authorities on positive psychology but also gifted teachers skilled at making science fun and personal. Joined by world-renowned experts discussing themes like empathy, mindfulness, and gratitude—experts including Barbara Fredrickson, Paul Ekman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
During this course, we came across many topics that resonate and interact with the term of happiness.
As there isn’t any formal definition of happiness to help scientists to measure it, there are some terms that describe what scientists measure when they set out to measure happiness. Like:
- Life satisfaction: A general assessment that, as a whole, one’s life is good and worth living. Researchers usually measure life satisfaction by using the Satisfaction with Life Scale, developed by the University of Illinois professor Ed Diener and colleagues.
- Positive affect: A technical term to describe the experience of feeling a positive emotion, such as joy, love, or amusement. As Dr. Lyubomirsky notes above, positive affect is an important ingredient to happiness and is sometimes used synonymously with happiness, though it generally refers to a fleeting emotional state rather than an enduring way of being. It is often measured using the Positive and Negative Affect Scale.
- Subjective well-being: As mentioned above, researchers often use this term interchangeably with happiness, perhaps because it sounds more precise and scientific. It refers to the way people evaluate their lives, in terms of both their global life satisfaction and emotional states–i.e., it is often assessed by measuring life satisfaction and positive affect. It is strongly tied to positive health.
Here are some topics of this lesson I liked most.
Happiness and social connection.
The power of social connection and the links between social connections and happiness. We examined evidence that humans have a strong propensity to form social bonds and to derive psychological benefits from those bonds. We also talked about how early life experiences affect social style and shared some research-backed suggestions for how people who had less attentive, safe, trustworthy, or reliable caretakers might transcend some of the obstacles that this kind of experience imprints upon them.
Compassion and Kindness.
The evolutionary roots of kindness and the biological connections between kindness and happiness. We covered research showing that we fundamentally enjoy contributing to others’ welfare, or even just extending kind, compassionate thoughts toward them. We defined what scientists really mean when they use terms like “compassion”, “Empathy”, “Kindness” and “altruism”; cover research documenting the benefits of pro-social experiences to happiness and health; explore the evolutionary and biological roots of the link between compassion, kindness, and happiness; and consider how to “scale up” our own compassion and kindness.
Cooperation and the Science of Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a subject often addressed by religious and philosophical teachings. In this course, we learned, how researchers define forgiveness and some key scientific findings. An important point is that forgiveness does not mean forgetting; it doesn’t necessarily even mean reconciling with the person who hurt you. Instead, it means changing your own attitude toward this original hurt so that it doesn’t continue to wound you. We explored why apologies are so important–and why some apologies are more effective than others.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Mind, Brain, and Body
After the definition of mindfulness and the examination of its Origins. We were prompted to try 3 mindful practices, mindful breathing, body scan meditation and loving-kindness meditation. The idea was that: 1) We might be more likely to benefit from the practice if we do all three; this will amount to more time spent practicing mindfulness, and 2) We might discover a version or variety of mindfulness practice that we like best, and be motivated to keep doing it. At last, we learned about several approaches to bringing mindfulness into real-world contexts.
Training the Mind for Happiness
We went one step further, looking at how mental habits–our reflexive, often belief-driven ways of thinking, feeling, selectively attending, making decisions, and behaving in the world–relate to happiness. Becoming aware of our own mental habits or attempting to revise them for the better often hinges on the basic skill of mindfulness. Cultivating mental habits of happiness can help us overcome some of the traps that we’re prone to falling prey to, such as perfectionism, harsh self-judgments, and striving to “maximize” pleasure.
The Power of Gratitude
Research strongly suggests that gratitude is fundamental to happiness. Rather than being simple and superficial, studies indicate that gratitude is a complex emotion with strong social and psychological functions. Gratitude is not the habit of saying thank you, but a “deeper, abiding sense of thankfulness for life. Feeling gratitude can improve health and happiness; expressing gratitude also strengthens relationships. Despite the documented benefits of gratitude, there are two different types of “challenges” to gratitude.
- The first type of challenge involves the psychological and social barriers that can get in the way of practicing gratitude.
- The second type centers on a different definition of “challenge”: the objections or reservations that many people have about gratitude, such as the concern that being grateful also makes you complacent and unwilling to take on the status quo. In this sense, the challenges are really arguments against the view that gratitude is a virtue.
Dacher Keltner counters that much of the skepticism about gratitude is ill-founded, and he sheds light on some of these gratitude “myths”.
The role of Awe, Wonder, and Laugh in happiness.
Awe and wonder are concepts that have been explored by religious thinkers and philosophers for centuries but that science has taken up only recently. In the scientific literature awe is defined as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast and greater than the self, that exceeds current knowledge structures”–meaning that we need to adjust our understanding of the world, and our place within it, in order to make sense of an awe-inspiring event, feat, or behavior.
Laughter is really important for our happiness. Laughter can decrease blood pressure, enhance our immune function, makes our breath more deeply, and actually calms our cardiovascular system. It drives to less anxiety, greater purpose in life, greater relationships with other people and less depression.
Having the knowledge that everyone is different. At the last section of this course, we learned how to identify the factors that might determine which happiness practice-like those we have learned about in this course- is the best fit for us, in order to craft our own “happiness narrative”
As I mentioned earlier, every week there are Happiness Practices that we follow (total 10 practices) to apply to ourselves all that we have learned in theory.
Obtaining happiness can be difficult but the pursuit is worth it. Definitely, I recommend this course to all of you that want to increase the happiness in your life. It isn’t easy, you must dedicate 6-8 hours per week but It worths every last minute.
The Science of Happiness is hosted on the edX platform. To sign up, you need to create an edX account and then register for the course on edX.
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