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Nerdette

Happiness 101

Hot ziggety! The most popular class in Yale University’s 300-plus year history is a course on how to be happy.

Created by Laurie Santos, “Psyc 157: Psychology and the Good Life” had 1,182 students enrolled earlier this year. 

And Santos recently saw midterm exams week as an opportunity to teach one of her happiness concepts in real time — “time affluence,” or the concept of wealth based on time as opposed to wealth based on money.

“I thought that the best way to teach them about time affluence was to give them some,” Santos told Nerdette podcast.

So on the day Santos’ students were scheduled to hear a lecture on time affluence, they arrived at class only to learn it was canceled. The students were given an hour they didn’t expect with only one rule: fill it with something that promoted happiness, not school work.

“The students’ reaction was really, really intense,” Santos said. “Some students spontaneously hugged me or the teaching fellows. One student burst into tears on the spot. A number of the students reported that it was an hour they were going to remember for the rest of their college career.”

You can take Santos’ course on happiness for free online (which we recommend) or you can internalize these three takeaways from her conversation with Greta Johnsen.

1. Prioritize time over money

Laurie Santos: Research suggests that people who prioritize time over money end up having higher levels of well-being than people who prioritize money over time. So people who would give up hours of their time to work extra hours to get more money? Those folks tend to be less happy than the people who would spend some money to get extra time. 

Basically, what that means is that we’d all be better off trying to make sure our calendars were a little less packed so that we have time just for leisure, time for the things we really care about.

2. Socialize

Santos: Research shows that happy people on average spend more time with other people. And then, they tend to prioritize time in their lives for friends and family members and people they really care about. It’s one of the main things that distinguishes happy people from unhappy people.

So a thing we can do to kind of bump up our happiness is just to prioritize time with friends, time with family members, people we care about. Even making social connections with a stranger, research shows, can bump up our happiness.

3. Remember you’re too blessed to be stressed

Santos: Take time for gratitude. This is something else we see very happy people doing all the time. They tend to be really grateful. They tend to realize the blessings they have in life. And they tend to focus more on blessings than on hassles. 

So one of the ways we encourage students to do this was just to take a few minutes every night just to write down a couple things that you’re grateful for. There are a bunch of apps [where] you can do this. Or, you can just do this on a piece of notebook paper. But at the end of each day right before you go to bed, just think of a few things that you are just so blessed to have in your life. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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