What Science Says about Becoming Happier, a Presentation

I recently completed two courses on the science of happiness. The first was the Science of Well-being course from Yale, on Coursera, offered by Professor Laurie Santos. The second was the Science of Happiness offered by the UC Berkeley on their edX platform. From those two courses that were fairly complementary, I have put together a presentation not just on the science of happiness, but what it says to help you become happier, that summarizes the content of the courses, for which there was plenty! Links on the side of each slide lets you access much more information than the practical aspects I touch upon for this to be useful. While the courses are about the science of happiness, their content is geared towards making the learner happier, and that is lens through which I am presenting it. The science on its own isn’t terribly great if you don’t or can’t use it for something good, right?

Below is the presentation in 3 formats, pending how you want to view them.

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Writing Diaries and Poetry Help Regulate Emotions

My B.Sc. university years rank among the poorest in my life if I were to rank them. I won’t waste your time with why, but the biggest thing I did then to help alleviate the pain was to start writing poetry. Not the sadistic or pathetic kind that makes a reader want to join me in slitting wrists or something as bad for one’s health as the blues I was trying to manage. That’s manage, not cure. And I also wrote lots of poetry.

I wrote poetry because it worked to help get my mind out of my situation. It made me think about good and beautiful, even if sadly beautiful, stuff. It was the free flowing emotional artistic word counter-balance to the disciplined logical scientific numerical stuff I was doing in an Honours Chemistry degree driven by mathematics in X-ray crystallography and inorganic chemistry. Studies were good, profs were great but other things in life weren’t fitting together, including a future I knew would not include chemistry for the benefit of my health. I can give you lots of other reasons why I wrote poetry, but it would all be rationalizations of the impact writing poetry had on me, not causality.

Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

Well, today, an interesting article appeared in the UK Guardian about how writing diaries, poetry, fake song lyrics and such help regulate emotions.

“Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally. Whether it’s writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry, or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally,” Dr Matthew Lieberman said.

With the benefit of additional learning in the past few years, primarily on Emotional Intelligence, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. The story is among the many I generally classify as science validating what ancient wisdom has taught us. Ancient sages were not stupid, of course. They just didn’t have the means to scientifically measure and validate some of the things they philosophized on. They couldn’t measure brain waves and such, but it doesn’t take a scientist with such a measurement to notice patterns in human behaviour and impacts. That is, you don’t need scientific proof to attain wisdom.

I had already realized my decision to take up and continue writing poetry was among the best decisions I have made in my life. This was just more affirmation. In taking up poetry writing, I essentially took the worst years of my life and created out of it one of the things I now and will always be most proud of in my life, my poetry collection. It doesn’t matter to me how good or bad it really is. I feel really good to be able to say I have my own poetry collection, much of which came in the darkest times in my life.

I still write poetry, but I’ve long noticed I tend to do it when I’m not feeling the greatest. There are exceptions to that rule, but sometimes, it’s an indicator to my denial things aren’t really as bad as they are. The fact I wasn’t and still sometimes not able to rationalize how things really are with me emotionally is not surprising. Emotional intelligence is not meant to be rationalized easily. It has its own rationalization system, if you will. Often, you will only know later why certain moves you made turned out so well, because the rational brain couldn’t think fast enough or foresee such solutions. Despite realizing this, though, I am struggling to make sense of my decision to dedicate March to songwriting. It was a rational decision to put some time towards doing something I want to do more of but haven’t prioritized high enough in my life lately. I’ve only written three completed songs, one of which is on a MySpace page. But is it really rational, or is my amygdala playing games with my head again? 🙂

Stay tuned to find out!

p.s. The referenced article above said nothing on blogging, but considering I don’t often blog on just my personal stories, I don’t consider it to be so for me. I would consider it to be true for bloggers who blog about their personal lives because that’s just a public diary then.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 8.9