The content for Week 3 of the Science of Well-being course explained why we are generally so bad at predicting what we think what would make us happy. Professor Santos called them “Annoying Features” of our minds, and referred to the erroneous judgment for happiness outcomes of these Annoying Features as “miswantings”, a term coined by psychologists Tim Wilson and Dan Gilbert. It’s a term which I rather like and will use in discussion of happiness, or lack thereof, with others I know to whom I am humbled that some people turn to discuss rough spots in their lives. There was a lot of video content, which I will summarize and discuss below, with how I compensate for these Annoying Features to keep myself pretty happy generally, allowing for some sadness and other negative feelings to give the happiness more meaning through relativity. My compensation solutions aren’t discussed in the class but that’s my value add with this blog post. Professor Santos had an extensive list of reference articles of research to support her teachings, but I’ll leave them out since many probably won’t care for them. If you do to that level, I suggest signing up for the course on Coursera and taking it for free.
In the Science of Well-being course on Coursera, Professor Laurie Santos referenced a small study in 2012 called When the Job is a Calling, by Harzer & Ruch, that suggested those happiest at their jobs (in the sense of considering it a calling) were those who used 4 (up to 7) of their Signature Strengths (Top 5 or 7 Character Strengths). There were only 111 participants in that survey, which is hardly enough to be convincing for most people, even if the statistical derivations show there is “statistically significant” difference (i.e. on the graph, the thin vertical lines on the dot relating to 4 on the horizontal axis does not overlap those of dots for 3 or smaller). The mind just doesn’t buy into the math at some point, and just 111 participants is way below that point for me. Why they only had 111 participants is not known but I’d never publish anything with just that few numbers if it were only a matter of taking a survey rather than having to do heart surgeries!
The TEDTalk 2004 video below by positive psychologist Martin Seligman is, by far, the best explanation of happiness in everyday language, but backed by science, that I have ever seen. Using what I’ve learned, I was able to rationalize why I’m generally such a happy camper despite not having some of the elements people deem to contribute most to happiness in life, like love from a partner, kids, even pets, pleasures from alcohol, drugs, gambling, even coffee, etc. For my own reference, I’ll summarize the video below before writing out my deductions that led to conclusions just mentioned about my life, but also reflect on the happiness and lifestyles content mentioned in the video from other developments in positive psychology since the video I have learned. I would highly recommend watching the video, though. Start from 2m 45s if you just want the core of what I am talking about as it’s a bit slow to start before it gets really fascinating!
After the optional pre-course survey that was more about reasons for taking the course, there was another optional pre-course survey to see how I perceive certain things that might be in my future, and how I feel about my life and myself in the past two weeks or today. Results were only going to be explained after the course were over, so I’ll wait till then to share since the survey has a lot of questions. It takes 15-20 minutes to go through, they say, but when you think about how you can rattle off probably 3 or more quick questions a minute, that’s a LOT of questions to document, try to explain and such.
Besides, if you are reading this and might be doing the course, I don’t want to bias how you might take this optional survey that has a few unexpected things in it which you would be prepared for if I told you about it in detail. This little spoiler shouldn’t skew things much, though. 🙂
Now came the first real meaty part of the course, the rewirements that are homework activities from the course to do each day. They are called “rewirements” because they’re practices aimed at rewiring your habits. Research suggests that if you do these rewirements as prescribed, you should get a boost in your mood and overall well-being.
I have many life philosophies by which I live. By life philosophies, I mean principles and attitudes I really live by, not just nod when I hear them in the form of a good quote or speech. I have never kept record of these life philosophies, but I thought I’d take some time to write some down now to see if I had one for every year I’ve lived. Why one per year lived? Because I’ve long thought that if I could learn something valuable enough from life each year to turn it into a life philosophy, a life outlook and behavioral change for the rest of my life, it’d have been a good year for wisdom.