A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for a free class from Yale taught by Professor Laurie Santos titled "The Science of Well-Being"; I'm only four weeks into the class and I am already noticing results. This class delves in to why we might not be happy, what factors could contribute to unhappiness, and what strategies you can use to make yourself happier. I recently posted a question on my social media accounts (you can find me on Instagram and Twitter under @aislinn_elvia), "What Do You Prefer: Experiences or Materials?" This is a question that was discussed in class however it was looked at a little differently, we explored what we believe makes us happier: materialistic things or experiences. I wanted to share this topic with you all and receive your thoughts and opinions and there was an overwhelming unanimous response! You all prefer experiences over materials! Now you may be wondering why this was a question discussed in a Yale class, can't both things make us happy? Wouldn't those new pair of shoes you purchased for your upcoming beach trip make you as happy as the actual trip itself? You will be surprised at the answer.
This question went even deeper as to why materialistic things do not make us as happy as we believe they would; things such as that hot new car, the brand new IPhone or Android model, the fabulous designer coat from Coach. These items make us happy for the first couple of days we have them, weeks go by and then the newest models come out. Your neighbor just received a pay raise, and they can afford that new car, that new phone, that new coat. How do you feel now? Most of us would be bored with what we have and are looking for the newest thing. What if instead of using our money for the next biggest thing, we spend it on experiences. This does not only refer to travel, you can use your money for a girls night, surprise dinner with your significant other, having a spa day with your mom, etc. Why I believe experiences make us happier than materials is that experiences are more often shared with those you love, and it's the memories that make you happy. When you buy materialistic things sure you may purchase them with your significant other, but is it that new couch that you and your S.O. (significant other) bought together that make you happy, or was it the shopping experience itself with that person? When I think of happy thoughts, what comes to mind is experiences I shared with my friends and loved ones:
- Spring break in Hawaii with my best friends
- Weekend trip to Philadelphia with my husband
- Family vacation in Outer Banks
- Honeymoon in Greece
- Cross country road trip with my husband
So material things won't make us as happy, yet we're surrounded by material items everyday, we see them more often now since we're under quarantine, plus we're limited to experiences due to #stayhome. Oh how nice it would be to order that new designer coat to make us feel better about being out of work. How do we get out of this mind of thinking? How do we get out of this hole that we're sinking into? Professor Santos discussed several different strategies to overcome these unhappy thoughts and feelings and I will share a couple of them that I have been utilizing:
2)Thwart negative visualization
4)Seize the day
Lets start off from the top: what does it mean to savor? This is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate. In other words, be in the moment of whatever you're doing, be mindfully present. If you are struggling with savoring moments, there are several ways in which you can enhance it such as telling other people how good the activity/experience was, look for other people to share it with, and be present. As there are ways to enhance savoring, there are also ways you can hurt savoring such as focusing on the future, reminding yourself it will be over soon, and thinking of ways it could be better. If you recognize any of these ritualistic behaviors being played in your head, you can utilize the STOP technique which I will delve into in the next paragraph.
Social media has become a great thing, yet a curse for our generation. We find and are inspired by such great creativity online, yet we find we negatively visualize ourselves against others. We are socially comparing ourselves online: who has the biggest Instagram following, who is the best makeup artist, who is the best model, etc; this must be one of the most unhealthy actions we can do to ourselves and one of the biggest factors of depression today. One way to stop this behavior is the actual STOP technique. It's very simple and easy to use, whenever you catch yourself comparing to other people and negative thoughts start to creep in, verbally say or yell out STOP. This will make the brain go "Oh whoa...what am I doing? I should be proud of this person for their achievements and should be proud of myself and for who I am." I've used this technique a couple of times and I stand by it, it definitely works! The key is to practice it several times and after a couple of days your brain starts to catch on and utilize it without any extra thought.
Gratitude is one of the most honorable and valued traits one can have; it's the quality of being thankful and showing appreciation for what you have. Now more than ever we must remember to count our blessings. Yes we're currently on a nationwide lock-down, we're out of work, and number of cases are still sky rocketing. I've had a lot of emotionally bad days during this quarantine, I wonder when this nightmare will end and why is this even happening during a time of great medical care and technology. This is when we need to stop ourselves, take a step back, and list out what we're grateful for. For me, I'm grateful for such a loving and supportive husband who has been there for me on my bad days; I'm grateful for my dog Harper who on some days can be a super pest, but is always happy to see me when I wake up in the morning; I'm grateful to have a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in; I'm grateful to live in an age of technology where I can zoom call my family and friends; I'm grateful for all of the hospital staff, grocery store employees, and janitorial staff who are on the front lines of this virus for our sakes. It's not mentally healthy to focus on the bad, practicing gratitude is such a useful tool and aids your health, mood, and perspective.
Lastly, Carpe Diem! Seize the day! If anyone has seen Dead Poet's Society, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Make every day your last and do things that you enjoy doing. Go out for a walk with your family, call your family members and tell them you love them, take a nice hot bath with a glass of bubbly, do whatever your heart desires. We're only here for a short time and things are more beautiful that way, so fill up your life with your joys.
In closing, I hope this little piece was helpful and/or inspiring. We discussed what we believe makes us happier: materials or experiences, we delved into why materialistic items don't make us as happy as we believe they do, and we discussed different strategies that can help us make us happier. I lightly touched up on what this class covers and has to offer, mainly because I want to promote and highly encourage everyone to take this class. It really puts your thoughts into perspective and gives you daily techniques that you can use to make you happier.