Strategies for Increasing Happiness

Presentation Review: "Keynote Presentation - The Science of Happiness" by Catherine A. Sanderson, Ph.D.

Summary by Brooke MacCourtney, Marketing & Business Development Specialist, Workman Nydegger

Keynote speaker, Catherine A. Sanderson, Ph.D. presented on the science behind happiness. She examined the role money, marriage, friends, children, weather, age and other factors play in making us feel happier. She also discussed practical and relatively easy ways we can increase our own path to improved psychological and physical well-being.

Professor Sanderson explained that happy people are generally more helpful, less hostile and more productive at work. Furthermore, she shared evidence from several studies concluding that happy people are more adept to fight off colds, recover from surgery faster, live longer and overall experience better health.

More often than not, we think we know exactly what makes us happy. Money, climate, life events, marriage and children are commonly thought to make us happy. However, Professor Sanderson pointed out that there are flaws with many of these thoughts. For example, with money, the more one has, the more one wants. Although married men generally are happier, healthier and live longer than single men, women have to be in the “right” marriage to experience greater levels of happiness than single women. Children do in fact make us happy, but people with children experience more peaks of joy and troughs of lows than those without children.

Research shows there are certain things we can do to make ourselves happier. Certain behaviors such as eating, exercising, shopping and giving have evidence of making happier. Being in nature has also shown positive effects on health and overall happiness. An individual’s personality including levels of extraversion, self-esteem and optimism can greatly impact happiness. Age also impact happiness. Happiness generally peaks in your early twenties and increases again from age 60 to 80. Relationships also play an important role in happiness. Having meaningful, high quality relationships drives happiness.

Given this research, Professor Sanderson concluded that there are three components of happiness: pleasure, engagement and meaning. Pleasure is the least important component as it is usually fleeting. Engagement, including anticipation of an event or activity, is important to one’s happiness. However, the most important component to happiness is doing things in which you find meaning.

Although the power of genetics explains about 50% of our happiness, 50% of our happiness is in our own control. Professor Sanderson concluded her presentation by sharing her top ten strategies for increasing our happiness.

Top 10 Strategies for Increasing Happiness

1. Change your behavior (Get enough sleep, exercise, spend time outside and meditate)
2. Find your match both professionally and personally
3. Read a book you love
4. Keep a gratitude journal
5. Make a gratitude visit to someone who has positively impacted your life
6. Smile even when you aren’t happy. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
7. Engage in random acts of kindness (Volunteer or donate to a charity)
8. Spend money on the right things (Better to spend on experiences, not on belongings)
9. Avoid comparisons. “Comparison is the thief of joy”
10. Build and maintain close relationships (This is the single best predictor of our happiness)


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