How To Be Happy: Information You Can Use

smiling baby

Psychologists have historically been trained with an emphasis on all that can go wrong in life. We studied the diagnostic categories of mental illness and the treatments that might put Humpty Dumpty back together after his great fall. But we missed out on something very important: how to help people be happy.

Part of the reason is that clinical psychology grew out of a medical model, one that emphasized sickness. Although it wasn’t much discussed, it seemed as though there was a basic assumption that if you weren’t “mentally ill,” then you must be well, as in “well-being.” Not so fast.

More recently, clinicians have had the benefit of a growing body of research on “Positive Psychology;” a field of study intended “to make normal life more fulfilling,” according to William Compton. And they have been aided in this by people who do research in “Behavioral Economics,” such as psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

A number of interesting questions have been addressed. Here are a few, after which I will give you a link to a place where you can learn more:

  • Can smiling help you be happier and live longer?
  • Are we better off with more (or fewer) choices of what to do with our time and money?
  • A year after the event, will you be happier if you win the lottery or become wheel-chair bound?
  • Do most of us have a good idea of what will make us happy?
  • Is there a difference between happiness as defined by our moment-to-moment experience and happiness as defined by a retrospective evaluation of our life satisfaction?
  • How important are material things in producing a happy life?
  • Are you happier if you buy something for yourself or buy something for someone else?
  • Do we make ourselves unhappy by having expectations that are too high?
  • Can we be happy even if things aren’t going our way?

Matthieu Ricard

As you might know, “Ted Talks” offers brief lectures on a variety of very interesting subjects, including happiness. You can find nine of those talks, addressing some of the questions I just listed, here: What Makes Us Happy? Links to the individual talks are also found below. They are given by leading experts in the field, all of whom are entertaining speakers. The longest of the talks is about 20 minutes, the shortest less than six. You will hear a number of psychologists and one Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, who is pictured above.

It might be useful, after watching each one, to ask yourself how the information presented could be applied to the way you live. There is no proper order in which to watch them and, of course, no requirement that you watch them all. But they might just change your life:

Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness

Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

Matthieu Ricard: The habits of happiness

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

Thanks to Phil Zawa for recommending these talks.