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The Science of Well-Being

Funny title don’t you think? I would instinctively think about well-being as something fuzzy and warm, like say, parenthood. You just don’t think about finding mathematical proof to finally nail down the rationale behind being a good mother. It seems to be much less pertaining to things like research methodology, graphs, and statistical analyses, but it turns out that like most things, happiness and well-being could be unpacked into bite-size, logical chunks that could be investigated using the scientific principle, and by doing so, deliver some useful insights that could, when adopted, make one’s life, well, better well lived.


And it seems that there are plenty of us that find value in getting informed on this matter. Since it was offered in the spring of 2018, the course ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ became the most popular course in the history of Yale University, with nearly a fourth of the student population enrolling each year since.

According to the developer of the course, Professor Laurie Santos, social sciences describe happiness as having two aspects that are necessary in order to bring about a sense of well-being:


Happiness IN life reflects the presence of more positive emotions and sensations in one’s life, like the feeling of being appreciated or being pain-free, over negative ones, such as being angry or having a stinking cold. The other is Happiness WITH life, which denotes how satisfied one is with their life. Mind you, this kind of experience is not necessarily correlated with having positive emotions or sensations at that moment. New mothers may not enjoy the sleepless nights and the rest of the challenges that come with caring for a new munchkin but will feel the satisfaction and fulfillment in their new role.


Coming out of this is that the framing of an experience is what determines whether it is viewed as pure suffering or the highlight of our life. One can feel severe breathlessness, pain, exhaustion, and cold when climbing Kilimanjaro and still register only exhilaration and fulfillment. And it is not restricted to the present either. Having to experience the immense stress of having to resuscitate someone, or unexpectedly assist during labour could be seen, on reflection, as one of the most rewarding experiences in one’s life.


In any case, physiologically, the sensations are identical. Whether you are expectantly waiting in the arrivals terminal to reunite with a long-lost friend or about to give a public talk to an audience you never met, the butterflies in your stomach will flutter just the same.

So, we can reframe past experiences. We do not need to change the past or avoid certain parts of it if we can reframe them in the future. We are always free to tell ourselves a new story about the past. After all, past failures lead to acquiring the tools for future success. And it gets even better, as this could be done prospectively too. We can reframe stressful future events by thinking about how our future self will reflect on the event in retrospect. Like thinking about the satisfaction of being awarded your academic degree, and finally throwing that silly mortar board hat into the air when you are preparing for an important final exam.


Anyways, there is much more of this coming from the ‘Psychology and the Good Life’ course, and if you wish to dig deeper, it has been made available online, the enrolment is free, and the link is attached below.

Otherwise, listen to the course leader herself giving 7 short tips for being happier in the clip below..& enjoy the meanwhile!


The Science of Well-Being on Coursera:




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