Daily Archives:May 5th, 2023

How to be happy

I enjoy Andrew Curry’s newsletter Just Two Things, which appears in my inbox three times a week. One of his ‘things’ today was a summary of an article in Strategy+Business entitled “Why aren’t successful people happier?

The article is an interview (from a few years ago) with Laurie Santos, who runs a course at Yale on what psychology can tell us about what makes people happy – and especially, what the peer-reviewed scientific evidence from significant studies says.  I’ll quote from Curry’s precis, but the original article is also interesting.

Most Yale classes have 30-40 students signing up. Good ones might attract 100. Laurie Santos’ course on ‘the good life’, launched on 2018, attracted more than 1,000 students. She describes the course this way:

“What if I put together everything social science says about how to live a better, happier, and more flourishing life?”

About a quarter of Yale students take her course, which means she has to give it in a concert hall.

I’m paraphrasing Santos here, but she basically says that our brains lie to us about what is going to make us happy.

Some of this is familiar. We think that money will make us happier, but it only does this up to a certain point, which is around $75,000 a year in the US, according to research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton

We think that material things will make us happier, but they do for only a very short period of time, but then set a new higher baseline.

In fact, once you get to the point where your basic needs are met, more money often makes people less happy.  Also, people with better school grades are on average less happy than those with worse ones. And so on. 

What does make a difference is free time, and time spent with other people, especially time that is more about other people than yourself.

One of her key points is that if you have the option, swapping more money for more free time generally makes you happier than doing the opposite!  (Something I’ve always appreciated myself.)  The concept of ‘time affluence’ is a compelling one.

There are implications for business too, and you can read more in the S+B article, but I shall also be spending some time with Dr Santos’s podcast ‘The Happiness Lab’ (available by searching on your favourite podcast player).  

As she puts it in the first episode, “You can basically get an Ivy League course for free.”  I started listening while shaving this morning, and will continue while driving and walking the dog.  And that’s the great thing about podcasts: not only are they generally free (in the financial sense), but they don’t even impact your ‘time affluence’ either!


© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser