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Focusing on Well-Being

Need of the hour during this pandemic

By Mehr Sohal


There is no doubt that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the well-being of people is at risk. Stress and anxiety may be a result of frustration over the uncertainty of the situation, concerns about work and studies, or the insipidness of staying at home. Well, much like many people are popping Vitamin C pills to boost their immunity, we need to focus on maintaining our well-being in which ever way possible.


I believe that the first small step towards achieving happiness, is learning about well-being itself: What is well-being? What determines this intangible feeling? Is well-being equal to happiness?

Fortunately, you won't have to do individual Google searches for each of those questions to find the answer. Yale University recently uploaded one of its most popular courses on 'Coursera'– 'The Science of Well-Being' by Laurie Santos.


I am yet to finish the ten-week online course; but in the three weeks that I have attended, I have truly learnt so much more about what happiness is, and how we are often misled into believing that money, love, a perfect body, a good job and good grades is equal to instant happiness. For it takes much more time and care to work on becoming happy. This brings me to another thing I love about this course– each week, you are encouraged to work on developing a couple of habit (called rewirements) to bring you closer to boosting your 'baseline happiness' (based on a quiz at the start of the course, a value for your level of happiness is generated). The rewirements are:

  1. Savoring - "Savoring is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and appreciate it. Often we fail to stay in the moment and really enjoy what we’re experiencing. Savoring intensifies and lengthens the positive emotions that come with doing something you love."

  2. Daily gratitude journal - "Gratitude is a positive emotional state in which one recognizes and appreciates what one has received in life. Research shows that taking time to experience gratitude can make you happier and even healthier.""

  3. Random acts of kindness - "Research shows that happy people are motivated to do kind things for others."

  4. Make a social connection - "Studies even show that the simple act of talking to a stranger on the street can boost our mood more than we expect"

  5. Let's get physical - "~30 minutes a day of exercise can boost your mood in addition to making your body healthier."

  6. Sleep - "One of the reasons we’re so unhappy in our modern lives is that we’re consistently sleep deprived. Research shows that sleep can improve your mood more than we often expect."

  7. Meditate - "Meditation is a practice of intentionally turning your attention away from distracting thoughts toward a single point of reference (e.g., the breath, bodily sensations, compassion, a specific thought, etc.). Research shows that meditation can have a number of positive benefits, including more positive moods, increased concentration, and more feelings of social connection."

  8. Gratitude Letter/Visit - "A gratitude letter is one of the most powerful tool for increasing happiness because it can forge social bonds and really change someone’s life."

And so, if you have time on your hands while stuck at home, I would highly recommend this course.

 

On the topic of happiness, I urge you to read the 'The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic' – an article published in The Atlantic. Social scientist and musician, Arthur C. Brooks, has highlighted three equations for well-being to "manage your own happiness proactively".


Equation #1: SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING = GENES + CIRCUMSTANCES + HABITS

'Subjective well-being' is a more general term that measures over-all happiness; rather than mere fleeting moments of happiness that remind me of the song "Happiness is a Butterfly". This is a concept further developed on in the Yale course mentioned above. The three components of subjective well-being, as mentioned by Brooks, is genes, circumstances and habits. Quite surprisingly, "the genetic component of a person’s well-being is between 44 percent and 52 percent". Circumstances hold lesser responsibility over your happiness, as instances that make you smile and leave your heart fuzzy often come and go quite irregularly. And secondly, a circumstance like getting a good grade on one math test does not mean true happiness, as Laurie Santos mentioned in the well-being course. The reason behind this is that we often get used to good or bad situations (called psychological homeostasis); meaning that a good grade will not turn your frown upside down for a long-term period.


Equation #2: HABITS = FAITH + FAMILY + FRIENDS + WORK

According to psychologist George Vaillant, “Happiness is love. Full stop.” The habits we develop to cultivate relationships with friends and family help us thrive. For instance, the habit of calling your grandmother at least twice a week could possibly leave you feeling happy and satisfied. Faith, being another component of habits does not necessarily mean spiritual faith; "The key is to find a structure through which you can ponder life’s deeper questions and transcend a focus on your narrow self-interests to serve others." Lastly, work helps develop well-being and habits for it creates a sense of purpose in life. The satisfaction of "earning your success and serving others".


Equation #3: SATISFACTION = WHAT YOU HAVE ÷ WHAT YOU WANT

I hope the math isn't getting too complicated. But in essence, what this equation is trying to communicate is that to attain satisfaction, one needs to stop obsessing over increasing things you have (like money), and focus on a few realistic and attainable wants. The Spanish Catholic saint, Josemaría Escrivá, once said that “Don’t forget it: he has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself.” The reason behind why we must not focus on augmenting what we have is due to something called hedonic treadmill– chasing after something like money will never leave you satisfied with what you have, as the thought that "you can get more" will truly kill you.


I love the equations beautifully crafted by Arthur C. Brooks. During this horrible COVID-outbreak, one should really take time to reflect over the equations and think about ways in which you can change things in your life to get going on the path of developing subjective well-being, satisfaction and habits; 'rewirements'.


There are many more possibilities of things to do to focus on well-being. I have merely highlighted two activities to get one thinking– joining the online course, and reading the above article.





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