If there’s a One Day University class that’s been presented in virtually every one of the 61 cities where we presented live events, it would be Amherst College’s Professor Catherine Sanderson’s The Science of Happiness. In every single city, when she finished a standing ovation would follow. And if there was one “favorite moment” each and every time, this was certainly it:
Catherine Sanderson / Amherst College
There is one life event that’s a little bit different from all the others, and that is marriage. Happiness studies on marriage show us that marriage does consistently make some people happy – and those people are called men. Mar- ried men are happier than single men, they’re healthier than single men, they live longer than single men, and they’re less likely to be hospital- ized for psychiatric disorders. And here’s what’s even better for men. Anyone they’re married to is good. It doesn’t seem to matter who!
However, married women aren’t always happier and healthier than single women. For women, good marriage is good but bad marriage is really bad. So the advice here is for men: find someone. But for women, you’ve got to be picky.
On the screen behind me is a little bit of an outdated picture of my three kids. Yes, I know in the picture they seem very quiet and clean. But as many of you in this room know, parenthood is hard. Really hard. It’s been said that having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst room- mate. It’s a real challenge; In the abstract having children seems like a really good idea, but what the science tells us is that parents do have bigger and stronger happiness peaks than non-parents, but that’s absolutely coupled with loads of worryand stress and heartache. Sometimes after one of these talks a person will come up and they’ll say Catherine, you have to have children so you might get grandchildren – and grandchildren make people very happy. Okay, that’s true. So on tough days that’s what I tell myself…I’m holding out for grandchildren!
For most of us, it’s tempting to think of happiness as a quirk of fate or luck. Do we have the right genes? Are we blessed with good health? Did we win the lottery? But what I hope you’ve gotten from this talk is that greater happiness – and better health – is within our own control. Some people have a head start, but no matter your genes or life circumstances we can all do things to improve the quality and increase the longevity of our lives. And another hope I have is that you are now motivated to spend time, ener- gy, and effort to find happiness by pursuing the specific strategies that work for you. Just keep in mind that the strategies for achieving happiness are very much not “one size fits all.”
We’ve all had the experience of smiling at a stranger, and then seeing that person reciprocate our smile. Happiness works in precisely the same way. People who are happy help others around them see the world in a more positive light, take small daily life stresses in stride, and stop and smell the roses. And these steps happy people take actually transfer to others, who in turn pass them on again.
Happiness has been in the news quite a bit lately. The UN released a “Happiness Report” rating nearly 200 countries, which found that the world’s happiest people live in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, and the Netherlands). The US ranked 11th. The report’s conclusion affirmatively states that happiness has predictable causes and is correlated specifically to various measures that governments can regulate and encourage. And there’s more. A new AARP study looks at how Americans feel – and what factors contribute to their sense of contentment. It concludes that nearly 50% of us are “somewhat happy” and another 19% are “very happy.”
What role do money, IQ, marriage, friends, children, weather, and religion play in making us feel happier? Is happiness stable over time? How can happiness be increased? In Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness, Professor Sanderson will describe cutting-edge research from the field of positive psychology on the factors that do (and do not) predict happiness, and provide practical (and relatively easy!) ways to increase your own psychological well-being.
For more positive psychology courses and lectures by Catherine Sanderson, check out ‘Why Some People are Resilient, and Other Are Not’, ‘Merely Bystanders: The Psychology of Courage and Inaction’ & more on demand now!
Catherine Sanderson is the James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology at Amherst College, and is often cited as the school’s most popular professor. Her research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. She has published over 25 journal articles in addition to three college textbooks. In 2012, she was named one of the country’s top 300 professors by the Princeton Review.