Do you want to experience more happiness in your life? Who wouldn’t? This is human nature: we are naturally wired to want happiness and to not want pain and suffering. And while it is not possible for us to never experience pain in our lives, it is possible for us to put energy into the things that make us happy. So what makes us happy?
Most of us will say we have a pretty good idea of what makes us happy. But what if these things only make us happy in the short-term and not in the long-term? The truth is, most of us experience this common human dilemma. We may focus our time and energy on things that make us feel good in the moment, but then before we know it our feelings of happiness dissipate and we are reaching for the next thing.
Your energy is precious, and if your goal is to experience more lasting happiness, it’s important to know where to focus your energy. To answer this question, we turn to science.
The Science of Well-Being
Dr. Laurie Santos at Yale University conducted research to answer this very question: what really makes us happy? To share her findings, Dr. Laurie Santos created a class at Yale University called the Science of Well-Being. As it turns out, people are so motivated to experience happiness in their lives that hers is actually the most popular class taught at Yale University! I had the pleasure of taking the class online for free, and I am delighted to share what I have learned with you.
Some of the findings may seem obvious, and some of them may surprise you. We will dive into each of these findings, but today I want to focus on the first thing that makes us happy: using our signature strengths.
Signature Strengths: the What
What do I mean by this? Well, we all have innate strengths, even when we’re not aware that we have them. Some of us may be able to name our strengths easily; we know we are caring, generous, hard-working, ethical, intelligent, etc. However, for some of us it is not so easy to see or name our own strengths.
It can be very empowering to be able to name our own strengths (we all have them!), so if you are having some difficulty in identifying yours (or if you’re just curious), I highly recommend taking this free quiz through the VIA Institute on Character: https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths
Signature Strengths: the How
Once you have identified your top five strengths, write them down somewhere to remind yourself of them. Then, see if you can use at least one of them every day. It may be helpful to journal about how you are using your strengths, or even to simply log that you used x-y-z strengths today.
As an example, one of my signature strengths is “appreciation of beauty and excellence”. Some of the ways I use this strength are: taking walks and admiring the trees and plants I see, listening to music that I love, arranging my furniture in a way that is visually appealing to me, and looking at art that I find beautiful.
Let’s say one of your strengths is “love of learning”. There are many ways you can use this throughout the day: reading the news, listening to a podcast, learning a new skill, asking questions, and listening to a friend to understand their perspective.
Feel free to get creative in how you experience and use your strengths. You’ll likely find that there are endless ways you can incorporate your strengths into your daily life. Start by identifying them and writing them down, then notice how you are already using them. Do you get to use your strengths at work? At home? While interacting with others? When you have alone time? Are there other opportunities where you could be using your strengths?
Science shows that the more you are able to regularly use your strengths, the happier you will be. I encourage you to start by identifying your signature strengths and then intentionally using them as often as you can.
Here's to investing in your well-being!