School shootings, global strife and racist rants – it’s hard not feel a considerable level of stress and concern these days. That’s why I love “The Week in Good News,” a NYT newsletter dedicated to delivering readers a quick “happiness boost.” I actually do feel better knowing that a man scaled four stories to rescue a dangling boy in Paris. Looking at pictures of “Manhattanhendge,” when the sun sets harmoniously amid Manhattan’s street grid, really does fill me with a sense of wonder. A thoughtful person, an engaged person – these things, I have been. But I don’t think I have ever been a mindful person, and I’m coming to understand that being mindful is what I need in order to be happier regardless of what is happening around me.
Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story, says that happiness is actually a skill that we can learn through practice, specifically through meditation. The desire to be happier is widespread across demographics, too, impacting not just those of us in middle age but young people as well.
Adam Sternbergh’s recent New York Magazine article, “The Cure for New York Face,” features Professor Laure Santos of Yale University, creator of a course called “Psychology and the Good Life” in which she leads students through a curriculum in “positive psychology.” Focusing on well-being, Professor Santos, like Dan Harris in his work, emphasizes that being happy is the result of intentionality, not chance. I recommend reading Sternbergh’s entire article to gain more of a sense of what Santos covers in her course, as there are too many takeaways to summarize here. It’s powerful to even consider the questions posed at the outset: What is happiness? Why aren’t you happy? What can you do to change that? For a quick self-assessment, check out the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness Inventory.
A dear friend has a great question she always asks people: what are you excited about? The first time she asked me this, I froze. I had no idea. But I have been thinking about it ever since. It’s close to what makes you happy? Along with a summer reading list that I will share in my next post, I plan to spend my summer vacation trying to answer this essential question by developing a mindfulness practice, which for now includes actively seeking out good news.