In the pursuit of happiness, many turn to spiritual gurus while others turn to brain scientists. But Chapman professor Sanjay Kumar is both — and believes the two ideologies are compatible. We asked him to tell us about eight things Chapman students can do to be happier.
- Learn the difference between pleasure and happiness.
No Taylor Momsen, chocolate is pleasure (and that it is). The difference, Kumar explains, is that “pleasure is a sensation,” while “happiness is a state.” If we confuse these, we end up neglecting to put in the real work to feel consistently happy.
- Focus on experiences not things.
A San Francisco State University study shows people who spend money on experiences are happier, because the joy of acquiring a material object fades quickly. Kumar said simply, “Happiness isn’t in buying more it’s in being more.”
- Happiness is a direction not a destination.
“Goals don’t automatically bring you happiness,” Kumar said. Don’t place too high of expectations on achievements to bring perpetual happiness. Never put your happiness on hold by making it conditional on an accomplishment.
- Unplug for at least 15 minutes a day.
Our ever-present technology has made us more connected to each other than ever, except not in the ways that count. We derive true happiness from face-to-face interactions, not face-to-screen. Kumar suggests: “Take your lunch without online disruption. Even better, talk to a friend instead, you’re guaranteed to feel happy.”
- Spend more time in nature.
Beyond just being beautiful, nature has been proven to provide real health benefits. “Just be outside, nature has a very powerful soothing quality that helps us cope with stress,” Kumar said. A research team at Stanford University studied the brains of people walking through a park and found they thought fewer negative thoughts than those navigating an urban area. This could mean going on a hike, going to the beach or even just sitting on Memorial Lawn soaking up the sun.
- Laugh more.
Unlike surface level pleasures, laughing actually has long-term psychological effects. “Laughter is a very powerful medicine,” Kumar said. A study at Loma Linda University discovered that laughing lowers cortisol, the stress hormone that can impede brain function. So maybe it’s time to make those Thursday night Improv shows a real priority.
- Understand that happiness begins within you.
The nice thing about happiness is it’s pretty much attainable for anyone at any time. “All our tools are within us,” Kumar said. One technique to utilize is called “re-writing your reality.” It could mean giving people the benefit of the doubt when you make assumptions about their behavior. Even if it isn’t true, your brain won’t know the difference and you’ll be able to let it go.
- When life gets hard, take deep breaths.
Meditation is one method Kumar says has helped give him “clarity, self-control, compassion, creativity, but most of all, happiness and peace of mind.” Taking deep breaths is proven to lower your heart rate and your body’s stress response, which is essential for normal thought processes.
If you feel like you aren’t as happy as you could be, Kumar has put together a free happiness strategy guide on his website. Or if you’re interested in studying the factors behind this elusive emotion, look out for his class REL-350 Happiness: Spiritual and Rational Foundation, offered every semester.