THE WISDOM OF LAURIE SANTOS
Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University, says her stress levels have gotten so high she is constantly trying to figure out whether her chest tightness is a symptom of covid-19 or pandemic-induced anxiety. She was interviewed by Katy Milkman of the Washington Post. Here are excerpts from that interview.
Santos, who introduced a course on happiness and how to achieve it that became Yale’s most popular class, understands emotional well-being better than most. And she recognizes that the anxiety she has been feeling is widespread.
“So many of us are realizing that unless we do something, our mental health is going to really suffer,” she said. One good thing is that the science shows us there are simple interventions we can be doing to feel better, but they take some intention and some work.”
One exercise she suggests is “The Three Blessings.”
“It’s easy to fall into the mode of ‘woe is me, everything is terrible.’ Research shows that we really can benefit from counting our blessings even when it feels like there aren’t that many blessings to be counted. The simple act of scribbling down three things you’re grateful for can significantly bump your mood, in some studies as quickly as within a couple of weeks. It’s completely free. It takes five to 10 minutes a day. At the end of your day, just scribble down a few things that you’re grateful for.
“I practice this myself. I have the tea that I really like. Neither I nor my husband is sick and I can still hug him, which is something I want to savor. And my mom who’s in this vulnerable category — she’s older and she has [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] — she’s following the instructions and she’s staying home and I’m so proud of her for doing that.
In her class at Yale she cites studies that if we want to be happier, we need to be other-oriented rather than self-focused. “The simple act of doing something nice for others, whether it’s spending money on others or spending your time on other people, can boost your well-being more than if you spent that money or time on yourself.
“Right now, that becomes all the more important, “Santos says. “I think one of the frustrations people are feeling about staying inside is that they see so many vulnerable, sick people in need. And people say, ‘Just stay home, do nothing’, which violates our desire for agency. We want to take active steps to be helpful.”
So honoring the wisdom of Laurie Santos, what are your three blessings– today, right now? What quickly came to my mind as I answered this question was (1) my walk through the neighborhood at 6 a.m. this morning. (2) sitting on my back porch, looking out on a wonderful world, drinking my daily latte as I write this E Votional. (3) Third, having Barb at my side.
And, to honor Laurie Santos’ wisdom, what is one thing you can do for someone else today?
For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise. Amen.