Welcome to Our Friends from AARP’s Life Reimagined

As many of you know, the Science of Happiness (SOH) community joined forces with Sennseis and launched in the Fall of 2015 with the support of Life Reimagined, an innovative initiative at the AARP which has the mission of empowering adults to rethink and rearchitect their lives -- personally and professionally -- with the help of community.  It’s a mission a lot like ours, and it’s no coincidence.  The idea for Sennseis was hatched in consulting work that the team did with Life Reimagined in 2013-2014.  We saw a broad marketing demand for a community learning platform that organizations can use to educate and empower their constituencies, and the AARP’s Life Reimagined and the the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley were the first organizations to help us along the path toward defining that platform.

This week, we’re proud to welcome a first wave of SOH community members coming over directly from Life Reimagined.  With the help of the Life Reimagined engagement team, they were invited earlier this week to check out the great content and conversation that the SOH community has been generating over the last several months.  Among the topics:  applying the learnings of positive psychology to the workplace, coping with the loss of a loved one, enjoying the unexpected joys and perquisites that come with being an empty-nester.  We not only welcome our new community members because the conversations are so relevant.  We see their arrival as a potential turning point for our long-term journey in building a platform for lifelong learning.





Why We Need To Be Socially Connected

A Summary of Week Two in “The Science of Happiness”

In our last blog post, we reviewed the course material in week one of “The Science of Happiness,” a massive open online course brought to you by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. The focus of the course that week, as we related, was the why, what and how of happiness (why does it matter, what is it, how do we get it). Professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas concluded with a summary of what makes people happy, noting a clear bias for activities that promote social connections and a higher purpose. Week two went deep into one of these areas: social connections. In broad strokes, here are the five areas of research that were covered in week two:

Attachment. Drawing on the work of John Bowlby and others, Keltner and Simon-Thomas looked how three *styles *of attachment acquired in early life can impact happiness and well-being: “secure,” “anxious,” and “avoidant.” While the first can be a predictor of happiness and well-being, there are strategies for coping with other styles.

Evolution. The professors presented research on how the evolution of our species contributed to prosocial behavior. We have developed into a caretaking species. Organizationally, we naturally tend to form intoflattened hierarchies. We are a peacemaking, reconciling species, and are hyper-coordinated (supported by our biological gift for mimicry). For survival, we have preferred to “pair bond” (to form monogamous relationships).

Biology. The evolutionary narrative above set the stage for a closer look at other biological mechanisms supporting and/or explaining prosocial behavior. Big focus on oxytocin, a neuropeptide that serves as “an enabler of trust.” [At Sennseis, we’ve come to think of oxytocin as kind of a wonder drug for prosocial behavior.] Week two observed its presence at many different touchpoints in the life of people who report happiness and wellness.

Relationships. The course then looked at the impact that various types of relationships in happy lives: marital relationships, parental relationships, friendships. Generally, *all *can promote well-being. But with parenting, people tend to report happiness when they “purposely want to be parents.” With friendships, humans have transcended the relationship-building capacity of other species by finding a wide range of cohorts and allies for practical and emotional help.

Empathy. The week concluded with at the importance of empathy in human relations and its biological basis (e.g., mirror neurons). The course distinguished between two kinds of empathy: affective empathy (when you “feel” like others do) and cognitive empathy (when you understand how others feel). The course also looked at two different personality profiles: people who tend to experience empathic concern and people who tend to experience empathic distress. While the first may be more adaptive, there are strategies for dealing with the latter as well.

Practice of the week: Active listening. As we noted in our last post, each week of the course featured an exercise that is known to promote happiness and wellness. The practice this week was “active listening.” Simon-Thomas asked students to take 15-30 minutes with someone they know and ask “what’s on your mind.” The rules of engagement: listen carefully and constructively. Paraphrase and repeat back what you hear. Ask questions. Show empathy, regardless of how you might feel (“I can understand why you feel that way”).

Our take: the road to wellness is paved with many such exercises, though at some point they must become habits. But of all the exercises in the course, this one may be my favorite; if it indeed becomes habit for you, you will find that you will become a very valuable person in the lives of people around you. Value for you, value for them, value for us all (the "greater good").



The Why, What and How of Happiness

The Science of Happiness: Week One Summary

We’re coming upon the final week of “The Science of Happiness” – a massive open online course produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley – and we’d like to close out in style. Over the next eight days – beginning with this post – we will be filing super high-level summaries of the major points that were made each week of the course. The first week – which rolled out an abundance of introductory content in the form of video and text – covered the why, what, and how of happiness (why is it important, what is it, how do we get it). Here are our big takeaways.


We all know we want happiness, though we may argue about what it actually is (see next section). The big question, to start, is why pursue it. Professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas marshal the evidence from scientific research:

--People who are happy live longer. The benefits here are both personal and societal.

--People who are happy stay healthy. Again – benefits that are both personal and societal. Think of health care costs, and the costs to loved ones.

--People who are happy do better in relationships. More effective parenting, better marriages, stronger friendships.

--People who are happy perform more creatively in the workplace. At a time when innovation is so highly prized, happiness is emerging as a core asset for employers.

--People who are happy help create more sustainable cultures. As Keltner observed, “happiness matters to the state of nations.”


If that got your attention, good; check out the references in the course content for more nuance. But it forces a second meta-question that Keltner and Simon-Thomas address: what is happiness? Keltner broaches the topic with a great video on great thinkers from great historical traditions (Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, ancient Greek philosophy). He then edges closer to modern times, reflecting on pre- and post-Enlightenment thinking on the nature of happiness and the public good. In a later week-one video, he looks at contemporary psychology (with nods to Daniel Kahneman and Ed Diener). Two patterns emerge:

--the difference between long-term well-being and in-the-moment subjective emotion. Both are important, but there’s a bias toward the former.

--the importance of prosocial behavior and higher purpose (or the “greater good,” as the Berkeley professors are wont to say).


And here’s where it gets really interesting. Nice to know why happiness is important. And critical that we know what we are talking about when we use the word “happy.” But how does one plan the pursuit of happiness. Keltner and Simon-Thomas set the stage for the coming weeks by proffering three paths for students of the course:

--understanding the obstacles to happiness. As humans, we are vulnerable to a number of cognitive biases. For example: “hedonic adaptation.” Simply put = as we get used to new levels of wealth and comfort, we seek to get to the next level. But more money doesn't mean more happiness. Kahneman and his colleagues concluded in a landmark study that yes, money matters … to a point. After basic needs are met, the correlation between earnings and happiness begins to fade.

--understanding what actually makes people happy. Simon-Thomas presents a simple outline of the research consensus: physical exercise matters, sleep matters, and a sense of personal achievement matters. More important, she says, are the guiding principles and mission of the Greater Good Science Center: social connections and a commitment to something greater than yourself (higher purpose).

-- practicing exercises that have been proven to promote happiness, as we know it. The first exercise: The Three Things. Simon-Thomas asked students to take ten minutes each day to write down three things that went well during the day and reflect on why they went well.

Our take = after having done this many times, we can say that the exercise makes it easy to see the links between prosocial behavior and meaningful rewards. But there are other exercises coming – and so much more course material – so we will end this post now with our sincere wishes that come back tomorrow with our summary of week two.