How Are You Doing? March 2022 Newsletter Article

I was recently reading a NY Times article about Laurie Santos, a Yale Professor who teaches a class titled, Psychology and The Good Life. She also has a popular podcast called The Happiness Lab. I was curious about her perspective on happiness, because so many people I meet with appear to be struggling, to various degrees, after two years of the pandemic.

According to Professor Santos, happiness is not too different from anything else in our lives, “It takes work.” The author of the article, David Marchese, asked her about the importance of having a sense of purpose, connection to others, and meditation and reflection. She responded by citing the need for people to have beliefs and principles that they really practice.

I have often asked individuals I coach to think about three words for their principles. In order to put them into practice, they need to be memorable and simply stated. Think about Show Up, Smile, and Support. Those are our values, our principles. They guide our everyday behavior. For more than twenty years, I have reminded myself of my intentional behaviors each morning. I know that no matter what comes my way throughout the day, I will be kind, I will be thoughtful, and I will be generous. Those are my individual principles. They drive my happiness.

Professor Santos also tackled the challenging question of social media, and its relationship to happiness. She shared a technique that you may want to consider the next time you pick up your phone. Ms. Santos asks her students to think about “WWW: 1) What for? 2) Why now? 3) What else?” Why did you decide to pick up your phone? Did you have a purpose? Were you checking the weather before you chose your clothes? Second, why did you decide to do that now? Were you getting your clothes ready for the next day, or were you just bored and picked up your phone to scroll through social media or shop? My favorite question she asks is “What else?” What is the lost opportunity cost? What else could you be doing?

I have a rule that I will not use my phone from 5:00 PM to 8:30 PM. I started that practice as a graduate school student when we were assigned to make a personal change. Our girls were young, seven and four. I went into work at 6:00 AM, so that I could leave at 4:30 PM, and I was almost always home for dinner. However, deciding to put the phone away until they went to bed, showed me how I was in their presence and not really present. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking to see how quickly they noticed that they had my undivided attention. Riley, our youngest, was appointed the Cell Phone Sherriff. She would hide my phone when I entered the house and tell me the location when I tucked her in for bed.​​​​​​​

A quick note: If you are reading this now, and you are feeling anxious about what you may miss if you hide your phone for three hours every night, I can share that I have never missed anything important through this practice. If you are still feeling concerned, be sure to turn the ringer up and let your closest family members know what you are doing. If they need to reach you, they can call your phone in case of emergencies. You can silence all notifications, outside of phone calls from your “favorites.” I used to call it the babysitter button. Initially, I would turn it on in the movie theater. Then, I kept finding increased reasons to silence all my notifications.

Now that the girls are older, I have expanded my rules to include any time they want to spend time with me. We have never allowed phones in the car. That provides 30-60 minutes of conversation every day if I drive them to school in the morning or drop them off for practice or lessons. Beyond that, if they are available, I put my phone away. I know how quickly my time with them passes, and I do not want to waste any of it being distracted.

If you love your phone and social media, and feel they drive great happiness for you, that is great. Our phones are amazing tools. I often find myself Googling questions to ask teens or great questions to get teens talking. We all know that social media sites can also be fantastic for connecting with others or raising money. I simply wanted to share Professor Santos’ WWW technique. I know when I next reach for my phone, I will ask if there is a purpose for needing my phone and what else I could be doing if I choose not to pick it up.

More than anything else, I think about how much I want others to be happy. You may want to organize your thinking into Body, Mind, Spirit. I hope you do think a great deal about the importance of purpose, human connection, prayer or meditation, and reflection. I know I am happiest when I am asking great questions, listening for understanding, and serving others.

Finally, Professor Santos addressed her own need to pull back if she is feeling any oncoming burnout. Her indicators were feeling more irritated with other people, thinking that other people’s intentions were bad, and starting to feel less effective at life and work.

If I start feeling like I am not as happy as I typically feel, I make time for reflection. I will find some scrap paper or a journal and draw five circles. It is a practice my dad shared with me when I was thirteen. Each circle represents a different area of your life: 1) Your Health 2) Your Home 3) Your Friends/Family 4) Your Finances 5) Your Career. I like to give my happiness a score in each area, from 0-10. If it is less than 10, I will ask why. Then, I will make three notes about steps I can take to improve my score. It feels good to make a plan, say a prayer, and work the plan. I am constantly feeling the momentum of positive progress.

I hope you are feeling happy. If you are not, I hope you are leaning on those who love you, at work and outside of work. You know that I am here to support you, and I will do anything I can to help.

Thank you for living our values. Please do take great care of yourselves and each other.