On happiness and social connection

You might assume that we are creatures that are built to be happy. But the sad thing is that we're really not wired for happiness.

During a recent YouTube binge, I stumbled upon this video featuring Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale who studies the science of happiness.

It's just 8 minutes long and worth a watch

In it, she describes how humans are surprisingly bad at being happy. We’re notorious for making choices that we believe will bring us happiness based on deceptive or false intuitions.

We often fall into the trap of thinking that more money, possessions, or status will make us happier. However, research suggests that once our basic needs are met, these things don't have a significant impact on our happiness. Worse yet, even if we make more money or buy more things, our minds eventually get used to the new normal, and we end up feeling like we're stuck on a treadmill.

All hope is not lost, however. Certain behaviors do have a lasting impact on how we feel, and we can actively choose to engage in them.

For this post, I want to focus on the biggest difference-maker: social connection. "Every available study of happy people suggests that happy people are more social," says Laurie Santos. "They physically spend time around other people and they tend to prioritize time with their friends and family members.”

This may seem obvious, yet as a society, we systematically undervalue and underestimate the importance of social connection. Just think of the last time you took public transportation and noticed almost every passenger staring at their phone.

Social connection and family time are especially top-of-mind for me right now. We’ve had family visiting us from India for the past two months, with my parents staying on for another. I won’t lie—it’s been hectic and overwhelming at times, but with a few tweaks, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’ve enjoyed fantastic meals, had great (sometimes intense) conversations, explored new places, and had many laughs together. The joy from these shared experiences will last far longer than the new pair of jeans I bought last week.

Being on sabbatical has had some unexpected benefits. In the past, when my parents visited, I would be busy with work most of the week. Even when we spent time together at the end of each day, my mind would often be distracted by something work-related. Now, although the disruption of my sabbatical schedule feels frustrating at times, I'm much more clear-headed and present.

After years of prioritizing work (and by extension money) above all else and arranging everything else I care about around them, I am finally reversing that approach. And it genuinely feels good.