The science of wellbeing: Diary entries and assignment fails

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Written by Jon Kennard on 16 November 2020

In September and October I took part in a MOOC (massive open online course) called The Science of Wellbeing, through Coursera and Yale University. The course leader was a woman named Dr Laurie Santos, a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology. I thought her course leadership style was excellent - open, encouraging and warm.

We learned about how we overrate certain things we think will make us happy and underrate others, and further to this, ignore other very simple routes to lasting happiness.

The final four weeks focused on picking a 'rewirement' and charting your progress in a diary. A lot of the course was dedicated to 'rewiring our brains', 'unlearning what we have learned', as Jedi master Yoda might say, and the activities that would help us be happier were called rewirements.

As is typical for a lot of people who take MOOCs on I didn't finish it completely, but I thought my progress might make interesting reading.

Here we go... 

 

21/09

The rewirement I’ve chosen for my final assignment is meditation. This is something that I do anyway, but not regularly enough (despite a daily reminder from my phone calendar). I have gone from doing a couple of minutes here and there each week to doing ten minutes each night before I go to sleep.

We overrate certain things we think will make us happy and underrate others, and further to this, ignore other very simple routes to lasting happiness. 

I’ve only been going for four days but have already noticed an uptick in my mood and general happiness. I’m keen to keep the streak going and see what long-term benefits I might get. Looking forward to Laurie’s reading tips and check-in videos, and I hope that I maintain my motivation for the course as it moves from daily video learning to a more self-directed model as the closing weeks approach.

29/09

I missed a couple of days meditation this weekend but got back to it last night. I normally do about 10 minutes before bed. I use the Buddhify app and the meditation I chose last night was an eight-minute session called Colour.

It started out with some calming acceptance practice, before asking you to acknowledge any feelings of fear or anger by describing where in your body you feel it, as well as giving it a shape and a colour. The thinking behind this is to make negative abstract thought more tangible and manageable.

Since the start of this rewirement assignment I have noticed more feelings of happiness and calm. Some of the new covid-related restrictions that have been brought into place in the UK in the last few days have threatened to undo some of my good work but I guess it’s making the meditation I’m doing even more important.

03/10

I have found that meditating has increased my sociability, as well as making me sleep better, and although this is only a correlation, I think a sustained run at doing this every night will embed it as a habit and make positive changes in the long run. What do I do when I have listened to all the different meditations in the app though! Probably cycle through them again.

08/10

I skipped meditation last night but rather than beating myself up about it as I would usually, I’ve tried to be kinder to myself and talk myself round to getting back into the routine. Towards the end of this month, it looks like the UK situation might change for the worse, so I think I am going to appreciate these new habits and behaviours even more, just when I really need them.

 

This week I listened to the podcast that ties in with this course, The Happiness Lab, and the episode where they talk about Michael Phelps and his mental imaging techniques. I am finding it incredibly helpful.

I heard my first national radio news item about the benefits of meditation this week too - it really feels like this stuff is starting to cut through and cross over to the mainstream at the right time.

14/10

Missed a couple of days over the weekend but made up for it four nights in a row. I find that my sleep is still erratic (The benign cyst on my pineal gland which is responsible for sleep regulation may have something to do with it) but my mood is much better on a daily basis. I had September off alcohol and plan to do the same for November which should help further too.

22/10

Been meditating most nights but really busy with work, school etc. At the moment I feel like this is something that hangs in the balance a bit but I know I want to make it a habit, it’s just competing for my limited head space. And yes, sometimes I forget to even do five minutes.

 

About the author

Jon Kennard is editor of TJ and is fairly happy at the moment, all things considered.

 


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