The Science of Well-Being

Misconceptions about happiness

  • Knowing is not enough to change my behavior.1
  • People generally overestimate the duration of their reactions to negative events.2
  • Emotional well being increases as income rises but there is no improvement in happiness beyond an annual income of ~$75,000.3
  • People with materialist altitude have lower life satisfaction in life. 4
  • Married people are happier for first few years and then happiness returns to baseline. 5
  • Happiness come from 50% gene, 40% controllable action/thoughts and 10% uncontrolled life situation. 6

Why our expectations are bad

Miswanting: being mistaken about what and how much you will like something in the future.

  • Our intuitions are often wrong. 1
  • Our mind don't think of absolutes but in term of reference points:
    • Where we are now.
      • For every $1.00 increase in your actual income, your required income to be happy increases by $1.40. 7
    • Where other people are (social comparison).
      • Unemployed people are happier when unemployment rate in their area is high. 8
      • "It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours."
  • Hedonic adaptation as we become accustomed to a positive or negative stimulus such that the effects are attenuated over time.
  • We don't realize that our minds are built to get used to stuff.

Overcome biases

  • Don't invest in physical stuff, invest in experience as experience is short lived and we don't adapt to experience as fast as materials.
  • Thwart hedonic adaptation
    • Savoring. Take a step back and appreciate an experience at present, don't focus on the past or future.
    • Negative visualization. Contemplate what you have and visualize your life without them.
    • Gratitude. Write down 5 things you are grateful for every week.
  • Reset reference point
    • Concretely re-experience. Go back and re-experience old referent point. I sometimes think of my previous job, which makes me appreciate my current job more.
    • Concretely observe. I have many fantasies of "if only I have", so going out and actually experience those fantasies.
    • Avoid social comparison. Meditate, avoid social media.
    • Interrupt your consumption. For good things, space them out over a period of time will increase happiness. For bad things, experience them all at once instead of splitting them.
    • Increase variety.

What make us happy

Right parts of what we already want

  • Job
    • People who use signature strength are more productive and satisfied with their job. 9
    • Increase flow, engaging in high challenge high skill work.
  • External goals (money, grades, cars...)
    • Extrinsic motivation can undermine intrinsic motivation.
    • Adopt a growth mindset instead of goal mindset.


Spending money on other people can make you happier. 10

Social connection

You don't need make deep connection to be happier, talking with strangers make both happier. 11

Time Affluence

Psychology of Money also points out that having more time is more important than money.


When we no longer think about the current task, our brain fall back to default mode network. Our mind wanders, think outside of the now and here (future, past). This makes us feel bad. 12

Meditation not only shuts off the default mode network 13 but also make us happier in the long run. 14

Healthy practice

We all know physical exercises make us healthy and happy. We all know getting 8 hours of sleep is healthy.

Strategies for better habits

Situation support

  • Fix bad environment
    • Reduce access to unhealthy food. 15
    • Delete social media
    • Keep your phone in your bag.
  • Promote health environment
    • Surround yourself with people who have similar goals.

Goal setting

  • Specific goals: you should be able to quantify your goals.
  • Goal visualization: visualize the result of achieving a goal and then think of its obstacles.
  • Goal planning: if-then plans. 16

My personal life

After 4 weeks of implementing multiple strategies from the course, my happiness score increases by 6%.

At the end of 2021, my score went up by 9%.

In the beginning, I wanted to do the gratitude exercise daily, but I skipped multiple days in a row because life happened. However I don't particularly feel bad about it, I did the best that I could, it wasn't consistent but I believe 2-3 missed days out of a week is ok.

I started working out more and I adjusted my daily meals (eating more fishes, veggies, fruits and less meat). I still regularly buy snacks but I keep them in closed cupboard instead of leaving them on kitchen table.

My to do list was reorganized to make items more actionable and the goals more realistic. I have steadily completed tasks, the pace is slow and I wish I could be faster, but I am making progress.

A month is a long time and a lot happened, some are good while some are bad. I'm a bit more aware of my internal feelings and I'm still trying to figure out how to process them.

Overall, looking back, it makes sense that every little thing adds up and I am a bit happier now. I know happiness is fleeting so I need to remind myself every now and again to re-read this page.

My strengths

  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Honesty
  • Love of learning
  • Judgement


Even if I'm familiar with the Müller-Lyer illusion, my vision and my mind still tells me that the 2nd line is longer.


Gilbert et al (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 617-638.


Kahneman & Deaton (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. PNAS, 107(38), 16489-16493.


Lucas et al. (2003). Reexamining Adaptation and the Set Point Model of Happiness: Reactions to Changes in Marital Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(3), 527-539.


Lyubomirsky (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


Van Praag and Frijters (1999). The measurement of welfare and well-being: the Leyden approach. In Well-Being: The foundation of hedonic psychology. New York: Russel Sage Foundation. Pages 413-433.


Clark (2003). Unemployment as a social norm: Psychological evidence from panel data. Journal of Labor Economics, 21(2), 323-351.


Dunn et al. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science,319 (5870), 1687-1688.


Epley & Schroeder (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980.


Killingsworth & Gilbert (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932–932.


Brewer et al. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(50), 20254-20259.


Fredrickson et al. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of personality and social psychology, 95(5), 1045-1062.


Wansink et al. (2006). The office candy dish: proximity’s influence on estimated and actual consumption. International Journal of Obesity, 30, 871–875.


Gollwitzer & Brandstätter (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 186-199.