Why is it so hard to be happy?

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Laurie Santos. Photo by Ryan Dilley

Happiness — or its pursuit — is very much part of American culture, an inalienable right written into the Declaration of Independence. While we all seek and desire happiness, figuring out what makes us happy is not as easy as it looks. Money, a successful career, exotic vacations, or even a house with a white picket fence may seem like they’d make us pretty happy, but what if we're wrong about the keys to our own contentment? What if we really need to seek out different things to improve our ability to flourish?  

Back in 2018, after seeing her students increasingly struggle with depression and anxiety, psychologist Laurie Santos followed the science.  

A cognitive scientist and a professor at Yale, Santos started the institution’s first ever “Happiness Course.” Expecting a modest interest, her course soon became the most sought after class in Yale’s 300 year history.  

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So what can science tell us about learning to be happy? Amongst Santos’ revelations are that we’re actually not very good at doing things that will make us happy. It turns out that personal challenges, being social, and caring for others will make us far happier than a night on the sofa watching Netflix. 

Jonathan Bastian speaks to Santos, host of  “The Happiness Lab” podcast, about the science of happiness and how healthier habits, like sleep, exercise, and deleting apps from our phone, can make a difference in how we feel. She says that even “making simple connections with strangers, like talking to a stranger on the train, can boost your positive emotion.”

Laurie Santos. Photo by Mike Marsland at Yale University

“The Happiness Lab Podcast” Photo credit: Pushkin Industries



  • Laurie Santos - Cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Director of Yale's Comparative Cognition Laboratory, Director of Yale's Canine Cognition Lab, and Head of Yale's Silliman College. Hosts “The Happiness Lab” podcast


Andrea Brody