Like many of you, I spent part of spring break bathing in the swelteringly seductive sights of Miami Beach, Florida. Unlike many of you, I’ve returned from a very different type of R&R, eager to share some precious nuggets of wisdom. You see, my time in the Magic City coincided with the first ever World Happiness Summit, a three-day conference with psychologists, scientists, engineers, yogis, monks, meditators, motivators, writers, artists, professors and the like who gathered to impart unique insights and perspectives on — you guessed it — happiness.
If you’re thinking that there are more effective and immediate ways of finding joyful gratification in Miami, you’re probably right. But alas, here I’m blameless. You can take the Yalie out of Yale, but you can’t take the Yale out of the Yalie. What’s spring break without a little PowerPoint?
The conference demanded that I ask myself questions I now pose to you. What’s the advantage of being happy? Does it help us get better grades or land more prestigious internships? Surprisingly, yes. Happiness does precisely that.
But before we talk about how exactly happiness leads to quantifiable success, WOHASU’s keynote speaker, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar offered a recipe for contentment. He broke the “how” of happiness down into the three C’s: context, commitment and compassion.
Take “context.” Say you miss the shuttle to Science Hill and you’re already late. And it’s cold. And you’re hungover. Consider the broader “context”; recognize it isn’t a big deal and carry on with your day rather than harbor the vein-tensing, teeth-gritting frustration until dinner. Actively embracing a wider, contextual view of life, Shankar explained, offers framing for unimportant stress and releases us to focus on present joy.
“Commitment” is one step further. Say the semester is ending, and you’re buried under an onslaught of papers and exams. Practice “commitment” by doing something like volunteering at a food bank. In pledging oneself to a greater purpose with a charitable intent, such “commitment” frees us from the stifling prisons of self-doubt and self-reproach, allowing present-moment happiness to flourish. Shankar pointed out that when we find ourselves deeply involved in the service of others, our nagging and insignificant concerns over personal problems become irrelevant.
And finally, “compassion.” Say you’re rushing to class and lock eyes with someone you don’t know. Instead of immediately averting your gaze, practice “compassion” by greeting them with a smile. Spreading happiness and love onto others increases the very source of happiness within ourselves. And the essence of happiness is communal — notice that those who are perennially unhappy are far too embroiled in their own misery to attend to anyone else. By being “lighthouses of happiness,” Shankar offered, we allow the joy inherent in us to flourish. “There are three things that grow when spread,” he announced, “love, wisdom and happiness.”
Happiness, both as an emotional state and personal practice, isn’t regularly addressed at Yale. We find ourselves socially pressured to present an unremitting facade of smiles, laughter and charm, all designed to conceal the darker anxieties, melancholies and self-doubts we seldom feel comfortable expressing. At WOHASU, I began to grasp the importance of happiness to our mental health, academic success and ability to connect, especially as students in an academic and social milieu. My misconceptions, including equating the “pursuit of happiness” to an inherently egotistic exercise in self-aggrandizement, fell away as I recognized the true, full nature of happiness — in particular, its inseparable communality.
For example, eminent WOHASU speaker Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky touched on what she calls “The How of Happiness.” She began her presentation by dispelling the idea that the purpose of happiness lies solely in making you yourself feel good. In contrast to their malcontent peers, happier individuals are much more social, energetic and charitable. She cited a study that found that undergraduate women who “expressed sincere joy in their college yearbook photos” were more likely to be married and to have more satisfying marriages in the future. She further noted the role of happiness in performance, pointing to a study that showed happier people tended to be healthier and more resilient, both healthwise (stronger immune systems) and at work (exhibiting more flexible thinking). And, in addition to being substantially more productive, “they are better leaders and negotiators and earn more money.” Happiness is a lifelong state, a choice that yields success in all aspects of life.
Sufficiently satisfied with having piled on the list of happiness’s advantages like a professor stacking blue books after a midterm, Lyubomirsky concluded by offering a “mic-drop”-esque piece of data that I imagine was aimed at the especially cynical: “Those who were happy as college freshmen had higher salaries 16 years later … without an iota of initial wealth advantage.” Money doesn’t bring happiness. But happiness sure brings in the money. Be happy and flourish, indeed.
Dhruv Nandamudi is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at