Gillian Mandich
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What makes you happy? What comes to mind when I ask you that question? Did the answer come to you quickly, or did you have to think about it a little bit? I mean, it seems like a pretty simple question, right? "What makes you happy?" And it's a normal part of the human condition to want to be happy, but sometimes, answering that question, it's not so simple. A few years ago, I started to think a lot about happiness. And I started to really reflect on my own life and ask myself questions about happiness. And one of the questions that I really started to think about was, "Am I as happy as I could possibly be right now?" And I thought about it. And when I got really honest with myself, I realized the answer was no. I wasn't as happy as I could possibly be. And I started to think about why that was. Because, you know, when you think about your life and all of that, we were never actually taught, formally, how to be happy. I mean, think about it. When you're in school growing up, you learn math, you learn science, but we don't take classes on how to be happy. So, these things are sort of running around - these ideas - in my mind, these questions, and at the same time, I was working on my PhD in health science. And because I couldn't answer these questions about happiness, I did what any researcher would do. I looked to the research. And I started learning about happiness. And what I learned was so fascinating that I actually ended up switching research topics, and I started to study happiness. I wrote an entire thesis on happiness. When we look at happiness, there's so much data that supports how important it is. And yet, if you think about your life and you check in right now, no matter how happy or unhappy you are, what research has shown us is that it's absolutely possible to be happier. And if you don't live a life where you're happier, you're possibly living a life where you're missing out and not living the happiest life possible. Think about that. If you are living your life right now, and it's not the happiest life you could, it's kind of like if you're experiencing life in analog instead of living your life in high definition. So, as a happiness researcher, I get asked a lot of questions about happiness. And I would think the number one question that I get asked is, "Gillian, what do I need to know or do or think or see, what's that one thing, what's the one thing I need to know in order to be happy?" And you know what? The truth is, there is no one thing. There's no magic pill for happiness. You, you're the pharmacist. It's up to you. Nobody can write your prescription for happiness except for you. So, although I'm a happiness researcher, I can't write that prescription for you. But what I can do is I can share with you two of the most impactful things that I've learned in my research that will help you to be happier. So, the first thing I learned was that you can't just hope for happiness. Happiness doesn't just happen to us. It requires work and intention and effort. Happiness is not a destination. It's a practice. And all of the research supports this idea, and I've even seen it in my own research data. So, for my PhD, I partnered with UC Berkeley and created a four-week online intervention for students at my university. And what they did every week was they watched a series of videos that they learned about things like why happiness is important, gratitude, mindfulness, friendships, relationships, social connection. And so, when I was doing my study, I needed to recruit students. And when I did my sample-size calculation, I found out that I needed 60 students to be in my study in order to get a big enough sample size. So, I sent out an email to all the undergraduate students at my school, and I had 1,282 students - 1,282 - respond that they wanted to be in my study. So, not only was there this interest in being happy, but I also saw statistically significant changes in the students' happiness throughout my study. When the students started, till the end - you can see in the graph - they were happier at the end of the study because you can't just hope for happiness, you have to take deliberate action in order to be happy. So, the second thing I learned is that environment matters. And what do I mean by that? Well, there was a study done at the University of Missouri. And they brought research participants into a lab, and they had them listen to a piece of music. So, the first group came in, and they listened to a piece of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring." And this song is described as hedonically neutral. So, what that means is it doesn't really evoke a lot of positive or happy or pleasure feelings. And actually, I'll play you a clip. It sounds like this. (Music: "The Rite of Spring") So, that one group, half of the participants, listened to that Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," and the second half of participants, they came in, and they were played a piece from Copland called "Rodeo." And this piece is described as hedonically positive, or it's a happy piece of music. It sounds like this. (Music: "Rodeo") So, what do you think? Did that make you feel happier? (Laughs) So, once the participants were in and they were either listening to the ambiguous, neutral music or the happy music, the participants were further subdivided. So, half of the participants were told, "Just listen to this piece of music." The other half were told, "Listen to this piece of music and try to be happier." So, out of all four groups that were possible in this study, the only group that saw an increase in their happiness was the group that listened to the positive music and tried to be happy. So, the group that listened to the ambiguous, neutral music, they didn't see the same increase even when they were trying to be happy. So, what does this teach us? Environment matters. Intention is not enough. It's not enough to just want to be happy. We actually have to create an environment around us that's conducive to supporting our happiness. So, when we think about that, if you think about your life right now, think about the environment that you're around: Who and what do you choose to surround yourself with? Who do you follow on social media? What type of music or audiobooks or podcasts do you listen to? How much news do you watch? And how do all of those things make you feel? All of those things, they absolutely matter, and they impact your happiness. So, in closing, I want to invite you to take an inventory of how you feel right now, how happy you feel. Do you feel more happy, less happy? However you feel, I can promise you that it's absolutely possible to feel happier. And by remembering two things - the first thing is that you can't hope for happiness. It doesn't just happen. Happiness is not a destination. It's a practice. It's something that we have to work at every single day if we want to be happy. The second thing is that our environment matters. And when we choose deliberately, as much as possible, to create an environment around us that's conducive to our happiness, remembering those two things, you can be certain that you're on the path to living a happier life. Because there is no magic pill for happiness. You are the pharmacist. Thank you. (Applause)