Love Your Life Through the Science of Happiness

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

So many of us want to be the people who leap out of bed and start the day with a giant smile and a genuine joy for what their day holds. The weight of our responsibilities and stressors may make this unbridled happiness seem like a difficult feat—or one that we have to “fake it ’til we make it.”

Add in unexpected curveballs—like a pandemic—and this kind of happiness may feel like an impossibility.

While it may seem hard to imagine, we can learn to enjoy the little things, accept the plot twists in life, boost our moods, and stop self-sabotaging behaviors.

Audience Questions

Lisa W. Coyne, PhD, shares insights about positive psychology, provides tools and tips from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to better handle unexpected stressors, and answers audience questions about how we can be happier, one day at a time.

  • What is positive psychology?
  • Rather than feeling blue or depressed, I’ve been feeling extreme apathy. How bad is this and how do you fight feelings of apathy?
  • I’m a pretty even person. I don’t experience too many highs or lows. My partner gets really frustrated that I don’t get excited about anything. How can I explain that I don’t demonstrate my emotions by doing cartwheels in the living room when something good happens?
  • How do you handle other people’s feelings of discomfort when you feel sad or cry?
  • Please say more about how behavior impacts emotion.
  • Is it true that we can change our mental health through adjusting our mindset or our state of mind? What does focusing on positivity do to our brains?
  • I’m a pretty happy person, but it’s hard to be happy when you have a family member with an illness. In our case, someone in our immediate family struggles with a substance use disorder and of course it impacts the whole family’s vibe. Any suggestions on how to bring some light into our lives?
  • Can we talk a little about toxic positivity and its impact on our mental health as well as the mental health of others?
  • Is there any truth to phrases like “fake it until you make it,” “grin and bear it,” etc.? How much of it can we fake and how much of that is a placebo for us? Do they even help?
  • When I think of being happy, I think of being with certain people in my life. Is this not a good thing—that such an important source of happiness is outside of my own self?
  • How is it possible that exercising can so greatly affect our mood?
  • How do you “sell” positive psychology to patients that are dealing with systemic issues that feel out of their control?
  • I often feel like I need to have two different personalities—the real me and the me at work. At work, I always put on a smile and pretend that everything is OK. I end up feeling fake. I don’t feel like I should or can allow my true feelings to be shown to my colleagues because I feel it’s my responsibility to be positive and to boost the people around me. It’s exhausting. Is this normal? Should I stop doing this?
  • What does it mean to “make space” and how can we do this in our lives?
  • I base a lot of my happiness on external validation from peers/others. How do I move away from this and generate a sense of internal validation from within?
  • One thing that I can’t stand is delivering bad news or saying things that cause others to be sad or upset. I feel bad for saying it, then I feel bad for their feelings, then I feel bad for being the cause of their feelings. I tend to try to avoid this, but that’s not good either. How can I best understand how to handle delivering news that could cause others to have strong feelings?
  • A close family member is worried about my happiness and feels responsible for it. How do I let them know that I am happy with my life and that they don’t need to worry about me so much?
  • How do I shift my focus from the everyday, mundane, stressful things in my life to a happier, more gratitude-based focus?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


You may also find this information helpful:

About Dr. Coyne

Lisa W. Coyne, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, part-time, at Harvard Medical School, and is a senior clinical consultant at the Child and Adolescent OCD Institute (OCDI Jr.) at McLean Hospital.

Dr. Coyne has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters on anxiety, OCD, and parenting. She is the author of “The Joy of Parenting: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Guide to Effective Parenting in the Early Years,” a book for parents of young children.

Recent books by Dr. Coyne:

Learn more about Dr. Coyne.

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Originally aired on March 18, 2021