Stanford GSB Lecturer Carole Robin gave a presentation on Happiness, Meaning, and Engagement to a packed audience of GSB alumni during Fall Reunion Weekend. Here are key insights from the talk: 

What is happiness determined by?

  • 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics
  • 10% of our happiness is determined by circumstance (Example: getting married, rich or having kids)
  •  We “hedonically” adapt to circumstances that make us happy. Our circumstances do not permanently make us happy; it becomes the status quo.
  • 40% of happiness is determined by intentional activity or what you do. Luckily, this 40% is in our direct control. 

How can you increase happiness? Carole Robin provided a happiness framework consisting of 3 aspects of life: enjoyment, engagement and purpose. She also recommended specific activities for each aspect of life and strongly encouraged to practice these activities for at least a couple weeks (in order to feel a difference):  

1. Increase enjoyment.

  • Practice appreciation to anybody about anything.
  • Savor one thing or moment a day. Example: Savor your cup of coffee in the morning.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, write 3-5 things you’re grateful for that day – small or big. Over time, you’ll start to notice and see things you’re grateful for throughout the course of the day.

 2. Engagement: find your flow.

  • Flow is achieved when you’re fully engaged, immersed and absorbed in an activity.
  • Flow is associated with signature strengths. The activity needs to be a good match between your skill level and challenge level, meaning it can’t be too challenging or else you’ll end up feeling frustrated, not happy.
  • There’s a strong correlation between experiencing flow and enduring levels of happiness.
  • Find activities and experiences that get you in a state of flow. 

3. Expand your zone of learning.

  • You have your own zone of safety of what you normally do and think.
  • Outside your zone of safety is the zone of ambiguity. Outside the zone of ambiguity is the zone of danger.
  • Try to stretch beyond your comfort zone and expand your zone of safety.

Below are two activities we did that you can try to do with your friends and family:

1. Pair up: Share a time when you were in a state of flow

  • Reflect on a time you were in a state of flow.
  • Pair up with someone you don’t know.
  • Tell your partner a bit about your flow and experience.
  •  What might this experience suggest about what’s really important to you?

2. Team up with another pair: Brainstorm how you can be more intentional

  • Briefly share your conclusion from the pair activity of what’s really important to you
  • Have the other 3 people in your group brainstorm how you can intentionally get more of what’s important to you.