For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is a dark time of year, and not just literally. Like many people I find winter difficult, and over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things to help me get through the gloom: meditation, exercise, medication. I really have tried EVERYTHING.
So last year when I read about Coursera’s “Science of Well-Being” course I was immediately intrigued. It’s a ten-week course, based on a hugely popular psychology class taught by Laurie Santos at Yale, and it teaches a range of techniques to help with finding and maintaining happiness. Because happiness is not something that just happens: you have to work at it. And it turns out that science can help!
I completed the course over the summer and since then I have been using many of its techniques. As a family doctor, I’ve ended up recommending it to patients, either sharing particular insights or suggesting that they do the whole course. If happiness is something you need help with then I recommend this highly. I even got a fancy certificate from Yale at the end of it!
Since doing the course I’ve also been listening to Laurie Santos’s companion podcast, The Happiness Lab. In the same vein as the course, it covers the latest research on happiness and examines how you can apply it in everyday life. One recent episode, looking at the science of happiness and sharing, was particularly interesting. It considered how sharing experiences affects the way you feel, including how taking and sharing pictures affects our enjoyment of things.
It turns out that sharing an experience with other people who are physically present enhances our enjoyment, but that taking pictures can prevent us from enjoying ourselves, particularly if we are taking them with the specific intention of sharing them online with others. As soon as we step outside the moment to imagine how people who are not present will perceive the pictures, our own enjoyment is diminished.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take pictures of enjoyable, shared activities. But we should take them with the intention of memorialising our own experiences for ourselves, rather than for an external audience. And if we subsequently choose to share images online, that’s fine, but we should try not to care about that at the time, if we want to maximise our enjoyment. That’s what I took away from the podcast, anyway — but do listen to it and see what you think.
The main thing is that there’s a lot of really interesting science that can help us when it comes to happiness in photography, and in life more generally. If you want to find out more about it then Laurie Santos’s course, and her podcast, are great places to start.