If you’re planning for retirement, you’re focusing on covering all your bases. But how about your happiness? When you’re able to retire, will you be prepared to retire happy? Professor Catherine Sanderson joins us for a conversation about research from the field of positive psychology on happiness, and her practical recommendations on how to enhance your well-being.
- How she become interested in positive psychology and in the study of happiness
- How our Mindsets influence us
- What predicts happiness
- If Eyerores can become Tiggers
- If money buys happiness
- Why linking happiness to external events isn’t wise
- How we think about aging influences how we actually age
- How she applies the research on optimism and happiness in her daily life
- What gets in the way of happiness that we should avoid
- Practical tips to enhance your happiness
Dr. Sanderson joins us from Amherst, Massachusetts.
Catherine A. Sanderson is the Poler Family Professor and chair of psychology at Amherst College.
She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a specialization in Health and Development, from Stanford University, and received both masters and doctoral degrees in psychology from Princeton University. Her research has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. Professor Sanderson has published over 25 journal articles and book chapters in addition to four college textbooks, middle school and high school health textbooks, as well as the Introduction to Psychology course for The Great Courses. In 2012, she was named one of the country’s top 300 professors by the Princeton Review.
Professor Sanderson has written trade books on parenting as well as how mindset influences happiness, health, and even how long we live (The Positive Shift). Her latest trade book, published in North America as Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels (Harvard University Press) and internationally as The Bystander Effect: The Psychology of Courage and Inaction (HarperCollins), examines why good people so often stay silent or do nothing in the face of wrongdoing. For a preview of the topics addressed in this book, watch Catherine’s TEDx talk on the Psychology of Inaction, which describes the factors that contribute to inaction and provides strategies we all can use to help people act, even when those around them are not.
Professor Sanderson speaks regularly for public and corporate audiences on topics such as the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, the art of aging well, and the psychology of courage and inaction. These talks have been featured in numerous mainstream media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Atlantic, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauley. She also writes a weekly blog for Psychology Today – Norms Matter – that examines the power of social influence on virtually all aspects of our lives.
Catherine lives with her husband, Bart Hollander, and three children – Andrew, Robert, and Caroline – in Hadley, Massachusetts.
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On What Predicts Happiness
“So about 50% of our happiness seems to be built in – in terms of our genes. And this means that some people have a genetic predisposition to feeling happier. Now it’s not as simple as a happiness gene. There seems to be a constellation of different genes that predispose somebody to being, in part, more resilient when things don’t go well, but also probably predisposed to seeing the bright side, finding that silver lining, no matter what happens. And so about 50% of our happiness in fact is determined by our genes. But thinking about it positively, that also means that about 50% of our happiness is not influenced by our genes. And that’s the part that I care about the most. And what the research says is that in fact, about 50% of our happiness is determined by things that we do. So this could be something as simple as exercising, spending time in nature, giving to other people and building good relationships. So there are things that we can all do in our daily lives that also predict happiness.”
On Money, Time & Happiness
“I really find this research fascinating, and what this research is really illustrating is that it’s not so much how much money you have, but it’s really how you choose to spend your time. And that people who make choices that are saying I’m going to spend money to save some time, actually experience higher levels of happiness. And that often I think is kind of counterintuitive. So I grew up in a family that was not particularly well off. You know, my parents were highly conscious of what we were spending and they both came from families historically in their own lives that had really struggled with money. So we made lots of choices that were ‘all right, we’re going to have a sort of bad layover ‘ that’s not very pleasant when we went on vacation. So we go on vacation, but we were going to do it in this sort of cheaper way. And what this research is now showing, very strongly, is that people who make choices that are saving themselves time actually are experiencing higher levels of happiness. So, okay, we’re going to take the more expensive flight, but we’re going to have 10 more hours in Paris, We’re not going to spend six hours in the Amsterdam airport or whatever. It’s not how much money you have, but kind of how do we spend that money? That’s very, very strongly predictive of increased happiness.”
On External Events & Happiness
“So I think that the challenge is that people often think I will be happy when…and the when varies. So it could be, I’ll be happy when I get married. I’ll be happy when I have a child, I’ll be happy when I retire. I’ll be happy when I buy a house. We often think of happiness being around the corner, instead of happiness being something that we can actually control in our own lives. So what the research shows is that for some people, retirement actually can be really hard because they might lose a sense of a social network. They might lose the sense of colleagues at the office. They might lose a sense of purpose and their success in terms of producing things in a way. And I think the lessons from positive psychology really tell us is that we actually control what retirement is for ourselves.”
On How to Retire Successfully
“And what do we know about how to successfully retire? Well, [it’s] basically the things that predict happiness throughout our lives: having meaning building relationships, choosing how you allocate your time. So people who retire, and retire effectively, actually find ways of creating meaning and building relationships in retirement. So that could be saying, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to retire from my job, but I’m going to continue to consult, or I’m going to do volunteer, work in my community. I’m going to do things that give me meaning, that I haven’t had the time to do earlier in life. And this is going to be really meaningful for some people that could be writing a book, for some people that could be gardening, for some people that could be tutoring or mentoring or consulting with non-profit organizations – using the skills that you developed in your professional life as a way of giving back to younger colleagues or in your community – or in other sorts of volunteer organizations that you care about.”
On the Importance of Relationships
“It’s also really important for people in retirement to make sure they are actively building relationships. That could be maintaining relationships with former colleagues, but it could also be establishing new relationships with friends, with neighbors, with family members. And it doesn’t matter who those relationships are with. What matters is that we know relationships are a tremendously important aspect of our lives and building and maintaining good relationships in retirement may require a little bit of extra effort because you don’t just go to the office and see everybody. In some ways, of course, we’ve all had to work on developing those kinds of skills during the Coronavirus pandemic, in which many people couldn’t go to the office and see people or many people couldn’t go to school and see people or in other environments. So in a sense, the Coronavirus pandemic has given us a chance to practice how do I develop skills in terms of maintaining and building relationships with people, even when I can’t actually see them and interact with them in my day-to-day life. ”
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