A Happiness Guru’s Tips for Stay-at-Home Sanity


How are you feeling?

Tal Ben-Shahar, the Columbia University lecturer and “happiness guru,” assumes you’re feeling a lot worse than you were six weeks ago. And that’s OK: The author of “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” wants you to know that feeling bad is good for you, as long as you don’t wallow and occasionally allow yourself permission to express gratitude for things and people inspiring you during this crisis.

Author Abigail Pogrebin interviewed Ben-Shahar April 23 as part UJA-Federation of New York’s online “CommUnity Conversations,” and about 1,000 people listened in.

Here are some of Ben-Shahar’s tips for getting though the coronavirus crisis:

Exercise gratitude: Appreciate the things that are going well, and express thanks to the people who deserve it. And don’t feel guilty about occasionally feeling good amidst the crisis. “Things don’t always happen for the best,” said Ben-Shahar. “But some people are able to make the best of what happens.”

Exercise: Regular exercise releases endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, brain chemicals that play an important part in regulating your mood.

Keep a journal: It’s a place to express your gratitude (see above) and acknowledge your emotions.

Impose structure: Habits are good, in that it asserts control at a time when so much seems out of our control. (Ben-Shahar says he doesn’t let himself eat anything after 7 p.m.)

Go easy on the news: Ben-Shahar quotes the Rambam: All things in moderation. In the first two weeks of the crisis, he says he was addicted to the news. “Not healthy,” he said. “Now when I wake up, I check the news. But after that I disconnect — I come to this room to this very computer and I do my work.”

Meditate: He calls it “present moment awareness.” That can mean sitting and noticing your breath going in and out, or doing yoga, or praying with “kavanah” — intention.

Schedule connections: Speak with a friend or loved one on the phone or FaceTime at least once a day.

Give back: “The most powerful intervention when it comes to increasing our own happiness is by giving to others, or increasing others’ levels of happiness,” he said.

Lend an ear: To keep peace in your house, become a listener. “That’s what people need more than anything: to be listened to. Most successful therapists are the empathic ones, who can be there for you and listen.”

Think small: “Learn to appreciate, and not to take for granted, the fact that another day went by and you only blew up once,” he said in response to a question from an apparently frazzled mother. “Small victories need to be celebrated.”