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Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Yourself Happier

Why simple experiences matter
By Cassie Holmes — November 30, 2022 1 min read
What's one simple thing I can do to be happier?
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What’s one simple thing I can do to be happier?

My advice is to help yourself pay attention to the people who matter to you. Here’s something I wrote about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

Ashley and I have been friends since we were 12 years old. When we find a way to schedule a dinner for just the two of us, away from kids and work and endless to-do lists, it’s a special treat.

As we sat down, Ashley placed her phone face down on the table. “Aren’t you proud of me? This way I won’t be distracted.”

Though I applauded her intentions, research finds that friends who dine with their phones on the table feel less engaged and enjoy their dining experience less compared with those whose phones are kept out of sight. Seeing a phone serves as a reminder (to everyone) of all the other tasks they could and “should” be doing at that moment.

Yet this was a moment worth paying attention to. My research shows that ordinary experiences—like a meal shared with a loved one—can produce as much happiness as extraordinary experiences, such as vacations to Belize or Paris.

But this is only true for those who recognize their time as precious. Whether due to age or even a simple reminder that life is finite, people become more likely to notice and savor simple joys: the sky changing color as the sun goes down, the laughter of family at the dinner table, a kiss on the forehead to say goodnight.

At the restaurant, I asked my friend whether she wouldn’t mind putting her phone in her purse. Laughing about my nerdy commitment to happiness, she obliged and actually seemed grateful for the nudge. Then, we easily settled into our groove, excitedly chatting and truly catching up.

Don’t think it’s enough to turn over your phone to avoid being distracted by it.

Do pay attention to the joy in the everyday. Protect your happiest activities from distraction by designating these times as “no phone zones,” say at dinners with friends or family, and explain to kids the reasons why. Putting your phones out of sight puts your other to-dos out of mind—and allows you and your loved ones to actually enjoy each other and what you’re doing.

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