Most of us would like to improve our health and maximize our happiness. Yet, for many, the biology behind what makes you happy and how our emotions can affect our wellbeing are not well understood. That’s why this year’s Roundtable at Stanford is focusing on the science behind happiness and wellbeing.
Award-winning journalist Katie Couric will lead a roundtable discussion, called "Are You Happy Now?", on Friday, Oct. 18 on the Stanford campus. The roundtable's five panelists span the fields of psychology, neuroscience, immunology, business and design and include:
- Jennifer Aaker, PhD, social psychologist; General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business
- Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford; member of Stanford's Immunology Institute, Cancer Institute, and Neuroscience Programs
- Ian H. Gotlib, PhD, the David Starr Jordan Professor of Psychology, director of the Stanford Mood and Anxiety Disorders Laboratory and chair of the Department of Psychology
- David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the d.school, Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design
- Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Lab at UC Riverside
I recently spoke with Dhabhar, who is known for discovering how short-term stress boosts the body's defenses, to learn more about his work and participation the panel. "Almost everyone would say that the right kind of happiness - genuine and meaningful happiness - could help improve their wellbeing," he told me.
Dhabhar's lab works on the underpinnings of stress and the biological mechanisms of good versus bad stress. He explained some of the links between stress, happiness, and wellbeing by saying, "If you mount a fight-or-flight, good stress response in times of danger, such as a physical attack, it helps enhance your immune response and this protects you. This same response can enhance performance during challenging situations, such as a race or a job interview." In contrast, he told me, long-term, bad stress responses can suppress your healthy immune response, hamper your body's ability to heal and hinder performance. Genuine happiness may help your brain and body stay on the good side of stress, he explained.
When discussing the importance of this event, Dhabhar said:
I hope that by bringing Katie, the panel and the audience, together we can all begin to appreciate how genuine happiness and contentment could benefit our own health and wellbeing, and also those around us. For people who study happiness and wellbeing, this could stimulate new research, or help fine tune ideas that are works in progress. The key is that the more we think together, the more good we can do together.
For the first time, the Roundtable is free for the public; no tickets are required. The event will kick off with a welcome from Stanford President John Hennessy, PhD, at 9:30 AM, with the discussion beginning at 10 AM.
Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.
Previously: Is it possible to control one’s emotions?, Examining the helpful and harmful effects of stress, For a truly happy New Year, cultivate sustainable happiness, Firdaus Dhabhar discusses the positive effects of stress, How practicing compassion could ease or eliminate chronic stress, and Stress hormones moonlight as immune-system traffic cops
Photo by S.Hart Photography