Marleen S. Williams: Matters of the mind: Facing life’s trying tests


Trials and challenges are a part of life that people cannot control; however, that does not prevent them from living a happy life.

In an Education Week presentation Marleen S. Williams, a professor of psychology at BYU, discussed methods individuals can use to find happiness. Williams emphasized that trials and challenges are a part of people’s everyday lives, but people are resilient and able to overcome trials and find happiness.

“Our brains are not hardwired for misery,” Williams said.

The first habit of happiness Williams gave was gratitude. She referenced a psychological experiment where people were asked to write a letter to someone who had impacted their life and express their gratitude. The happiness level for the individuals increased.

Optimism improves an individual’s outlook on life. Williams pointed out that people tend to have negative views of themselves when life does not go as planned. When individuals practice seeing themselves in a positive light they are able to find meaning in life and hope for better things to come.

Those who regularly do acts of kindness are happier than those who don’t. Williams cited another study in which students were asked to participate in two activities. For the first activity students were asked to participate in a pleasurable experience, and for the second they were asked to do an act of kindness. The joy from the pleasurable experience was short lived, while the joy from helping someone else lasted longer. Williams said, “When we are kind we forget about ourselves and become engaged in the happiness of others.”

When people forgive those who have wronged them they can find peace and move forward. Forgiveness benefits the one who has been wronged. Williams said holding a grudge “is like burning down your own house just to get rid of a rat.” Forgiveness is about trusting that God will deal justly with the offender and allows individuals to let go of the hatred that keeps them from happiness.

Williams advised the audience to be mindful of the journey. Technology has contributed to people living busier lives, and they often lose their focus. “This keeps us from being human beings, and we become human doings,” Williams said.

Committing to goals and taking action is a sign of a happy person. “Happy people make things happen,” Williams said.

Taking care of mental and physical health is important to an individual’s overall happiness. Exercise and sleep are important for a body to function. Exercise boosts happiness through endorphins, while sleep allows the body to repair itself and improves mental processing.

Spirituality is the most important method to find happiness, according to Williams. Those who are spiritual seek to know and understand a higher being and have deep thoughts and feelings for God. This relationship and connection to heaven reassures individuals that they are not alone.


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