How can we be happier? In a world where stress, anxiety and bad days can easily overtake the good, happiness expert Tim Bono, lecturer in psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, strives to answer that question in his book, “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness.”
Bono’s book, published March 13, is a comprehensive primer in the relatively young field of positive psychology, with a particular focus on young adults. The book, which closely follows the structure of his popular, in-demand undergraduate course “Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness,” offers explanations of factors that contribute to happiness. It also serves as a practical guide on how to increase one’s own happiness.
For some, that might mean more sleep, a more regular exercise schedule or even practicing meditation or mindfulness. For others, that could be understanding concepts such as hedonic adaptation or mindsets — all of which Bono tackles while providing strategies on how to make small changes in our lives that can go a long way.
“One of my priorities with the book was to provide an overview of the research that’s out there and also provide some practical strategies,” Bono said. “The student stories that are featured provide models that you can follow for starting a new exercise routine or managing your schedule to get more sleep.”
The book is supplemented with nearly 100 testimonials from Washington University students chronicling their experiences incorporating Bono’s strategies, which are based in empirical data from his field. His students’ honest commentary — collected over years from stories they have shared with him in person or through weekly “thought paper” exercises — confronts the struggles as well as payoffs an individual may face when experimenting with different approaches to everyday life in hopes of increasing happiness.
Not only do his students’ experience drive the narrative, but they are the very inspiration behind Bono’s work in positive psychology. While a graduate student, Bono began working for the university’s Office of Residential Life, where he started to observe the different experiences of first-year students and began asking questions about the major predictors of happiness and well-being.
Those observations prompted Bono to not only change his field of study to positive psychology — which was completely unfamiliar to him at the time — but also to design a course exclusively for first-year students called the “Psychology of Young Adulthood.” In the course, students fill out a weekly survey on their well-being. Poring over that data through the years has given him a firsthand account of what seemed most relevant to the well-being of his students. Bono used that knowledge to guide which topics he incorporated into his positive psychology course, and in turn, his book.
“The name of the class is ‘Positive Psychology.’ What the name of this class should be is ‘What Tim Bono wishes he had known his senior year of college,’” said Bono, who attended Washington University as an undergraduate, graduate and PhD student. “One of the most important takeaways is just the understanding that psychological health is just as much about knowing how to recover from the negative times and having coping strategies to help you withstand those as it is about actually building happiness.
“We all face adversity in our lives, and you have to be prepared,” he said. “You have to know how to engage your social networks or go for a run or get a good night’s sleep to help you cope productively and in ways that are psychologically healthy. Then you’ll be in a position to get back on your feet and back on the path toward happiness.”