Habits for a happy life

After I do social media, I often feel so much worse,” says “Nena” (not her real name) in my psychology class.

“Try not to compare your life with others,” I say. “What people post on Instagram is curated. Their lives are not as perfect as they appear.”


“My mother is the same way,” she says. “She posted a picture of a cake she baked on Facebook, and her friends did not comment. She felt really bad. Shallow, but we can’t help it. We care about what friends think.”

“Your real friends accept you for who you are,” I say, “imperfections and all.”


Nena sighs. “Maybe I don’t have true friends.”

Nena is taking antidepressants (like her mother), and she has taken sporadic leaves of absence. She will not graduate “on time” (“whatever that means,” I reply) because her grades have been “lackluster.”

Nena is expected to work in their family business after graduation. “My mother is not happy that I am still in college. I am not sure I am ready to join the business. But my biggest problem is my friends.”

I like Nena. She participates actively in class, and often asks intriguing questions. Her papers may not be grammatically perfect, but they are thoughtful.

But Nena worries about her friends, or lack of it. If she gets more peer approval, she believes she will finally be happy.

There is a bit of truth to that.

Last week, we discussed social scientist Arthur Brooks’ contention that the way to a happy life would be to form positive habits, which comprise faith, family, friends and work.


If your faith compels you to go beyond the self and serve others, studies show you will likely thrive more than people who find life devoid of significance.

If your work makes you feel competent and needed, and makes you feel that you are helping others, research also shows you are likely to have a better well-being than those for whom a job is merely a source of income or status.

Nena says her faith, her grades and her family relationships “are not too bad, not too good, could be better.” Her main problem is her peers.

“There is no magic formula for what shape your … friendships should take,” says Brooks in The Atlantic in April 2020.

“The key is to cultivate and maintain loving, faithful relationships with other people. One extraordinary 75-year study followed Harvard graduates from 1939 to 1944, into their 90s, looking at all aspects of their health and well-being.

“The principal investigator, the psychologist George Vaillant, summarized the findings as follows: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ People who have loving relationships with family and friends thrive; those who don’t, don’t.”

Certainly this is easier said than done. I advise Nena to start cultivating a few friends she can form deeper attachments with, rather than obsessing over myriad strangers who are often insensitive online.

“You don’t need frenemies,” I say. “Cultivate friends. In this pandemic, you have no choice but to connect online or through landline. But if you can see their face or at least hear their voice, it might provide more comfort and affirmation rather than only relying on emojis or LOLs.”

“I really need to have more Likes,” Nena says.

“You don’t need them,” I say. “You want them. There is a difference. Needs are not always wants.”

Brooks summarizes the habits toward a happy life: “Don’t obsess about your haves; manage your wants, instead. Don’t count your possessions (or your money, power, prestige, romantic partners, or fame) and try to figure out how to increase them; make an inventory of your worldly desires and try to decrease them.

“Make a list of the attachments in your life you need to discard … The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph or call National’s Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276. Contact the author at [email protected]

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