Professor Laurie Santos of Yale University, a cognitive scientist and instructor of the popular course “Psychology and the Good Life,” has warned that capitalism and an obsession with achievement are causing anxiety in her students, Fox News reports.
In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Santos stated, “There’s an enormous culture around us of capitalism that’s telling us to buy things and a hustle-achievement culture that destroys my students in terms of anxiety.”
She believes that people’s belief that material possessions and success will bring happiness is often misguided and leads to short-term satisfaction rather than long-term well-being.
Santos also pointed out that people are often influenced by cultural forces that convince them they are not happy enough or that happiness is just out of reach, which can lead to a constant stream of information that must be sifted through.
However, she emphasized that it is not necessarily beliefs, but actions such as meditation, volunteering, and social connection that lead to happiness.
Santos explained, “It seems to not be our beliefs but our actions that are driving the fact that religious people are happier. That’s critical because what it tells us is, if you can get yourself to do it – to meditate, to volunteer, to engage with social connection – you will be happier. It’s just much easier if you have a cultural apparatus around you.”
In contrast to the idea that practices that increase happiness can lead to complacency, Santos referenced the work of Georgetown researcher Kostadin Kushlev, stating that those who report the highest positive emotions are also the ones taking action.
She stated, “When you do have some positive emotion, you have the bandwidth to deal with other things.”
When asked about the impact of social media on happiness and anxiety, Santos offered a simple solution: “Delete all your apps right now.”
She believes that social media often causes people to think they are being social while actually isolating themselves, and she teaches her students to analyze their social media usage with the acronym W.W.W.: “What for, why now and what else? When you pick up your phone, what was that for? Was there a purpose? Then: Why now? Did you have something to do, or were you bored or anxious or fighting some craving? And then, what else?: actively noticing the opportunity cost. It could be studying. It could be talking to your roommate.”
Santos’ popular Yale course has been turned into a successful podcast called “The Happiness Lab,” which has been downloaded over 64 million times.
Through her teachings and research, she aims to promote the idea that true happiness comes from within and is not necessarily dependent on external factors such as material possessions or achievement.
Advocates of capitalism note that the number of people living in extreme poverty has significantly decreased over the past 200 years, since capitalism’s birth, with over 6.5 billion people currently not living in extreme poverty. In the years between 1990 and 2015, there was a significant decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty, with 1.25 billion people—or 50 million per year and 138,000 every day—escaping this condition.