Ep 3: “The Science of Happiness” with Kurt Nelson Ph.D

The Science of Happiness with Kurt Nelson

Recognized as one of the leading applied behavioral scientists in the USA, Kurt brings his expertise in understanding human motivation to help people understand how they can influence and drive positive behavior change.  

Kurt takes scientific research and makes it easy to understand and apply in the real world. He speaks with authority about building positive habits, which is one of the core messages we have at managing happiness.   

He is also the co-host of two podcasts on positively applying behavioral science to life and work: Behavioral Grooves (a Chartible’s top-20 global social science podcast) and Weekly Grooves.

Kurt geeks out about reading (behavioral economics, history, psychology, and fantasy genres), traveling (every state in the US — now working on countries), biking, canoing, skiing, and spending time with family and friends at their cabin.

Key Questions

What’s a good tip to help manage your happiness?

We know that social interactions influence our life, and make our life better.

QUOTE: (31:51) We are better off when we have positive social interactions, whether those be close friends or even just people in coffee lines, or on the train, or whatever that would be. And yet we don’t very often go out and start those conversations, particularly in public places. Research shows that if we do– if we just start instigating some of those conversations, instead of looking at our phone when we’re on the bus– if we start up a conversation with the person that’s next to us, you’re going to have a much better life.

How can behavioral science help people make positive changes in their lives?

QUOTE: (29:40) Set yourself up to say ‘today is going to be a good day.’ Your brain is really smart in some ways, and really dumb in other ways, right? It is this wonderful machine that can, formulate, rocket ships that take us to the stars and do all these math calculations and all of this kind of stuff. And yet, you know, we forget our loved ones’ birthdays, and we eat donuts when we don’t want to eat donuts, and you can trick your brain.

What’s one way that people can build and keep healthy habits?

QUOTE: (09:53) Dopamine is often misunderstood. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released in our brain. Oftentimes people say, oh, that’s the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter. Actually, dopamine has a multitude of effects in the way that it impacts how we think and how we feel. One of them is reward, but the bigger one is actually this wanting idea. So when dopamine gets released, we want something. And so that’s how you build this habit because you want that reward that comes with the behavior that happens. And so the more that you can build in positive loops of behavior and reward– and there’s usually a trigger that happens that sets off that behavior. So whether it’s a time, whether it’s a place, whether it’s a person, that is kind of that whole component that goes into that habit loop.

This podcast is produced by Managing Happiness.

Kurt Nelson PhD

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