Research has found that humans lived a happier existence in past cultures. Back in the day, people who were respected and praised for being a good craftsman, a patriot, a saint, an upright citizen, etc were most happy.
In this day and age, people are only respected if they have money or fame. For instance, an artist is only considered an artist when they have sold their painting for top dollar. Someone who is wise is only considered wise when they can charge five figures for a consultation.
So, as it's not possible to live in a non-monetary based system, here are some tips, based on my studies as a postgraduate student in Behavioural Decision Science, on how to live a happier life:
Even small experiences such as "work" or "commuting" were found to make people happy when they were focused on that particular moment. When people are actively engaged on an experience, their minds are not wandering, which in turn, makes them happier.
Revisiting experiences mentally.
Remembering experiences makes people happy. In one study, they found that people who recall upon their experiences frequently feel more happy. 83% reported "mentally revisiting" their experiential purchases more frequently than their material purchases (Van Boven and Gilovich 2003).
Get fully involved in life.
Do a variety of things rather than just focusing on one thing. When you develop new skills, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional (work, sports, hobbies, meditation, interpersonal relationships), your happiness levels increase.
Spend money on others.
Sharing is caring. One study asked a group of students to spend money on either themselves or others. The students who spent money on others were found to be much more happy than the students who spent the money on themselves (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008).
It was found that people find sex more enjoyable when they only have one partner over a 12 month period compared to multiple partners over the same period. Even though the excitement of having multiple partners brings happiness, the regularity of one partner is more enjoyable (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004).
Small pleasures like going to a pub once a week with friends brings regularity, however with each occurrence there may be a slight change, such as meeting a new friend who tells a funny story. Buying a new sofa will not bring this change and thus, happiness levels do not increase.
People find regularity more enjoyable. When you do something new it makes it difficult to be happy because you haven't experienced it before, bringing on emotions such as anxiety and fear. We adapt to these events which makes them more pleasurable the second or third time around.
Thinking about future events provokes stronger emotions than thinking about events in the past (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007; Caruso, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2008).
One study found that students were more happy when they were thinking about a future holiday than when they were reminiscing about the same holiday a year ago. They also found that students bought a more expensive thank-you gift for someone who was going to do them a favor than for someone who had already done them a favor (Caruso et al., 2008)
Happiness is often in the details. Think about future events in more detail.
Thinking about future events in detail make us happy. We tend to imagine a positive image of the future i.e. living at a lake house, peace and quiet, sunset views rather than a negative image i.e. mosquito bites and late night calls to the plumber.
We also tend to think about experience more abstractly when they are farther away in time (Liberman, Sagrastino, & Trope, 2002). This oversight matters because happiness is often in the details (Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004; Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981). Get your thinking caps on and start imagining those details!
Happiness is a mental state.
Researchers have found that if you want to be happy you have to make it happen. People are able to control their happiness through cognitive means. Happiness is not something that just happens. This is why there thousands and thousands of books on mindfulness and changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts, it is proven to work.
Do not compare prices when shopping.
When you compare prices you are less likely to go for the product that was really important to you in the first place. A study at Harvard found that students who were randomly assigned to housing for the last three years of undergraduate study predicted they would be the most happy "living in houses that looked nice" right before the lottery. However, when asked prior to the lottery (when they didn't have other houses to compare) they predicted they would be the most happy in a house "with friends and a strong social community."
Altering the psychological context when making a decision affects happiness levels, so stick to your guns!
And finally, MONEY DOES NOT PROVIDE HAPPINESS.
Researchers have found that children of the lowest socioeconomic strata generally report the highest happiness, and upper middle-class children generally report the least happiness.
It is in our nature to strive for the next best thing or want the new iPhone, but this does not make us happy. We become quickly habituated to the new material object that we were working for, and then start trying to get the next thing.
It's the small things in life that make us happy - like this photo of this kid with his dog.
This research is from the American Psychologist, "If we are so rich, why aren't we happy?" (Csikszentmihalyi, M.) and the Journal of Consumer Psychology, "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right," (Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson).
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