I’m very excited to share this information from the course I am currently revising (MSc Behavioural Decision Science). The exam is this Thursday and then I am free! (marginally free, there is still a baby needing to be attended to and I go back to work in three weeks).
Recently my reading assignments have been about happiness. In particular, I have read one study in the American Psychologist called “If we are so rich, why aren’t we happy?” (Csikszentmihalyi, M.) and another one in the Journal of Consumer Psychology called “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right,” (Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson).
Both studies provide reasons for why we are not happy and how we can fix this problem. It is a problem because over the years people have become less happy, mainly due to society being built on a monetary-based system.
Research has found past cultures lived a happier existence. A person would be respected and praised for being a wise person, a good craftsman, a patriot, a saint, or an upright citizen (e.g., Polanyi, 1957).
However, now an artist is only considered an artist when they have sold their painting for top dollar. And someone wise is only considered wise when they can charge five figures for a consultation. A blog isn’t considered a blog unless you are getting paid to write, right?
Interestingly in recent news I found there are actually communities in Portugal being developed based on trade and well-being. There is a way out!
However, as it’s not possible for you or I to live in a world without money (unless you just packed your bags and said fuck it let’s go), here are some tips on how to live a happier life with research to back it up:
Happiness is a mental state.
Researchers have found that if you want to be happy you have to make it happen. People are be able to control it 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.
Even small experiences such as ‘work’ or ‘commuting’ were found to make people happy when they were focused on that moment. When people are actively engaged on an experience, their minds are not wandering, which in turn, makes them happier.
Revisiting these experiences mentally.
Remembering experiences makes people happy. In one study, they found that people who recall upon their experiences frequently their happiness levels increased. 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, whatever it may be), 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).
Buy smaller things more frequently rather than big purchases every once in a while.
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.
A regular schedule.
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.
There is more enjoyment from the anticipation of an event.
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!
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.
This kid and this dog make me happy. : )
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