What will make us happier? And no, it isn't more money!



When asked what makes them happy, people often guess the wrong stuff (a good job, more money, better grades, marriage, etc.). There is an entire science behind why we tend to pick the wrong things. I shall save that for another day and another blog. But for now, let's discuss what the right things are to prioritize to increase happiness:

Kindness: Research consistently shows that what we should be seeking is the opportunity to act more kindly towards one another. It turns out lots of research is suggesting that simple acts of kindness bring us happiness.

Happy Money, by psychologists, Liz Dunn and Mike Norton, summarizes research that shows spending money on others vs. ourselves make us happier. In their study, they gave their subjects $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or others. They asked the subjects how they would predict their happiness if they were to spend the money on themselves or others. Their predictions were then compared with the actual estimate of their happiness post, spending the money on themselves or others. Dunn and Norton found that subjects predicted they would be much happier if they spend the money on themselves but were actually much happier when they spent it on others. 

This is just one example of  many , where psychologists have seen happiness measures increase as we prioritize acts of kindness for others. I call this a win-win situation, do something nice for someone else, and in return, experience all the happy feelings.  

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

– Dalai Lama

Social Connections: Just being around other people makes us happier.  According to Myers , close ties with people and social connections are good for all kinds of health-related stuff. It actually makes you less vulnerable to premature death, less likely to fall prey to the sorts of stressful events that mess up your life and more likely to survive fatal illness like cancer or heart disease.  

Social connections don't just contribute to health; there are also all sorts of happiness benefits. When  Ed Diener and Martin Seligman studied  very happy people and very unhappy people, they concluded that very happy people had closer friends, stronger family ties, and even a higher number of romantic ties. 

But it isn't only close, intimate relationships that provide happiness.  Nick Epley , through his studies, found out that even making small connections with strangers can increase happiness. He studied people on public transit while commuting to work and measured their happiness when they did and did not interact with another person while en route. He found out that those that spark a conversation with a total stranger rated their commute to be much more pleasant than those that did not. So get out there and connect, spark a conversation, take advantage of those shared uber/lyft rides. 

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention...A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

– Rachel Naomi Remen

Time Affluence: People seem to think that material affluence is a consistent predictor of well-being, but it's not. Once you have enough money to satisfy your basic needs, additional money doesn't necessarily provide extra happiness. However, there is another type of affluence that predicts psychological well-being much more accurately: time affluence. Time affluence is the idea that you just have time to do the stuff that you want. You don't feel like you're strapped for time.

This is pretty counterintuitive to our general nature and which is why often times we are over-scheduled. In the book  Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar , the instructor of a popular positive psychology course at Harvard, writes:

"Time affluence is the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful, to reflect, to engage in leisure. Time poverty is the feeling that one is constantly stressed, rushed, overworked, and behind. All we have to do is look around us and often within ourselves to realize the pervasiveness of time poverty in our culture."

So if you are someone that makes enough money to cover rent, food, and basic needs, to become happier - you should start placing more value on time. Time, after all, is finite, and we have a limited number of days left. Find time to see friends, do the activities you've been wanting to do, go to the gym, volunteer, listen to music, read a book, whatever that may nourish your soul. 

Lost time is never found again.

– Benjamin Franklin.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the opposite of mind-wandering and mind-wandering is a real problem. When  Killingsworth and Gilbert  looked at this issue, they found that our minds are not with us 46.9 percent of the time. So just under 1/2 the time, we are not thinking about things in the present moment, we are not thinking about what we're supposed to be focused on, we're kind of out there wandering around. But also, what they found is that mind-wandering, as they predicted, had a pretty negative impact on happiness.

Mind-wandering isn't always negative thou. We are actually unique in this way that we can evaluate the past and the future to make better decisions. So there is definitely a time and a place for mind-wandering, but what can we do for those times that we need to shut it off and focus and be mindful of the now? 

Well, there's a whole host of techniques involved in the practice of  meditation  that seems to help out with this. Meditation here is defined as the practice of turning our attention away from distracting thoughts. The practice of picking one thing like the breath or loving thoughts to focus on. This practice trains the mind to stay in the now and remain focused. 

With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.

 – Thich Nhat Hanh

Exercise & sleep: Moving our body even for a limited number of minutes each week and getting the right amount of sleep is proving to increase happiness. 

study conducted by researchers at Yale and Oxford  compared the numbers of "bad self-reported mental health" days between participants who exercised and those who did not.

The study gathered data from 1.2 million Americans over the age of 18 using 2011, 2013, and 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System surveys. Participants were asked questions about their physical and mental health over the last month and how much physical activity they get regularly.

The study concluded that individuals who exercised had 43.2 percent fewer bad days than those who did not. Note you don't have to do hours of high-intensity workout to achieve these results. Subjects were reported to do activities like cleaning the house to running or dancing. Other studies have also shown that  walking in nature for about 20 minutes a day  could lower your stress or  exercising only an hour per week  could be enough to help depression symptoms. So get up and move around. It's good for you and might make you happier.

Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states.

– Carol Welch

Along with exercise, getting a good night's sleep can also improve happiness.  Research  shows that sleep deprivation increases our risk of depression and our chances of experiencing higher stress levels. Lack of sleep has also been  linked  to weight gain, increase the likelihood of stroke and diabetes. It's also been  reported  that when adults get less than 8 hours of sleep, 40% of them report feeling overwhelmed. So prioritize that Zzzzzzz and get to bed at a reasonable time. Now the 6-8 hours a night recommended sleep is for the average human being, experiment, and figure out what feels right for you as most of us are not average. 

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep.

– E. Joseph Cossman

I hope this has been helpful, and we can start prioritizing these happy practices that help us more than we think.

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