"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are so fundamental to our well-being that our forefathers included these values in the Declaration of Independence. So, shouldn't it be obvious how to achieve that third value, happiness? Not in my experience. Often, the things that we expect will make us happiest fail to achieve that end.
Researchers discovered a prime example of this phenomenon when they surveyed winners of the Michigan state $500 Million Power Ball about their satisfaction with life. The lottery winners expected that the prize money would greatly increase their happiness over the long term. In the short term, the survey showed that lottery winners were indeed slightly happier. However, their average level of satisfaction with life soon returned to that of other Michigan residents.
The relatively young field of happiness psychology delves into why we often go about seeking fulfillment in the wrong places, and more importantly, points us to where we should be looking instead. Below are seven initially counter-intuitive findings from this new research that the BidKind team has found helpful in getting more happiness out of life.
1) Give to others instead of getting something for yourself. Experiments where participants are given prize winnings to distribute show that the more people give away to other participants, the happier they are. They are happier still when given a sum and instructed to give it away to someone they care about. So, when you find a $20 in your coat pocket or receive a larger than expected tax refund, instead of spending it on yourself, consider taking a friend out to lunch or donating to your favorite charity.
Buy your friend a coffee.
2) When you do spend on yourself, choose experiences over stuff. Initially, it might seem that buying something that you can touch might give you more enjoyment over time than a fleeting moment of pleasure. However, it turns out that the newness and excitement of purchases wear off. The longer you have had something, the more you devalue it. Meanwhile, an experience, especially one shared with friends or loved ones, is something that you can recall fondly forever.
Take a road trip with friends.
3) Buy it now and enjoy it later. Experiences, and even purchases, are even more enjoyable, if you delay your gratification. Studies show that the best part of a vacation can often be looking forward to it. Furthermore, the act of spending what feels like a lot of money on a trip or other big ticket item can be distinctly uncomfortable. Brain scans even show responses to spending similar to those of actual, physical pain. Don't leave the threat of that experience hanging over you as you enjoy your massage or anticipate the credit card bill from your last shopping spree. Instead pay up front with cash or a debit card, or even get yourself a gift card you can use to treat yourself later.
Evelyn Rose, 4, has been told that if she can hold off on eating this marshmallow now, she can have two later.
4) Enjoy playing, even if you might not win. We put a lot of emphasis on winning in our culture, but sometimes it's important to just enjoy the experience of competing with our friends or teammates and challenging ourselves to do better. An analysis of the facial expressions of Olympic athletes on the medal stand show that, on average, bronze medalists actually appear happier than silver medalists. The bronze winners were just glad to be on the podium and to have participated in the Olympics, while the silver medalists were focused on the gold medal that had slipped through their fingers. Whatever your sport, game, or activity, don't get stuck in the mindset of those silver medalists. Play to beat your own best performance, and for the enjoyment of the game.
McKayla Maroney as she places second in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
5) Look for opportunities to earn the pleasures in your life. There is a reason that fraternities and sororities haze prospective members. When it is difficult to achieve some title or to join a group, people value that affiliation more and get more pleasure from it. The next time you want to spend a Saturday afternoon watching trashy TV, make a game out of it. Tell yourself you get 15 minutes of couch time for every chore you finish. Want to treat yourself to that scoop of your favorite flavor of gelato? Try jogging to the ice cream shop.
The Karate Kid earns his martial arts skills.
6) Do something that feels (a little) uncomfortable. If you are going to take up jogging, to the ice cream shop or elsewhere, you will quickly realize that running can feel pretty miserable at first. So, how do people keep up a jogging habit, or complete a marathon, for that matter? Aside from the endorphins it releases, it is deeply rewarding to run further and faster than you could yesterday. Experiencing a little risk can also increase your enjoyment of an activity, which is why roller coasters and fast cars are so popular. Challenges that require you to put a little bit on the line will lead you to feel happier and more self-confident. Try activities with appropriate, but not impossible, levels of difficulty or risk. You will find that the bike ride with the uphill that leaves you winded, followed by the slightly scary downhill, ends up being a lot more fun, and will elevate your mood.
7) Learn to live with less, and eliminate excessive options. Anyone who has ever dated online knows that having too many options and unlimited access to something can make you appreciate an experience less. College students given a large stash of Hershey's Kisses start to enjoy chocolate less than students who are only given one. When shoppers in an upscale supermarket are asked to sample one flavor jam, they like the product better when there are six flavors to choose from, rather than 36. If you want to experience more happiness regardless of whether you are getting yourself that ice cream or a flat screen TV, make your indulgence a treat reserved for special occasions.
Savor smaller portions.
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