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Why We All Need a Happiness List: Chocolate and Philosophizing According to the Research

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A friend told me last week that she knows exactly what will make her happy and does those things when she feels unhappy to try to change her mood. Obviously, these are short-term happiness fixes, but she thinks everyone should have a list. And not just in your head, but written down (See this video on Why we all need a happiness list).

It got me thinking, some people make bucket lists (what they want to do before they "kick the bucket") so why not make happiness lists just to be ready for when you're feeling slightly, or completely, miserable. Veerle swears that by going to her list she can make herself feel better every time.

In writing my own list I began to wonder how much we know about what really makes us happy. After all, most of us get it wrong when it comes to wanting more money: studies show that after a certain base income, more money doesn't make us much happier.

In order to further analyze the scientific validity of some of the items on my newly-written happiness list (for more see My happiness list: chat walks, snuggles, tanbark and obits), I have posted a few below and attached a bit on the corresponding studies from the field of happiness research.

A few things that make me happy (and the corresponding research)

  • Taking a "chat walk". My former Manhattan roommate Penny and I invented the term. You could also call it an urban hike, but for those of us city folk, it's my favorite way to catch up with friends, take in the sites of the city and jointly ponder what we're all doing here. Research shows that friendship tends to have a bigger effect on happiness than income.
  • Making something: for me, this is often editing a video, or lately my happiness documentary. Research shows that happiness is fostered when we have long term goals that we also find enjoyable.
  • Slipping into the kitchen for a square of chocolate. The research would put this one into a non-lasting payoff like buying a new dress, but I will depend my chocolate habit as a way of reminding me that "I can indulge" which usually slides into "life is good" and "I am lucky". Even if it doesn't work, it's a small price for a big payoff.
  • When something fits into my "unifying theory" of the world. My unifying theory can change, but that doesn't matter, it's the "it all fits together" feeling that I like. I'm backed up by research here; studies show that those of us with a belief in something- whether a religion or simply a philosophy of life- are happier.
  • Making a cup of tea. It slows me down and makes me appreciate that I can take the time to make and drink a cup of tea. Research shows that those who meditate are more likely to be happy and while this isn't meditation it is the closest I come.
  • A discussion analyzing the whys and hows of life with someone who likes to think about this stuff. This includes the topic of happiness. Therefore, analyzing what makes me happy can make me happy. A recent study shows that those of us who engage in more profound discussions tend to be happier.
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