I think to a large extent, happiness is a choice. One can choose to live in the moment and enjoy what we are currently doing, rather than wishing we are doing or enjoying something else.
Next time you are feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with your life, try examining your thoughts. I find that when I am unhappy I am either comparing myself to others who seem to have what I perceive to be a more "ideal" life, or I am comparing myself to some ideal that I have not yet achieved, resulting in my feeling less than adequate. I think much unhappiness stems from not accepting what is. When I feel that way, it helps a lot to remember everything I am grateful for. That immediately brings me back to my reality and reminds me that my life is pretty good! Furthermore, I have found that faking happiness actually works! Next time you are feeling down, smile and pretend you are happy. I bet you feel better too!
Some very interesting research on happiness done at Harvard and explained in this entertaining 21 minute video called "The Secret of How to be Happy", show that human beings are capable of synthesizing happiness. Which future would you prefer – life as a lottery winner or life as a paraplegic? Most people would probably guess that they would be happier as a lottery winner, but research shows that a year after either becoming a lottery winner or a paraplegic, happiness levels are the same. Any event that happened more than three months ago probably has little impact on one’s current happiness.
Another very interesting fact that is somewhat counter-intuitive is that the more choice or options we have, the less happy we are. The video shows clearly how the students that were given a choice were far less happy than those that were not. Who knew? But we agonize over our choices, and we often second-guess ourselves even after having made a decision. If we are not given a choice, we just accept whatever we must accept – no agonizing = more happiness. Do we really need so many different mutual funds, or even jeans to choose from? I must admit that there are times that I wish someone would simply make a decision for me, especially when it comes to stuff I know nothing about, like choosing a new computer. I become paralyzed because of all the options available, and this doesn’t make me feel good. With so many options, not only do we have to spend time figuring out what we want, but we also may have higher expectations than if we had no choice. So, maybe the moral is to simply make a quick decision and then not look back. According to the book “Blink”, often our gut instincts are correct anyway.
I haven't yet travelled to many of the poorer nations of the world, but one frequently hears stories about how happy people are despite their poverty. Might this be partly due to limited choices? Happiness also seems to be found in good friendships, relationships, and spending time together, and not so much in stuff. In the western world there is so much emphasis and pressure on us to "get ahead", so we work and stress ourselves to the bone so we can retire at some future date. Hopefully we will be healthy enough at that time to enjoy our retirement. And hopefully once we retire we will actually remember what recreational activities we enjoy, so we won't be too bored. And does money buy happiness? The research seems to indicate that the answer is no. So, perhaps it is worth slowing down, even if it means a little less money, and spending time doing things we enjoy, with those we care about.
I recently finished reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. He suggests that a better life plan is to take many mini-retirements (4 months to a year) throughout one's working life, rather than save it all for the end. I'm liking that idea! He says that often it is not as expensive or difficult as one would think. He suggests that the opposite of happiness is not sadness, but rather boredom, and therefore a synonym for happiness is excitement. So what would you like to do that would excite you? Always wanted to live on the beach in Thailand? Always wanted to learn Italian among the Italians? What do you need to do to get the ball rolling to be able to do it within the next 6 months? Maybe it IS worth throwing everything you have achieved in your work life away, in order to pursue that dream … What would be the worst case scenario if it didn't work out? Probably it wouldn't be that hard to resume your old life if you really needed to. What do you think? If this idea appeals to you, read Timothy’s book for hints on how to go about changing your life in these ways.
I am happy to announce that Wellness Tips is three-years old this week! Thank you for allowing me into your life on Sunday mornings! I am grateful to my subscribers from all over the world for keeping me researching regularly, which not only provides fodder for the tips, but also expands my knowledge base. One of my life goals is to understand as completely as possible human health and wellbeing, and through writing Wellness Tips, I have learned SO much over the past three years. I really don’t think that would have happened without knowing that I have readers that expect something in their inbox once a week. So, thank you all for helping me move towards my goal! Comments and feed-back keep most writers going, so please do keep the comments coming!
Diener, E. Subjective Well-Being: The Science of Happiness and a Proposal for a National Index. American Psychologist, 55(1) 34-43,(2000).
Gilbert, Dan The Secret of Happiness Ted, Ideas Worth Spreading, 2007.
Brickman, P. Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 36, 917-927, 1978.
Schwartz, Barry The Paradox of Choice Ted, Ideas Worth Spreading, 2006.
van Warmerdam, Gary Controlling our happiness Happiness blog.
Ferriss, Timothy The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich Crown Publishing, NY NY, 2007.
Gladwell, Malcolm Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Time Warner Book Group, New York NY, 2005.
Copyright 2008 Vreni Gurd