We are very bad at predicting what will make us happy.
We often think we know what we want. It might be a new car, money, or career success but the truth is what we really want is the feeling we believe having these things will give us.
When we want a new car, what do we want? We want the feelings that go with that: maybe a feeling of success to be able to afford the car or maybe it makes you feel sexy and alive. It's important to pay attention to that because now you know that what you really want which is to feel successful or sexy. You can become less specific. Instead of dreaming of a new car you can think about when you feel sexy and alive and look at all the ways you can cultivate that feeling.
People sometimes focus on material things because they believe the more important things are not available to them. They focus on money and status because they don't think they can have love.
It's important to remember that when we get the thing we thought we wanted it's often oddly disappointing. Why? Because we all have a set point for happiness and we tend to revert to that not too long after something we consider good or bad happens to us. It all matters less than we think.
What actually makes people happy?
Close Relationships = Contentment
According to a Harvard study begun in 1938, close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Close happy relationships are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
It turns out that money does not make people happy and neither does status. It is largely the relationships and the connections in our lives that lead to the most contentment.
Enjoying a Cultural Activity = More Happiness
Visiting a museum, going to the theater, or seeing a concert elevates our mood. A study that examined the life satisfaction of over 50,000 adults in Norway showed an interesting correlation. People who participated in more cultural activities, like going to a play, joining a club, or going to a museum, reported higher satisfaction with their overall quality of life.
Spend Money on Others = Joy
A 2008 study gave 46 volunteers an envelope with money in it. Half were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half put the money towards a charitable donation or gift for someone they knew. The researchers discovered that those who spent their money on others had a higher level of happiness than those who spent the money on themselves.
Armed with the understanding of what really makes us happy we can make better choices about what to pursue.
- Reach out to a friend or family member and invite them to a concert or a play.
- Buy or make a small gift for someone you love.
- Grab your journal and reflect on the moments you've been the happiest.
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I have a few slots opening up in my coaching practice. If you would like to work toward a more exciting and fulfilling life contact me at email@example.com. I specialize in helping people break through self-imposed barriers to live more dynamic and satisfying lives. Together, we can unlock the potential that's waiting for you.