This is a topic that I have blogged about before, but I feel like a more personal touch is necessary this time around. I have recently listened to a few podcasts (links below) which have focused on what the latest research on Happiness shows. Incidentally, the last major research on Happiness was conducted by Psychologists in 2009. Here are a few ways that we approach happiness and my personal views on each.
Buying Items vs. Buying Experiences
Research has shown that when we purchase items we often experience momentary fleeting happiness. This causes us to get onto what is called the Hedonic Treadmill, the tendency of people to continuously buy items to get their “fix” of happiness. I have definitely been victim to this; I have bought books which I have not read, bought shoes which I end up feeling “meh” over, and bought gym memberships which I have not used. We all have been there. But that initial step makes us feel good. We need to actually stop purchasing items and purchase experiences.
An experience is much more long-lasting. When reading a book, playing with a football, or going to the amusement park, we accumulate new experiences which allow us to create new memories and have enjoyable experiences over a longer period of time. In many ways, in the above examples, I was attempting to purchase experiences, such as with the gym membership and the books, but I needed to follow through with them as well. Consider recently, I began reading a book which I had purchased a while back, Elizabeth Sims’ You’ve Got A Book In You, to help me with my writing. It has certainly put me back on the path of trying to write a novel, and I am very happy with that. I get in the zone when writing, which, when I am flowing, allows me to experience a Zen-like nothingness, and actually makes me happy. Of course, a word of caution: I also experience downs, like when writer’s block hits. Just because you are purchasing an experience to make yourself happy does not mean that you will always be happy during that experience (especially if it’s something you’re passionate about!)
Learning something new and being proud of your achievement
Ever try a How-To project by yourself or take a course for something that you always wanted to learn? I recently braved the website KhanAcademy.com to teach myself some long-forgotten basic high school math. Pre-Algebra and Algebra. I must say, I remember more than I thought I would. But I have also forgotten a lot, too. But once again, being in that Zen state, and learning and relearning stuff that I found torturous in school has its rewards. Go learn something new today!
An interesting note on the study of happiness: if you wait a while before using your purchase you will find much more satisfaction from it. As I stated in the Buying Items vs. Experiences paragraph, I began to read a book which I had purchased at least 4 months ago. But I am glad that I picked it up. Reading is a great way to unwind and mentally stimulate yourself–not to mention, in many cases either learn something new or be entertained by a great story.
The Mind is typically seen as the one that controls the body; but the body’s health often has an effect on the mind. Exercise is a great way to keep fit (whatever your method of exercise may be), and be more energetic throughout the day. Eating healthier is another great trick to aid in this.
Yoga and other forms of relaxation are linked to lower levels of stress hormones. Consider picking up a meditation or Yoga exercise DVD or join your local gym for classes. Om to the next point! Haha… get it? Sorry. Please keep reading…
A good hike combines physical activity and meditation into one relaxing day in nature. Human beings, as resourceful as we have evolved to be are not meant to stay cooped up indoors all the time. Talk a stroll down your local trails, or go a little out of your way to a national park for a weekend camping trip!
Another form of a quick pick me up is to help pick others up! Getting involved in the community could mean working at a soup kitchen, at your local school (teachers always need all the help they can get!), at a rec centre… so many possibilities of giving back!
Friends, Family, and Lovers are a great sources of happiness. These relationships of course require give and take and you might not always find happiness from the same person from day to day. But they are there as a source of comfort, peace, and support. And if someone from one of these circles is not providing that, talk to them about what you feel is lacking; maybe there is a genuine misunderstanding between the two of you, or maybe you need to find better people!
Different from meditation, this is taking taking inventory of either daily or monthly or even yearly achievements. If we actually track how we are growing over the long term, we can truly appreciate ourselves.
(Not Really) Last Thoughts
We can conclude that happiness is not a sustained emotion, but rather a very fleeting state of being. many of these strategies are to help us maximize our rate of encountering it. I must also emphasize that these are my personal experiences; perhaps for you, buying items makes you happier than purchasing experience. We’re all unique and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. The important thing is that we continuously monitor our own levels of contentment and prioritize them; think about what hobbies you like to engage in and see how the above list can foster those hobbies. We will never be always happy all the time. That’s why we pursue it. But we can certainly be happy as often as possible.
Stuff You Should Know Podcast: Do Objects or Experiences Make us Happier. http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/objects-experiences-happier/
Stuff to Blow Your Mind: The Mathematics of Happiness. http://www.stufftoblowyourmind.com/podcasts/the-mathematics-of-happiness/