• David Strittmatter

How to really boost your happiness

One kind word can change someone's entire day

Summary:

  • Most people don't really know how the concept of happiness works

  • We miswant - too often and too much

  • (Social) comparisons and getting used to stuff distort our decision making


Practical advice:

  • Invest in experiences rather than in awesome stuff; trade money for more time and be kind

  • Be conscious of the kinds of social comparisons you're letting in

  • Exercise regularly & take at least 8 hours to sleep


Dear friend,


During my enrollment in the popular Yale University course The science of well being, which is all about the psychological concept of happiness, I made the realization that I’ve many misconceptions. In one of my latest articles, I picked the most significant of them, re-evaluated them in the context of this happiness class, and wrote about them (why we are less happy than we could be).


Unfortunately, most people don't really know how the concept of happiness works and how well-being can be maximized, i. e. how we can become happier individuals.


Thus, and to celebrate my completion of this course, it’s time for part two: I'll share with you the amazing insights from the Yale University course and contemplate vital changes I'll make to become an (even) happier person.


Recap: Why are we less happy than we could be


First of all, a brief recap - why we are less happy than we could be (read the full article if this short summary is too shallow for you).


Various empirical studies show: We miswant - too often and too much. Miswanting is about being mistaken about what and how much we're going to like in the future. For instance, we might think purchasing an expensive car will make us a much happier person, but no, it won’t.


And why do we miswant things? (Social) comparisons, getting used to stuff (hedonic adaptation), and the impact bias play a huge role regarding why we desire things that actually won’t fulfill us.


In the class, the professor spends a lot of time to illustrate our misunderstandings regarding things that seemingly make us happy (outstanding grades, fancy clothes, big houses, fast cars, etc) but actually don't. In part two of the class, she gives plenty of empirical evidence to point out ways how we can really become happier individuals. Many of the tools and hacks are well-known and familiar to most of us. Hence, in the following, I want to focus on those that might be new to you and impact you most positively.


What makes you really happier


Experiences


First, instead of investing in awesome stuff, we should spend our money on experiences.

Empirical studies clearly show that people who use their money to buy experiences rather than stuff are significantly happier. The reason for this correlation is that experiences don't stick around. Thus, we cannot get used to them and hedonic adaptation won't kick in.


Whereas you get used to driving in a Ferrari and your happiness will return to normal levels after a few months, you cannot get used to an awesome vacation with your fiance or friends. Yet, it will always remain in your memory, and you can always re-experience it by talking with people about it.


Moreover, talking about a great experience will not only make you much happier than talking about awesome stuff but also engage people around you (people bragging/showing off aren't really the people you love talking to, right?) since they may resonate with you (made/want to make a similar experience).


Time affluence


Second, if you have the choice, you should choose time over money.


Meanwhile, it's commonly known that our happiness won't significantly increase - but rather may even decrease - once we achieve a certain income. Therefore, if you really want to maximize your happiness, you should rather work less, don't stress yourself to climb the career ladder, and use more time for other vital areas of life, such as social connections, exercise, and sleep (we will talk about these factors later).


If you invested your time rather in personal projects (e. g. building a side hustle) than in promotions and additional work hours, you could combine self-actualization and building financial security and independence with something that's different from your main job.


Increase your variety


Third, increasing variety - not only in the area of career and generating income - has a significant positive effect on your happiness. The reason for that lies again in hedonic adaptation: Doing a broader variety of things will automatically curb the process of getting used to things.


I've already written an extensive article on how you can add more variety to your life. In summary, you can think of variety in three dimensions: People, places, and activities. Meet more people, see different places, or spend time on various activities. Having more of these types of variety will not only make your life more exciting but also boost your happiness.


Stop social comparisons


Among the factors that make us miswant - and thus less happy - most, social comparisons are particularly difficult to dampen. Social media, TV shows, magazines, the news - all these media constantly show us these seemingly perfect lives of other people. Today, we are almost everywhere confronted with them. Unsurprisingly, more and more people suffer because of these circumstances.


A technique presented by the professor is in the real of cognitive-behavioral therapy: The stop technique. It's very simple but effective. Once encounter a moment in which you notice you're making a comparison, you just out loud literally say, Stop!. That might seem pretty silly, but I can tell from my experience that it's very effective.


Additionally, you should be conscious of the kinds of social comparisons you're letting in. For example, if you're worried about social comparisons for body-image, don't look at the Victoria's Secret catalogs but rather pay more attention to these Real Beauty campaigns.


Kindness


According to empirical research, another huge lever to make you happier is to be kind more often. There is a very strong significant effect that the money you spend on other people makes you happier than the money you spend on yourself. From a happiness perspective, somehow paradoxically, you should rather invest your money and time to make others happy to boost your own happiness.


Since the day I worked through the lecture dealing with the impact of kindness on our happiness, I've sought out opportunities to act more kindly to other people, and my goal has been to do at least one kind deed per day. You cannot imagine how large and positive the impact of this new habit on my life has been so far. It's enormous.


Furthermore, it doesn't make a significant difference whether you do a massive or a small kind deed - the boost of happiness is almost equal. Surprising your partner with a desert, giving an ear and listen carefully to a friend, helping your sibling out, or just holding the door open for a stranger. It's much more about the act of kindness itself than about the magnitude.


Please, try it by yourself, be more conscious about being kind to others, and I will promise you a great benefit.


Physiological well-being


Lastly, I want to point out two levers that will be no surprise to you but are massively effective.


On the one hand, exercising regularly: Just exercising three times for 30 minutes a week can give you as much happiness as taking an SSRI (anti-depressant pill). What's pretty cool: It doesn't really matter what you do as long as you're active and engaged.


In my own experience, I can strongly confirm this scientific evidence. For instance, when I go for a run, listen to great music, and the sun is shining, I get a massive boost of serotonin. There very few things that give me such a great feeling.


On the other hand, sleep: It is highly underrated. Sleep can not only prolong and qualitatively enhance your life, make you feel more confident, improve your look, make you a more attractive person, boost your immune system, increase fertility, reduce your risk to die from cardiovascular illnesses, or but also boosts your happiness. People deprived of sleep have a significantly worse mood and more physical and emotional complaints.


Take at least on average 8 hours to sleep, which will result in about 7-7,5 hours of effective sleep time, in order to take advantage of this superpower.


Unfortunately, too many people think that less sleep won't worsen their lives. However, various clinical studies have shown that sleep-deprived people systematically underestimate their performance and well-being (and aren't conscious about it - like a drunk person who claims not to be that drunk).

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