In my previous article on the subject I referred to all the things that are believed to make us happy, but don’t. Our social up-bringing and conditioning turns our focus and efforts towards actions that science has proven unsatisfactory. We also explained why our expectations are so wrong, and how they are influenced by our points of reference. Moreover, we cover the fact that our mind has the propensity to get used to circumstances and as so, even those things that we believe are important to us, soon lose their glow, and everything returns to its normalcy.
In this article I will share some strategies that you can use to get over this non-productive tendencies and cognitive biases.
Before we go there though, I want to stress- one more time- that the key for all the things we will present here to actually work, is that you make a conscious, deliberate decision to implement them in your life. I warn you that your mind will naturally try to avoid them. Nevertheless, if you insist, you will gain a conscious influence on the level of happiness you can reach, much more powerful than your genetics precondition or your circumstances. These strategies must become new habits and, for that to happen, you might need to work to conquer them.
Strategy #1. Stop investing in goods that requires a large financial expense, they do not make you as happy as you think.
You might believe that a new house will make the difference in the quality of your life, but in reality, it doesn’t, at least to the extent that you imagine it will. In a study made by Leaf Van Boven & Tom Gilovich people were asked to remember a purchase they have made or an experience they have had, that costed around 100 dollars- and to grade how happy it made them then and how happy it makes them now. Results showed that experiences are far more powerful in influencing happiness levels.
Then, it was examined whether this impact could vary depending on the income of the individual. But even in that study it was confirmed that the purchase of an experience is more positive than the purchase of goods. And that the difference grows, as incomes grows.
Another study by Pchelin & Howell (2014) focused on understanding what are the expectations that people have about purchases, before they make them. That revealed that expectations are very inaccurate. We actually believe that acquiring things will make us double happy than experiences. But this is disproved when, 2 weeks after, a new measurement reveals that experiences have a more powerful and long-lasting impact. See the graph below.
One of the reasons that experiences are a better use of time and money is that, as you share them, the acceptance you receive from other people is bigger. It is different to tell your friends about your last trip to Cuba, than informing them about buying a new suit. That is verified by a study made by Leaf Van Boven et al (2010), where people were asked to grade the impression they get about their friends, when buying an experience vs. buying a good. People that purchase experiences are consider better psychologically fit that those that make material purchases.
VAN BOVEN ET AL. (2010)
Another very important reason is that experiences are less prompt to social comparisons. It is more difficult to compare a road trip vs. another road trip, than it is to compare one car with the next. Thus, whoever invest in experiences, is less vulnerable to social comparisons than the rest.
A third reason that explains it is that the impact of material things fades away as time passes. It is the same house, the same car, the same bag- every day- and at the end, we get used to them. Our mind sooner or later adjusts, and these things cease to be important for us. Even if our intuition tells us otherwise.
Thus, to conclude, a strategy that is worth adopting is to buy new experiences. Those are less susceptible to the adjustability of our mind, and as so, they do not lose the power to make us happier. Spend your time in a museum, or at a concert. Take a vacation, enjoy a good meal, or a beautiful ride with a friend. Those experiences do not last for long and will leave you with a beautiful memory.
Strategy #2: Re-define your points of reference
Another behavior that impedes happiness is the comparison with different circumstances or situations that we consider as points of reference. In the previous article we saw that the mind is not interested in absolutes. It is interested in comparisons and, sometimes, these comparisons do not have a logical basis. Unfortunately, those points of reference influence constantly our judgement and as a consequence, our level of happiness – even if we do not realize it.
Thus, the question is, how can you deal with such situations and redefine your points of reference, so that they are more relevant to you?
You can remind yourself how things were, before the current circumstances. Before you got your latest promotion, for instance, how was your life? How was your previous home, car, neighborhood, etc.? This realization alone, can be enough to support you redefine your points of reference and to make you appreciate what you have.
Strategy #3: Do not compare your life with the life of others.
As it was mentioned in our previous article, the worse point of reference is other people. And we discussed it under the context of social media, that gives ground for comparisons. How can you avoid those comparisons?
- One technique has its origin from the field of the cognitive behavioral therapy according to which, when you want to consciously stop a behavior, you have to command yourself to stop doing it. Thus, when you do a comparison that does not support your personal worth, you can very consciously stop doing that. You can tell yourself: “STOP”. That puts your mind into a pause-for a brief moment- giving you the choice to put your focus into something different and more productive.
- Another way is to become very aware of the kind of comparisons that you allow yourself to make (i.e. from advertising, tv shows, magazines etc.). if, for instance, you are concerned about your weight, it will not be very beneficial if you spend your time looking at underwear catalogues with skinny models on display. Take into consideration information that is closer to your own circumstances and situation and as such, can support you to achieve your goals.
- Now, I want to mention a suggestion also made in my last article. If social comparison influences you in a negative way, you must avoid using social media. Get rid of them. Believe me, there are a number of people that live without them. Just erase them from your mobile, and you can observe your levels of happiness rising.
What do you achieve when doing one or more of the above strategies? You undertake control of the information that will get to you and, by doing that, you regain your power.
Strategy #4: Express your gratitude daily and purposefully
I am sure you have read plenty on the miracles that gratitude can do, so I will be brief here. A reason that it works so well is that it stops the comparisons, as your brain cannot do two things at the same time. Yes, gratitude will erase disappointment, grievances, envy etc. The more you practice it, the less your mind will search for comparisons with other people, and the more you will be moving towards higher grounds of happiness, from which you can gain empowerment and reach your goals.
Strategy #5: Have a break from whatever you like doing and return to it later
Are you doing something you really like, and you do not want to stop it? Contrary to what your mind tells you, it is in your best benefit to pause it – as a study from Nelson et al (2009) concerning TV viewing suggests. A program that goes without stopping can be tiring, whilst a program with breaks gives overall greater pleasure to its viewers. You can see the relevant graph below.
In other words, whenever you listen to your favorite song or eat your favorite meal, and you do those things with a break, you give yourself greater enjoinment than if you were to listen for one hour nonstop to your favorite song, or eat every day the same meal.
The repetition of those activities will not give the same levels of happiness, because you will have gotten used to them. Whilst, every time you have a great experience with some breaks, it gains the same intensity as if it was the first time and provide you with the same level of enjoyment.
Needless to say, this knowledge can be implemented also the other way around. That is, with the not-so-pleasant things that needs to be worked upon. If you have to do a chore or a piece of work that you do not like, avoid having breaks but do it all at once, if possible. In such a way you will manage to get pass soon the difficulty that it brings.
So, concluding, you need to ensure that you are not living constantly the things you like in your life – because they might become a habit, and thus, boring. My suggestion, add variety into your life, do different enjoyable things and do them with breaks to keep appreciating them.
So, that’s 5 strategies that can support you in increasing your happiness. Choose at least one and practice on it this month. It will help you move forward. More of this, in the next article.