Many people think that having more “stuff” will make them happy. Those that have gone down the path of getting more stuff are very quick to tell us that, no, it does not. However, we still carry on thinking, “Well, let me get some stuff first just in case you’re wrong about that.”
Gaining stuff in pursuit of happiness is a bad habit, and it is a terrible goal to build your precious life towards. How do I know? Well, I’m a friend to science, and science has long studied what makes humans happy. Guess what? It’s not stuff. It is a fact that material items rarely determine long-term happiness. In fact, when compared to experiences, buying stuff is a terrible investment. We wrote about that in “This Christmas Collect Moments Instead of Things“.
Fortunately, there are plenty more options that provide a much better chance at securing happiness. Here is what does make us happy:
Working Towards Goals
Many people believe that happiness is found when we achieve a goal. In my case one of these goals was graduating from business school. I was working towards this goal feeling that getting an MBA would make me happy. In actuality, happiness is found in the pursuit of goals. It is while I was in the process of striving towards getting my MBA that a real and prolonged happiness began to shine into my soul. Getting the MBA was the icing on the cake.
But then, once I achieved this goal, I noticed an unsettling feeling arise. Haven’t you noticed that feeling as well after achieving a goal? That’s your soul telling you that it is again seeking happiness and needs a new goal to strive towards. There is a reason why bucket lists are a cultural phenomenon. They are our way of prescribing a journey in the pursuit of happiness.
Looking for some happiness? Here are some good goals for you to strive towards:
- Create a safety net fund
- Learn a new skill such as furniture building
- Quit smoking
- Reduce body weight by 10% (and save up to $5,300 in medical costs by doing so)
- Coach your kid’s sports team
- Work in the name of a charity
- Create a blog on a topic of interest
Be a “Social Animal”
This ingredient to happiness reminds me of a stanza from a Maya Angelou poem (read: my friends will testify that I can pretty much pick a Maya Angelou poem to help guide you through any imaginable situation). It goes:
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
Humans must socialize if they seek to be happy. This goal of socializing more was a challenge for me because, as loud and talkative as I am, I can be terribly shy when it comes to making friends. It took me a good long time to work through my social anxieties, but I can testify that the friendships I have developed make me much happier than any increased salary my business school education brought my way.
One more word here: this does not mean you have to be in a romantic relationship to be happy. While our Western culture has raised us to believe that our romantic partnership should be the strongest of our bonds, not everyone thinks like us. Throughout Asia, and in Japan specifically, it is friendships that take the lead role over romantic relationships. It was while living in Japan that I learned, by example, what it truly means to be a friend.
Give Yourself the Gift of Quality Sleep
There is a very strong correlation between quality of sleep and happiness. If you have trouble sleeping, like I do, then sticking to a sleep schedule, staying away from electronics for an hour or two before bed, making sure to exercise for 30 minutes 3 times per week, and staying away from caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol will help.
When I stick to a nighttime ritual I have a much easier time getting to sleep. On my best days I start winding down at 9:00. I set my alarm immediately so that I can put my phone (and all of the sleep killing blue light it projects) away. I then spend up to 20 minutes cleaning one small thing in my house. I might sweep my stairs or wipe the kitchen counters or mop the bathroom floors. Then I spend an hour getting ready for bed: shower, skin care, pajamas, etc. I then get my cat and tell her it is “sleepy time”, and we turn down the bed. I read for 30 minutes with her purring at the foot of the bed, and then turn out the lights at 11:00.
Maintaining Your Mental Health
Each of us has a certain propensity for happiness. This is our baseline. No matter what happens in life, from extremely good to extremely bad, the human mind has an innate ability to travel back to this baseline. This makes maintaining your mental health, and raising that baseline, pivotal in your pursuit towards happiness.
Your brain is an organ just like your heart and your lungs, and you must work to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, brain health has largely been stigmatized, and that’s just silliness. Let’s put this silliness in perspective, shall we? One in ten people are currently taking an anti-depressant of some sort. These medications are meant to help the brain achieve some sort of biochemical function it is having trouble with. If this were a matter of taking medicine to make sure that your heart functions properly, then you would likely get sympathy. It happens in your brain and, suddenly, gasp. Silliness. So, yes, I’m going to ask you to not only ignore the stigma in treatment of your own brain health but also to be more open about discussing brain health openly in hopes that the removal of this stigma helps others in your life. Give those around you every chance at happiness as well.
How About Money?
The question of whether money can buy happiness has been long debated. Science can provide us with the truth here as well. Daniel Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard and author of “Stumbling on Happiness” found through research that money only has the ability to buy happiness up to a household income of approximately $50,000. This provides us with what we need to meet our needs and a few of our wants as well. Above that and money really does not give us any additional happiness. Studies have shown that a sudden windfall, like winning the lottery, gives us about two months of happiness before we go back towards our previous pre-lottery baseline.
So, spend your life in pursuit of something greater than stuff. Spend it in the pursuit of happiness.