A father learns the true reward of taking a free online happiness course with his son

A father learns the true reward of taking a free online happiness course with his son

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FamilyBy Jeff Schrum

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, my wife and I worried that we were running out of time to help our two teens learn the self-care and coping skills they’ll need to launch themselves into an increasingly volatile world. No longer an elective, emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for teens coming of age in the 2020s. Thankfully, a happy and fulfilling life — which is what parents across cultures and continents say they want for their kids — is not a luxury reserved for a privileged few. Science reveals that the good life awaits those who make deliberate, daily efforts to cultivate positive emotions, such as joy, fulfillment, compassion, connectedness and resilience.

This is material I barely know myself, so when Yale’s popular “The Science of Well-Being” appeared in a list of free online personal development courses to take during the pandemic, it seemed like a good starting point. I convinced my older son, a 10th-grader, to join me, promising we could watch a few lectures, count the hours as social science credit (we home-school) and bail after a few weeks if he lost interest, a distinct possibility.

Laurie Santos, a psychology professor and head of college at Yale University, introduced the live class, “Psyc 157: Psychology and the Good Life”, in 2018, responding to an increase in anxiety and depression reported by students. “I was really seeing this mental health crisis that so many college students are facing really up close and personal in my role as head of college,” she said. Now the most popular course offered in the school’s history, “Psyc 157” arms students with evidence-based happiness strategies. After garnering worldwide interest and media attention, the university developed a free online version, called “The Science of Well-Being”, shortly thereafter. It boasts more than 2.6 million registrants — 2 million in the past two months alone. “That just made us realize that it wasn’t just Yale students who needed this content, you know, this is really the kind of thing that could help a lot of people”, Santos said. Similar free online courses from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of California, Berkeley, to name a few, show positive psychology’s high demand.

What is happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside, happiness researcher and author, suggests thinking of happiness as being both happy in your life, and being happy with your life. “Being happy in your life is the experience of fairly frequent positive emotions, like tranquility, joy, curiosity, pride, affection, etc.”, Lyubomirsky said. Happiness with your life is feeling an overall sense of satisfaction, that your life is good, meaningful and worthwhile, she continued.

Happiness isn’t gratification, although we tend to equate them, said Christine

Carter, author of “The New Adolescence” and senior fellow at Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “In our culture we are wildly confused about the difference between something that is gratifying or pleasurable, and something that will actually foster a positive emotion, like happiness,” she said. Pleasure is fleeting. Positive emotions, on the other hand, persist, reversing our fight-or-flight response, and activating a part of the brain that doesn’t leave us wanting more. “Fostering positive emotions, like gratitude, is going to create a lasting sense of well-being”.

This distinction between happiness and gratification is one of many myths and misconceptions I hope this experience has helped dispel for my son. The problem isn’t just that we tend to misunderstand what may and may not create lasting happiness, putting too much faith in things such as promotions, grades and possessions. It’s also that humans usually return fairly quickly to a baseline level of happiness after a positive or negative event — a tendency called hedonic adaptation. This can throw us for a loop if we expected something — for teens, this could be a new activity or course or relationship — to change our lives. Understanding hedonic adaptation is a very important life lesson for teens, Lyubomirsky said. “When you cease to be as excited as you were, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or the person, or the activity, or the job or the school,” she said.

The ‘rewirements’

After arming us with research and tips on cultivating happiness, Santos sent us off to practice our selected happiness strategies — habits correlated to increased well-being, optimism and emotional regulation — for the next four weeks. She calls these homework assignments “rewirements,” since they’re practices aimed at rewiring our habits. Creating new habits is the goal of the course. I chose gratitude, and my son chose meditation.

I was curious to see if my son would stick with his practice, because I know from experience that meditation can be challenging for beginners. Plus, I didn’t want to nag, because Carter says that interferes with adolescents’ sense of independence. “With a teenager you always have to be willing to walk away from your own agenda,” she counseled. Happily, my son practiced his 10- to 15-minute guided meditations (he used the Calm app) with minimal coercing, and seemed on most days to enjoy, or at least tolerate, his practice.

My gratitude practice felt forced at first. I scanned my day for positive moments, feelings and sensations, savoring them in the moment, then noting them in a journal each night. I began all entries with, “Grateful today for . . . ” followed by “. . . the pastel sky on the horizon at dusk tonight” or “. . . the fragrant honeysuckle along the trail on my evening walk” or “. . . the it’ll-do quarantine haircut [my wife] gave me,” trying to be as specific and detailed as possible.

The practice eventually came more naturally, and to head off hedonic adaptation, I will probably adjust the “dosage” from daily to weekly. Finding the right dosage is important, as is ensuring the strategies you use fit your personality and culture, advised Lyubomirsky. Variety is also key. “If you engage in these activities the same way every time, they’re going to lose their power,” she said.

Taking stock

Six weeks after recording my first gratitude journal entry, I still find myself instinctively scanning and savoring, grateful for brief moments of joy and awe and connection. I’m happier overall (most days), both with my life and in my life. My wife and sons see an improvement in me, too. My son kept up his daily meditation, which he now practices with his mom — another bonus from this experience. While he may not notice, it’s obvious to us that his confidence and motivation have improved. Plus, he seems to have more emotional bandwidth to regulate emotions as common triggers arise. When I mentioned that he seemed calmer and happier, he agreed.

With so many variables, we can never know the degree to which taking the class improved our felt sense of happiness and overall well-being. Regardless, the magic in this experience was in sharing it. We served as new-habit partners, which studies show correlates to success. Co-learning as peers allowed him to preserve his sense of independence and competence, critical components of teens’ motivation, according to Carter. It also afforded me an authentic way to model self-care and growth. “No self-respecting teenager wants support or instruction from somebody who can’t do it themselves,” she said.

Whether my son retains much from the course is irrelevant, she said. He ended up with a practice — meditation — that research shows will benefit him “in terms of improving his overall functioning, his ability to fulfill his potential, his overall well-being”. Finally, we made a connection, the kind that seemed infinitely possible when he was younger but that I now savor as if each is the last. (This, too, we learned in the course, is a happiness strategy.) Regardless of how much he retains from the class, Carter said, “you still found a way to connect with him, to just do something next to him. And we know that that is meaningful.”

Schrum is a freelance writer, volunteer crisis counselor and home-schooling dad in Virginia.

The Science of Helping Out

The Science of Helping Out

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By By Tara Parker-Pope

At a time when we are all experiencing an extraordinary level of stress, science offers a simple and effective way to bolster our own emotional health.

To help yourself, start by helping others.

Much of the scientific research on resilience — which is our ability to bounce back from adversity — has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant impact on our well-being.

“There is a lot of evidence that one of the best anti-anxiety medications available is generosity,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton and author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” “The great thing about showing up for other people is that it doesn’t have to cost a whole lot or anything at all, and it ends up being beneficial to the giver.”

Our bodies and minds benefit in a variety of ways when we help others. Some research has focused on the “helper’s high.” Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or even just thinking about donating money can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate the part of the brain stimulated by the pleasures of food and sex. Studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work.

The challenge many of us are facing today is how to give support from a distance. Rules that require us to be physically apart during the pandemic mean that our traditional ways of volunteering in person are no longer possible. The good news is that the type of support that can be helpful to both giver and receiver can be given in a variety of small and big ways. It can include giving money or time to a cause. Or it can be as simple as a phone call, giving advice or just lending a listening ear.

In fact, the act of giving advice has been shown to be more beneficial than receiving it. In a series of studies of 2,274 people, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago found that after middle-school students mentored younger students about studying, they ended up spending more time on their own homework. Overweight people who counseled others on weight loss were more motivated to lose weight themselves.

Dr. Grant said we often are better at giving advice to people other than ourselves. “One of the best things you can do is call someone else facing a similar problem and talk them through it,” said Dr. Grant, who co-founded an online networking platform called Givitas, which connects people for the purpose of asking for and giving support and advice. “When you talk other people through their problems, you come up with wiser perspectives and solutions for yourself.”

Feeling responsible for other people also can help us cope with whatever challenges life brings. Emily A. Greenfield, an associate professor of social work at Rutgers University, studied a concept called “felt obligation,” which is measured by asking people questions such as how obligated they would feel to give money to a friend in need, even if it meant putting themselves in a bind. Dr. Greenfield analyzed data collected from 849 participants in an ongoing study of health and well-being, that asked about felt obligation as well as health-related declines they experienced over time, such as problems carrying groceries or walking a block.

As it turned out, the people who had higher levels of felt obligation — meaning they were the type of people to sacrifice for others — coped better with their own life challenges.

“These findings fit with the idea that an orientation to helping others is a protective factor — something that is especially important for well-being when confronted with distressing life circumstances,” Dr. Greenfield said.

She noted that caring for others helps us to regulate our own emotions and gain a sense of control. “When we remind a friend that social distancing measures are temporary, and this too shall pass, we are also, in effect, reminding ourselves and serving to regulate our own emotions,” she said.

Several studies suggest that supporting others helps buffer our bodies against the detrimental effects of stress. A five-year study of 846 people in Detroit found that stressful life events appeared to take a greater toll on people who were less helpful to others, while helping others seemed to erase the detrimental physical effects of stressful experiences.

“Small acts are important,” said Dr. Steven Southwick, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and co-author of “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.” “Part of that might have to do with just getting outside of myself, and finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than myself.”

Studies show that having a strong sense of purpose protects us from stress in the short term and predicts long-term better health, a lower risk of dying prematurely and even better financial health. Researchers say that finding meaning and purpose during social distancing may be especially important for high-school seniors and college students, who were on the cusp of discovering their purpose in life just as the coronavirus derailed graduations, internships and new jobs.

“Your purpose may be to help others in need, but it doesn’t have to be tackling big social structure issues,” said Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “It could be helping out your neighbor or just doing shopping for somebody. If your big picture goal is to help others in need, there are ways of doing that right now that may look different than how you used to do them.”

SUCCEEDING FROM HOME: Here’s exactly how to thrive as a remote worker in the days of coronavirus

SUCCEEDING FROM HOME: Here’s exactly how to thrive as a remote worker in the days of coronavirus

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As the coronavirus spreads, working from home is the new reality for many US workers.

With more than 136,000 infected with the virus, companies are closing their doors to reduce the spread of infections. Big tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter announced that much of their workforce won’t be coming into the office — instead, they will be working remotely.

If your employer has unexpectedly shut down, you may feel lost navigating remote work.

Some of the biggest challenges for employers include workers struggling with loneliness, managing their time, and communication among staff members. What’s more, as schools and colleges shut down across the US, working parents must juggle company and family priorities.

While this all can be tough, finding a strategy that works can help you make it through.

Here are the best ways to stay productive and lead a team while working from home, based on advice from CEOs, freelancers, and experts who’ve done it.

7 Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques for Uncertain Times

7 Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques for Uncertain Times

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By Crystal Raypole

When a challenge comes up for you, you probably have a handful of go-to strategies to help you deal with it. Even if your approach varies slightly from problem to problem, you probably manage most difficulties in similar ways.

You might, for example, be a problem solver. When navigating a challenge or stressful event, you go straight to the source and work at it until you’ve either fixed what’s wrong or brought your stress down to a more manageable level.

What if taking immediate action isn’t your strong point? Maybe you try to hack your emotions by considering the situation from a different perspective or leaning on loved ones for support.

These two approaches represent two distinct coping strategies:

  • Problem-focused coping involves handling stress by facing it head-on and taking action to resolve the underlying cause.
  • Emotion-focused coping involves regulating your feelings and emotional response to the problem instead of addressing the problem.
  • Both strategies can have benefits, but emotion-focused coping may be particularly useful in certain situations.

Emotion-focused coping skills help you process and work through unwanted or painful emotions and reactions. In other words, this approach helps you manage your emotions rather than outside circumstances.

This approach won’t help you solve a problem directly, but it’s a great tool to have for dealing with stressful situations you can’t change or control.

When you can manage your emotional response to a given situation more effectively, you may feel somewhat better about what’s happening — or at least more equipped to handle it.

Research from 2015 suggests people who tend to use emotion-focused coping strategies may be more resilient to stress and enjoy greater overall wellness.

1. Meditation

Meditation helps you learn to acknowledge and sit with all of your thoughts and experiences, even the difficult ones.

The key goal of meditation? Mindfulness: to recognize thoughts as they come up, accept them, and let them go without stewing over them or judging yourself for having them.

You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, and it won’t cost you anything. It may feel a little awkward, even unhelpful, at first, and it can take some time before it feels natural. If you stick with it, you’ll generally begin seeing some benefits before long.

If you’re new to meditation, get started by learning more about different types or trying this easy body scan exercise.

2. Journaling

Journaling is a great way to sort through and come to terms with challenging emotions.

When something goes wrong, you might experience a lot of complicated, conflicting feelings. They might feel jumbled up inside you, making the thought of sorting them out exhausting. Or, maybe you’re not even sure how to name what you’re feeling with words.

Exhaustion and confusion are valid feelings and can be a good starting point for putting pen to paper.

Sometimes, writing down your feelings — no matter how messy or complex they are — is the first step in working through them. You might eventually find that journaling offers a type of emotional catharsis, as you purge them from your mind and into your journal.

To get the most out of journaling, try:

  • Writing every day, even if you only have 5 minutes
  • Writing whatever comes to mind — don’t worry about editing or censoring yourself
  • Keeping track of any mood or emotional changes you experience and any factors that might be contributing to the pattern, whether that’s your exercise routine, certain foods, or particular relationships

3. Positive thinking

Optimism won’t solve problems alone, but it can certainly boost your emotional wellness.

It’s important to understand that optimistic or positive thinking does not involve ignoring your problems. It’s about giving challenges a positive spin and finding pockets of joy to help you get through them.

To add more positive thinking to your life, try:

  • building yourself up with positive self-talk instead of talking down to yourself
  • recognizing your successes instead of focusing on “failures”
  • laughing off mistakes
  • reminding yourself you can always try again
  • All these things are easier said than done, but with a bit of practice, they’ll start to feel more natural.

4. Forgiveness

It’s easy to focus on feelings of injustice or unfairness when someone wrongs you or does something unkind.

Most of the time, though, you can’t do anything to change the hurt you’ve sustained. In other words, the damage is done, and there’s nothing to do but let go and move forward.

Forgiveness can help you let go of hurt and begin healing from it. Of course, forgiveness doesn’t always happen easily. It can take some time to come to terms with your pain before you feel able to forgive.

Practicing forgiveness can benefit your emotional wellness in a number of ways. You might notice:

  • Reduced stress and anger
  • Increased compassion
  • Greater empathy
  • Stronger interpersonal relationships

5. Reframing

When you reframe a situation, you look at it from another perspective. This can help you consider the bigger picture instead of getting stuck on little details, as difficult or unpleasant as those details sometimes are.

Say, for example, your relationship has been struggling over the past few months, primarily because you and your partner haven’t had much time to do things together or communicate about problems.

Suddenly, you lose your job and find that you’re now spending plenty of time at home.

Not working isn’t ideal, of course, but for the moment there’s nothing you can do to change that situation. Instead of letting frustration and boredom build up, you can look at the bright side of the situation: You now have plenty of time to reconnect with your partner and strengthen your relationship.

6. Talking it out

Burying or pushing away negative emotions usually doesn’t do much to improve them.

You might not actively notice these unwanted emotions if you work very hard at keeping them hidden, but they do eventually tend to resurface.

In the meantime, they can trickle out in the form of:

  • Mood changes
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical symptoms like muscle tension or head pain

It’s generally a good idea to talk about your feelings to any others involved in the situation. They may not even realize they had an impact on you unless you tell them.

Communicating your difficulties won’t always resolve them, but if an approach to resolution does exist, you’re more likely to discover it together.

Talking about your emotions to a trusted loved one can also help you feel better, especially when there’s no good solution to your problem. Friends and family can provide social and emotional support by listening with empathy and validating your feelings.

7. Working with a therapist

Some serious concerns can cause a lot of distress, especially when you can’t do anything to improve your situation.

Maybe you’re going through a breakup, facing a life-threatening health concern, or dealing with grief.

There’s not much you can do to change these circumstances and dealing with the painful emotions that come up on your own can be hard. But there’s no need to go it alone.

A trusted mental health professional can help you manage emotional distress by offering guidance on any of the emotion-focused coping strategies above. They can also provide support that’s more specifically tailored to your situation.

The bottom line

In an ideal world, you’d be able to face all your problems head-on and solve them right away. In reality, though, many challenges are beyond our control. Emotion-focused coping can help you weather these challenges and build resilience.

What Leading with Optimism Really Looks Like

What Leading with Optimism Really Looks Like

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by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan

When there is negative news everywhere you look and unprecedented financial and logistical challenges facing so many companies, it can be tough to advise people to stay positive. Many leaders we work with worry, especially now during the global pandemic, that trying to emphasize positivity and happiness will make them look out of touch — and rather than helping their people, it will backfire.

The findings from our multi-year research project at a hospital system in Iowa indicate quite the opposite. It’s precisely in the midst of a setback or challenging time, that leaders should be actively encouraging positivity because it will help teams weather the storm.

Three years ago, Genesis Health System, which is comprised of five hospitals and a regional health center, was not profitable. This was true for many hospitals, which were experiencing the lowest profitability since the 2008 financial crisis. Consequently, few leaders at Genesis were talking about happiness at work and Jordan Voigt, president of the largest medical center (Genesis Medical Center-Davenport), was facing a conundrum. He wanted to infuse more positivity into the culture at the medical center, but they were about to undergo two rounds of massive cost reductions and layoffs. In addition, they were asking staff to reduce their hours and take time off with or without PTO.

Still, he felt it was important to focus on the company’s culture and hypothesized that positivity could help the center at this crucial time. We worked with the medical center to roll out a series of positive psychology interventions department by department so we could test the effectiveness compared to groups that had not been exposed to the interventions. Each department designed positive changes tailored to their subculture spanning from gratitude exercises, increased praise and recognition from managers, and team-based conscious acts of kindness.

The color “orange” was adopted to symbolize positive changes. For example, in some departments, when people returned from vacation, their colleagues cover their offices with words of appreciation on orange post-it notes. The staff from the organizational behavior department bought caterpillars for every department in the entire hospital and together released the Monarch butterflies after they hatched as a symbol of change. When moms have new babies, the staff give the big brothers and sisters plush orange frogs called baby Sparks as a symbol of the kind character of the department. Employees receive a Spark Award for spreading happiness through a kind act. You can even find orange hair nets and orange oxygen carts in some departments.

In addition, the department leaders and staff were tasked with examining how to change existing work routines to create more happiness at work, like starting their meetings with three positives or adopting a praise and recognition program. We staggered the teams trained so we could effectively test in real time how different departments fared with the setbacks.

As happiness researchers, we expected the departments exposed to the interventions to do better, but even we were surprised by the extent.

For the individuals who had not yet been exposed to the positive intervention, only 23% of the team members reported they were “very expressive of optimism at work.” That jumped to 40% after participating in the positive psychology culture training (measured six weeks after the intervention). Even in the midst of the massive organizational changes, the percentage of respondents who reported that they were happy at work went from 43% to 62%. Individuals feeling burned out “often” dropped from 11% to 6%. Individuals reporting “high stress at work” dropped by 30% after they participated in the workshop on creating positive mindsets on the team. Social connection improved as well. The number of respondents who said “I feel connected at work” went from 68% to 85%. This was after staff reductions where some coworkers and friends were no longer at the organization.

In the parts of the hospital that had not been part of the intervention, only 37% of respondents claimed Genesis was going in the right direction, compared to 63% in the groups who went through the intervention. Imagine if double the number of people on your team felt like the company was going in the right direction, even in the midst of an incredibly challenging time.

Why did this work and what can you learn from it? We have written previously about the efficacy of positive psychology interventions upon performance, so we won’t rehash that here. But here are four key takeaways for leaders who want to know how to start the conversation.

Role model from the top

Oftentimes leaders give lip service to the value of a positive mindset and people being their greatest asset, but then they don’t bother to attend their own internal positive leadership workshops because they are too busy. This signals to the rest of the organization that a positive culture is in fact a much lower priority than they claimed. As president of the Medical Center, Voigt personally kicked off every workshop. He made sure to follow each round of data collection findings to determine what was working and whether to continue. He affirmed happiness as a priority, which made the topic more salient in the minds of his staff. This is the first step for leaders who want to create positive mindset in the midst of setback: show up and model that mindset yourself.

Help employees connect before asking them to change

People don’t typically make positive changes alone or in isolation. A positive mindset at work is often a collective exercise because the behaviors and attitudes are reinforced when a group does it together. At Genesis, the emphasis in the workshops was on developing positive habits, brainstorming new work routines, and discussing culture together in groups. This allowed participants to take ownership over the new mindsets, routines, and ways of working. They were creating new social scripts in real time and connecting these changes to purpose, verbalizing the significant impact their happiness and positivity can have on their patients. It’s imperative that leaders help people feel connected first and then deputize them to make positive change.

Make changes part of the routine way of doing work

As a leader, don’t just tell people “don’t worry, be happy”; work with them to create patterns that reinforce the positive. It’s too hard in the midst of stress to try to invent new ways to be positive, so creating regular patterns as a department can help sustain the positive without having to call on new brain resources. It can be as simple as routinizing celebration. For example, the endoscopy department, which was known to be toxic with a 35% vacancy rate, now has regularly scheduled potluck lunches — and a 0% vacancy rate over six months. Some departments’ leaders set the routine of starting all their staff meetings with each person saying one thing they’re grateful for. Some have areas where people can post thank yous or pictures of successes so that any staff or patient walking into that department is given a dose of visual positivity.

Track outcomes to make the changes sustainable

If there was no perceived change, or if there was no data justifying the approach, the culture change would not take root as readily. If we don’t test what works, we lack the motivation to keep that change permanent or top of mind. Positive interventions in particular get thrown by the wayside in challenging times unless you have a clearly established connection between the energy required to continue the positive change and the desired outcomes. In the end by doing a rolled out, staggered approach, other teams heard about the intervention and the results and were actually demanding the positive intervention for their teams.

All of these changes weren’t just good for the hospital staff; they benefited patients too. Patient experience rates nearly doubled within a 12-month period. Following the intervention, Genesis Medical Center-Davenport achieved profitability again and exceeded their operating budget by 35% during the first part of 2019, going from an operating loss of $2M to a profit of $8M. The medical center was recognized in 2019 by Press Ganey as one of nation’s most improved medical centers for performance and six months into the fiscal year increased total operating revenue by $15 million or 8.7%, while expenses increased only $1.9 million or 1.1%. And in October 2019, it achieved a record in the history of the medical center for gross revenue, $114 million. All of this was happening when so much of the medical industry was financially contracting.

Even in the face of dire circumstances, you can create a positive mindset at your company — one that will help your people and your customers. When is the best time to start talking about positivity at work? Maybe right now.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Can Money Buy Happiness?

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Three Psychological Principles to Consider Before You Make Your Next Purchase

By Sarah Gervais, Associate Professor of Psychology, Social and Cognitive Program and Law-Psychology Program

We’re all familiar with the idea that money can’t buy happiness. Yet, the reality is that we all spend money and for most of us it is a limited resource. How can we spend our hard earned dough in ways that will maximize our happiness? Psychological research offers some useful insights about the connections between money and happiness to consider before you make your next purchase.

  1. Being Rich Isn’t Necessarily the Path to Happiness. Money is important to happiness. Ask anyone who doesn’t have it. Having a higher income, for example, can give us access to homes in safer neighborhoods, better health care and nutrition, fulfilling work, and more leisure time. However, this only works up to a certain point. Once our income reaches a certain level and our basic needs for food, health care, safety, and shelter are met, the positive effects of money—such as buying your dream home—are often offset by the negative effects—such as working longer hours, or in more stressful jobs, to maintain that income.
  2. Doing Makes us Happier than Having. Most people assume that “things” will lead to more happiness than “experiences.” Physical objects—such as the latest iPhone, handbag, or car—last longer than say going to a concert, taking a cooking class, or going on vacation. Buying things does make us happy, at least in the short term. In the long-term, however, we habituate to new things and even though they may have made us excited and happy at first, eventually the item becomes the new normal and fades into the background. The happiness that comes from purchasing experiences, however, tends to increase over time. One reason is that we often share experiential purchases with other people. Even when you’ve driven that new car into the ground, you’ll still be telling stories with your family and friends about that time when you went on vacation to Colorado and you’ll even be chuckling about when the car broke down and you had to spend the night in the shady motel
  3. Consider Spending Money on Others. Most people think that spending money on themselves will make them happier than spending it on other people. Yet, when researchers assess happiness before and after people spend an annual bonus, people report greater happiness when they spend the bonus money on others or donate it to charity than when they spend it on themselves. This occurs regardless of how big the bonus was. One reason for this phenomenon is that giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves

So, before you pull out your wallet or click to order online, think about whether this purchase will really make you happy. If it will jeopardize your basic needs, think twice. If you have some disposable income, considering planning a trip or taking a class to learn a new skill. Finally, in this season of giving, know that if you spend your money on others or donate it to good causes, you may feel better than if you spend it on yourself.

Note: This article presents some basic principles for money and happiness. Individuals differ in their financial situation and psychological well-being. Consult a financial expert or behavioral health professional for guidance about finances and happiness.

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