1. Grace Tang
Avoid hedonic adaptation, i.e. the phenomenon whereby people tend to return to a baseline level of happiness (or lack thereof) no matter what happens in your life. While this protects us from prolonged depression after losing say a limb or a loved one, it also works to erode the initial happiness we experience when we buy a shiny new car or win the lottery.
One way to avoid adaptation is to seek many small rewards instead of a big one. For example don’t buy your entire home theater system at once – first upgrade your big screen, THEN your speakers, and add the la-Z-boy a while later.
Also, a lot of happiness is derived from the anticipation before obtaining a reward. Try to space out or delay rewards for as long as you can, and always have something to look forward to.
Research by Tim Wilson shows that uncertainty prevents adaptation – so making sense of negative events helps you adapt to them faster, but keeping positive events fresh and unexplained lets you ride the high for longer (don’t try to make sense of why good things happen to you).
On a related note is the concept of flow – phrased poorly, do something that is challenging enough so that you don’t get bored, but not so tough that you want to rip your hair out over it. Aim for a constant sense of accomplishment and improvement (even if those accomplishments are small).
Work by James Gross on emotion regulation shows that people who re-appraise negative events (re-framing events in a positive light, e.g. if a car runs over your cell phone, you can choose to be sad, or you can re-appraise the situation and see it as a chance to upgrade to a nicer phone) are generally happier than those who tend to suppress their emotions (keeping your feelings to yourself).
Finally, some studies on happiness have shown (take these with a pinch of salt):
- Married men are happier than unmarried men.
- Men who marry educated women are happier than those who marry uneducated women.
- Any extra income or wealth above what is required for basic needs does not increase happiness by much.
- Having a strong network of friends and family is a strong predictor of happiness, especially in old age.
2. Kareem Mayan
1. Express gratitude for what you have and to the people in your life. Gratitude can increase happiness by “up to” 25% . This is a free and easy way to be happier.
2. Spending money on experiences, not things, will make you happier . Bonus: This will also give you cool stories to tell people, winning you friends and influence.
3. Choose to be happy. Life’s gonna throw crap at you, but if you choose to see the silver lining in it all, you’ll be happier. 50% of happiness is how you choose to react to life . Freud theorized that “unhappiness is a default condition because it takes less effort to be unhappy than to be happy.” Look to complain about something, and you won’t have any problems. But if you look for the silver lining, you’ll find one.
3. Joshua Levy
Some key aspects of a happy life are:
- Appreciation: Enjoy the people, the experiences, and the things in your life to the fullest.
- Engagement: Care about others. Build friendships. Be interested in people. Be interested in everything.
- Being valued: Look for personal relationships, work, and situations where your own nature and talents are honestly appreciated.
- Acceptance: Avoid attachment to things you cannot change.
- Perspective: Value what’s really important, and let the little things slide. Have a balanced view of yourself, confident in your own worth, and neither egotistical nor insecure.
- Flow: Do things that you inherently enjoy.
- Meaning: Work on something that matters. Help others. Create. Discover.
- Practicalities: Exercise. Meditate.
An underlying theme is, happiness is better thought of as a side-effect of a fulfilling life, rather than something you directly work to achieve.
Practicing these things is far from easy. But they work. Note that I don’t even list the obvious goals many have in life — pursuing pleasure, money, or success. You’re probably already doing this, and these alone rarely lead to lasting happiness.
4. Baris Baser
Here’s a baseline requirements checklist.
- Live in a small, manageable home, if you can. Keep it clean and uncluttered, hire housecleaning if you need to.
- Live close to work, or wherever it is you have to commute to daily. Make commuting a pleasurable experience, be it cycling there, listening to your favorite podcasts, or driving/riding your favorite toy etc..
- Keep your expectations low, and your frustration tolerance high.
- Be prepared for events that might cause a huge stir or unbalance in your life. Have contingency plans.
- Invest in experiences, not things. Tangentially related best-kept secret: making your own things is better than buying them.
- Eat well and exercise regularly. This will allow you to sleep better, which is paramount.
- Own a comfortable bed, and keep noise pollution out of your bedroom. Active noise-canceling headphones are a godsend, if you have trouble with managing noise in your life.
- Take naps, and take walks for no reason.
- Develop a habit of giving. Put it on your calendar if you need to. You can’t really buy happiness, but giving back opens secret doors: Michael Norton: How to buy happiness | Video on TED.com
- Keep your life simple and uncluttered, and write shorter Quora answers!
- Cherish and strive for discipline, i.e. short-term pain for long term gain.
In my experience, happiness and well being takes work. You either succeed or fail at it, but it’s essentially up to you, assuming your life is mostly under your control. Is it worth it? I’ll let you decide.
Remove “I’ll be happy when…” from your vocabulary.
Internalize the Serenity Prayer and live by it. You don’t need to be religious at all; it’s more of a philosophy than a prayer, really:
- Accept the things you can’t change. People waste tremendous amounts of emotional energy on things that can’t be changed — notably other people and their behavior. Does it really do any good to get angry at that jackass driver who cut you off on the freeway? It won’t change anything. Even if you yell or honk he probably won’t notice or care. The anger makes you feel worse, not better. The same can be said for holding grudges or harboring resentments — it’s “like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
- Have the courage to change the things you can. This includes being your best self, making the most of your gifts and resources, nurturing close friendships and loving relationships, and being of service to others in some way, while accepting that you are an imperfect and worthwhile human being.
- Develop the wisdom to know the difference. I think this is mostly done through time, patience, trial and error, but can be accelerated by learning from wise people with good judgment — as well as listening to your own spirit, in the quietness of solitude, and trusting your gut.
Get a dog. Seriously.
Happiness isn’t something you can maximize for some time, it comes as a result of the way you live your life. ‘Sudden happiness’ is mostly temporary.
9. Zoltan Patai
Let’s start with two facts:
- Everything is subjective. Actually, comparison is a main theme of our everyday life. As Robert H. Frank (2010) outlined in his book, Luxury Fever, we buy specific types of cars, shoes or watches just because we compare ourselves to others, and as such even our purchases depend largely on what others choose to buy.
- We are less and less happy in the developed world. According to the World Happiness Report (2013), the overall happiness in Europe, North America and Middle East has been decreased between 2005 and 2012, while it has been increased in Latin America, the Caribbean’s or the Sub-Saharan Africa. That trend seems to be stunning at first, but actually it confirms the finding of studies that socioeconomic status only weakly – if at all – predicts subjective well-being. (Local Ladder Effect)
What is common between this two phenomena? How can we increase our happiness, if possible at all?
Economists Sarin and Baucells (2012) outlined a simple but great formula for happiness in their book Engineering Happiness, stating:
Happiness = Reality – Expectations.
According to them, this equation sums up the fundamentals of well-being. To demonstrate the formula, think about the following example: you’re about to buy a new MacBook laptop. As you made some decent research, you are buying it at a specific Apple Store, where you even have a discount of 10%. At the end of the day, you are happy as you bought a new MacBook, and you even did a great deal, as such you met, or even surpassed your expectations. However, the next week your friend tells that you could have bought the same MacBook at another store with 20% discount, and therefore significantly cheaper. Even though you were satisfied and happy until now, you will definitely feel some misery after you were informed of a better opportunity. Your expectations have just been raised retrospectively and therefore you feel some sadness that you made a bad deal.
So if we take this formula, and apply to the trend of decreasing happiness in developed countries, the question is whether changes in reality or expectations has caused the growing number of depressed people?
Let’s take the first part of the equation, reality. Definitely, we have a growing number of problems in our developed world, such as the economic crisis, air pollution, ageing population and so on. Young graduates even face high unemployment rates and difficulties in job seeking. However, I wouldn’t say that our everyday life deteriorated so much that it would explain the drop in our happiness level. In the developed countries we don’t have constant wars, global epidemics or political suppression as earlier in our history. As such we shouldn’t be so depressed with our current life, as the reality is actually better than for instance for our grandparents was.
My central point is that the reason for decreasing happiness is the second part of the formula, namely the increase of expectations. People expect to be the next Steve Jobs in their career, and the next Prince William or Princess Kate in their private life. That phenomenon happens due to the natural human habit of comparison, which however have become more excessive and distorted in recent years. The reasons for that in my opinion are the development of technology and media. First, the commercialization of television and radio started to negatively influence the view and thinking of people by continuously broadcasting “unreal” situations and artificial role models. Then, the development of internet and social media made the world highly connected and an exponentially growing amount of data became accessible to everyone. Of course both of these trends are advantageous for our society, as for instance we can relax anytime by watching movies at home or stay connected with our family and friends via the internet. However, we should also be aware of their possible negative effects, among which one is the growth of newly existent and unreal expectations. People who fell into this trap compare themselves to movie stars, successful entrepreneurs, and popular Facebook friends and so on. As such they raise huge expectations both towards themselves and their environment. However, when they cannot meet them – even though they might have a successful career, or a loving family – they feel miserable and unhappy.
As I already mentioned, the problem with current trends are two-folded. First, by spending more time in front of the television, the internet or Facebook, we get lots of information about which we wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. As I indicated with my example of the MacBook purchase, our expectations remain lower without specific pieces of information, as we cannot compare ourselves to something we don’t know. However, we do have access to more and more information every day. According to Bloomberg Businessweek (Suddath, 2013), 267 million Americans had regular internet access and they spend 41 hours in average in front of some form of video (TV, tablet, computer or smartphone) per week.
On the other hand, when comparing ourselves to other people on social media or in television, we also don’t realize that those characters are more and more distorted, which means that you either see only the positive side of your friends or the artificial characteristics of movie stars. For instance, a Time poll (Kluger, 2013) revealed that 76% of people think that other people make themselves look happier, more attractive and more successful on their Facebook profiles. As a result, we are mostly exposed to success stories and happy people, which makes our life seem disastrous in comparison with theirs.
Unfortunately it’s not so difficult to find real life examples for too high expectations. According to a recent blog post (Wait but why, 2013), the whole Generation Y has exactly the same problems as they raise unreal expectations towards their career goals. They think that they are special and they aren’t afraid of dreaming as are constantly surrounded by success stories in the media, on the internet and even at universities. For them, a secure job is not enough anymore, but would like to have a fulfilling career, in which they can become successful and rich as soon as possible. Most of them think, and they are told to do so that they can become the next Steve Jobs or the next Bill Gates. That can be beneficial as long as it creates huge ambition, but when it turns to excessive expectations, can cause lots of pressure and problems in the long-term.
If we take another examples, this time from our personal life, we also see the negative effect of constant comparison on our expectations. Take the growing number of break ups and divorces. Besides many other factors that has an influence on that trend, the above-mentioned reasons also contribute. We cannot accept even minor flaws or mistakes as we can now compare our partners easier to others, however with often distorted look and characteristics. Or have a look at our buying behavior. While before it was less influenced by our peers, nowadays we do want to buy better smartphones, about we wouldn’t have known if we didn’t see on the internet, and we would like to travel to exotic places, we wouldn’t have wanted to if our Facebook friend didn’t upload some pictures about him staying there.