What SHOULD Make Us Happy but Doesn’t
A while back I gave you a “top five” list of books for the youngster in your life. For those of you who struggle with Christmas shopping, you are welcome for my helpful ideas.
On the list was Sonja Lyubomirsky’s excellent work “The Myths of Happiness”. The myths she helps to dispel relate to money, home ownership, health and relationships among other things.
The week two topics are mostly in this vein. Professor Laurie Santos helps break it down in an entertaining way. Her segment on “Awesome Stuff” includes graphs of car makes and models and beverage choices that are name-dropped in hiphop songs. Through our culture, we are exposed to a prolific and persuasive messages about the sort of things we need to be living “a good life”. However, as Santos indicates, it turns out that Cristal and Bentleys don’t really add to our well-being.
Income levels are an area of much interest to modern humans. Money is a key component of getting the things we need for survival – I repeat “need” – and getting what we have been programmed to want. As you might expect, happiness increases at a pretty rapid rate at low income levels. When you realize that you will finally be able to eat three meals today and sleep with a roof over your head, that is a pretty good feeling. However, beyond a point there isn’t much of a payoff. Happiness kind of plateaus. More money, more stuff, minimal change in happiness.
So what is that threshold? In the studies cited it is around $75 000 per year of household income or $100 000 per year for my Canadian colleagues.
That runs contrary to what people perceive they would need to be “pretty happy” with their income level. Folks making $30k think that if they made $50k they would be pretty happy. So what about people making $100k per year? That is double the $50k we just mentioned, and certainly above the $75K plateau. However, by now you will not be surprised when I tell you that the $100k earner thinks that $250k is the level you need to be pretty happy.
Santos continues to pop bubbles of various kinds, such as the happiness effect of marriage. The storybook princes and princesses overcome their mythic obstacles to be united and live “happily ever after” right? Well, maybe not ever after. There is a bump in happiness in the two years before and after marriage – kind of the courtship and honeymoon phases, and then “back to baseline”.
The two “rewirements” that Santos includes in this week of the course are: gratitude and savouring. I should add that all of these tools to boost happiness are just that – tools. You have to use them to make them work. You aren’t going to become a master carver the first day you start whittling a stick. The idea is to make them a practice. I like the term practice because it is a forgiving word. You keep practicing something because you want to get better, and there is always something new to learn. Sorry, I don’t believe practice makes perfect, you might even find some typos in this atricle.
Gratitude is simple. What are you thankful for? What is good in your life? It doesn’t have to be big. You are just making a crack in your gloomy brain to let a little light in. If you write them down and even share them they make more of an impression. Here is a semirandom list of things I acknowledged my gratitude for: fresh citrus fruit, Christmas lights, vintage Christmas music (I draw the line at listening before Canadian Thanksgiving by the way), my erratic path to simplifying life, and big hugs.
As for savoring, this involves getting out of autopilot and truly enjoying and ideally sharing something good. To use examples from my list: stopping for five minutes to watch the sun go down, taking a sip of the first cup of coffee in the morning and taking in the aroma, heat, and dark bittersweetness. Ahhh… that’s the stuff. Once you start asking yourself, what can I savour? The answer is A LOT. And they don’t involve glugging Cristal as you slide behind the wheel of your Bentley.
In week three, Santos takes a closer look at the insidious ways our illogical minds sell our happiness down the river. Digging further into the happiness tool chest, we will try our hands at random acts of kindness and improving social connection.