What makes us happy?
Most people have a belief that if we just do the right thing, happiness will follow. In addition, most of us believe that additional happiness will be doled out to us just because we’ve earned it.
Most researchers believe, however, that happiness is not a reward, it is a consequence of the choices we make.
So what can we do to increase our happiness? The answer is surprisingly simple: Spend your time wisely.
- Spend Time with the Right People: The greatest happiness levels are associated with spending time with people we like. Socially connecting activities, such as chatting with friends and family, are responsible for the happiest parts of the day. Although spending time, whether in person or via Zoom, with bosses and co-workers tends to be associated with some of the lowest degrees of happiness, two of the biggest predictors of people’s general happiness are whether they have a “best friend” at work and whether they like their boss.
- Spend Time on the Right Activities: Certain activities are energizing, and others make us feel drained and defeated. To increase happiness, people should avoid spending time on the latter activities in favor of the former whenever possible. Of course, the bills have to be paid, the bathroom cleaned, and it’s sometimes a challenge to get through the day. But people need to reflect on how they are spending their time – the extent to which they mindlessly move from activity to activity without considering what they would really prefer to be doing.
- Enjoy Experiences Without Spending Time Actually Doing Them: Research in the field of neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure can be activated when merely thinking about something pleasurable. In fact, this research shows that people sometimes enjoy anticipating an activity more than actually doing it. For example, reading guidebooks in advance of a vacation, and anticipating the food you will eat and the activities you will do while there, could actually give you more pleasure than the vacation itself. In short, research suggests that we can be just as well, if not sometimes better off, if we imagine experiences without having them. So to increase happiness, spend plenty of time happily daydreaming.
- Expand Your Time: Unlike money, time is inherently scarce. No one gets more than 24 hours per day. Not only does having little time make it feel more valuable but when time is more valuable, it is perceived as more scarce. To increase happiness, it can make sense to focus on the here and now, because thinking about the present moment (versus the future) has been found to slow down the perceived passage of time. Simply breathing more deeply can have similar effects.
- Be Aware That Happiness Changes Over Time: As we age, we experience different levels of happiness, and how we experience happiness changes. Recent research found that younger people are more likely to experience happiness as excitement, whereas older individuals are more likely to experience happiness as feeling peaceful.Therefore, you should be aware that basing future decisions on your current perceptions of happiness may not lead to the maximum levels of happiness in the long run.
Finally, although the meaning of happiness may change, it does so in predictable patterns. Bottom line, spending time with the people you love, doing the things you love, is the best road to happiness.