Saturday, November 20, 2010

The pursuit of happiness

Happiness is an elusive term (though for most people, it includes one form or another of chocolate) and, to many people's surprise, it doesn't have much to do with money. Aaker, Rudd & Mogilner (forthcoming, 2011) reviewed the current happiness literature and came up with a list of five principles for happiness-maximizing ways to spend time.

  • Spend your time with the right people. People who socialize more often tend to be happier than those who spend most of their time alone. Happiness is associated with spending time with friends and family and not (surprise!) with your boss and co-workers. Two big happiness predictors are whether people have a "best friend" at work and whether they like their boss. Personally, ever since I recruited two friends to work with me, I feel sorry my scholarship doesn't allow me to spend more time at work...

  • Spend your time on the right activities. Ask yourself "will what I do right now become more valuable over time?" If you consider your time beyond the present moment, there is a bigger chance you'll engage in happy behaviors, like volunteering work and spending time with friends and family (assuming you enjoy their company).

  • Enjoy the experience without spending the time. You can feel pleasure just by thinking about a pleasurable experience. Sometimes people enjoy the anticipation more than the actual reward. So, it can be better just to plan the vacation, without actually taking days off work and going to God-knows-where. Daydreaming is good for us!

  • Expand your time. Well, the time doesn't actually expand - but the cliché of focusing on "the here and now" has some truth in it. Focusing helps people feel as if the time is moving slower. Engaging in a meaningful activity, like helping others, make people feel like their time is expanded. In general, people who have a sense of control over their time are happier. People feel they don't have time not only because they're busy, but because they aren't in control over said time.

  • Be aware that happiness changes over time. Getting older often means people enjoy peace and quiet, rather than new and exciting experience. Older people also tend to enjoy spending time with familiar people, rather than getting acquainted with strangers. Remember that what made you happy at twenty-five won't necessarily make you happy at fifty, and plan accordingly.

Aaker, J. L., Rudd, L., & Mogilner, C. (2011). If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time Journal of Consumer Psychology

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