Stop Trying to be Happy

happiness

Want to be happy? Stop trying!

The key to happiness is accept reality and not to imagine some greater version of happiness. Projecting oneself into a better future and striving for something that cannot be just builds a disconnected between expectations and your everyday experience. This dissonance creates unneeded stress and leaves one in a worse state than if they didn’t vie for a “happier” self. Basically, learn from the stoics.

Our standards for happiness can also cause dissatisfaction when they are higher than what we can realistically achieve. If, for instance, we believe that happiness is all about experiencing pleasure—whether by dining at trendy restaurants or taking beachside vacations—then we’ll feel disheartened whenever we’re having an ordinary day. Individualistic cultures like the US and Germany are more likely to endorse these self-oriented forms of happiness, says Brent Ford, a psychologist at the University of Ontario.

It’s far more likely that we’ll feel content when we embrace happiness as a socially-oriented experience focused on finding meaning and purpose through kind acts. For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that the simple act of participating in small talk with strangers can hold great benefits.

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If You’re a Nice Person You Likely Have More Fun Than Others

nice
Some people think that the way to get ahead in life is to be a pushy jerk, and those people are wrong. What you should be is nice. Yup, that’s all it takes. Don’t be like that stereotypical Gordon Gecko wannabe, instead just be.

There is now more research that being a nice person can make your life happier and even more productive.

Notwithstanding the prominent examples today in political and popular culture, the best available research still clearly shows that in everyday life the nice people, not the creeps, do the best at work, in love and in happiness.

Let’s start with the job market. This has been another brutal year in which to graduate. Research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that young college graduates’ underemployment rate is nearly a third higher today than it was in 2007. Everyone is looking for an edge.

That edge is being pleasant and friendly. In one 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a team of scholars from France and the U.S. looked at the impact of civility and warmth to colleagues on perceived leadership and job performance. In addition to being seen as natural leaders by co-workers, nice employees performed significantly better than others in performance reviews by senior supervisors. For those who make it to leadership, niceness is also a key to success. A 2015 NBC poll found that most people would take a nicer boss over a 10% pay increase.

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A Happy Partner Means a Healthy Self


Being in a relationship can have benefits of feeling good as long as it’s a healthy one. There’s now a bonus to couples that are happy: they are making their partners healthier. It turns out that having a happy partner can improve one’s health.

“This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” said William Chopik, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and principal investigator of the study. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”

“Simply knowing that one’s partner is satisfied with his or her individual circumstances may temper a person’s need to seek self-destructive outlets, such as drinking or drugs, and may more generally offer contentment in ways that afford health benefits down the road,” Chopik said.

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Economic Equality and Social Time Make People Happy

Modern economists and too many politicians argue that economic growth in itself will make people happier. They are wrong. Economic growth doesn’t bring happiness to societies, but decreasing economic inequality does. Another (unsurprising) element also raises people’s happiness: spend more time being social than working. I can only imagine the confusion people who follow the Chicago school are experiencing after reading this paragraph.

The modern world has been built upon the idea that a bigger GDP causes a bigger GNH, which has led to problems we need to address. Automation is causing unemployment of repetitive tasks that used to be a stable career. On top of that, cities are suffering from growing inequality. So what do we do as a society? Jonathan Rose ponders this question at the Atlantic.

But there is a deeper reason. Happiness is tied to what Deaton calls emotionally enriching social experiences. Kahneman says, “The very best thing that can happen to people is to spend time with other people they like. That is when they are happiest.” The way people spend their time is also a critical component of sense of well-being. In another study Kahneman and his colleagues tracked how people experience their day by asking them to record events in fifteen-minute intervals and evaluate them. Walking, making love, exercise, playing, and reading ranked as their most pleasurable activities. Their least happy activities? Work, commuting, child care, and personal computer time. How many people really enjoy a night of plowing through endless emails?

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