Buy Experiences, Not Things

If you have surplus cash it’s better to spend that money on experiences than buying objects. That is, if you want to live a happy life. Researchers who have looked into what makes us happy over our lifetime have concluded that experiences contribute more to happiness than objects. You might nor remember buying that neat computer, but you do remember that crazy time at that place somewhere.

Personally, I’ve been putting of buying furniture for the last six months because I prefer travelling. So even hearing that this research backs up my thinking makes me happy.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

So rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling.

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Habits for Happiness

It turns out that just by doing some small changes to your daily routine you can dramatically improve your happiness. By adding very small habits to your day you can see big change! It’s not only for happiness but you can also use habits to alter other aspects of your life.

The key is not to think about grand, sweeping changes, but rather, small ones. Fogg would say very, very small. Back at Stanford, Fogg used his research to develop the “Tiny Habits” formation by keeping it deliberately simple. It runs counter to the way we think about changing habits. No one tries to meditate for three breaths; it’s often 15 or 30 minutes. Maybe we think aiming big is important because, that way, at least we’ll do half of it. It turns out the exact opposite is true.

To build a habit, Fogg says, you use an existing routine, such as brushing your teeth, as the anchor. That anchor becomes the reminder. Next, you do an incredibly simple version of the target behaviour. If you want to develop the habit of flossing, you make your goal to floss one tooth. That’s it. The habit isn’t learning how to floss, because everyone knows how to do it. The habit, Fogg says, is remembering to do it. Then, the final step is to celebrate instantly. Maybe shout “Victory!” or think of the theme music to Rocky. “What you’re doing is, you’re hacking your emotional state,” says Fogg. “You’re deliberately firing off an emotion right after you floss.” It sounds odd, especially because your fingers are probably messy and your gums could be painful. But, says Fogg, “emotions create habits. The habits that form quickly in our lives have an instant emotional payoff.”

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Live in the Now, Plan for Your Future Self

There are many things that make one happy, but what if our fundamental approach is wrong? Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert looks into other ways of thinking about happiness and the overall take we have on our self.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

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Be Optimistic by Learning About It

The book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Dr. Martin Seligman is not new, but it is to me. For others who have not heard about it before, it looks like an uplifting read. The central thesis of the book is to essentially learn what a worthwhile life is for you and to un-learn the other things: learn optimism.

‘Happiness’ is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it if you can pursue. For the ‘Pleasant Life,’ you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. For the ‘Engaged Life,’ you identify your highest strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the ‘Meaningful Life,’ you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.

Ultimately, Seligman points to optimism not only as a means to individual well-being, but also as a powerful aid in finding your purpose and contributing to the world:

Optimism is invaluable for the meaningful life. With a firm belief in a positive future you can throw yourself into the service of that which is larger than you are.

Read more about the book itself and see Brain Picking’s best books of 2011.

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A Look at Happiness Through Design

The Design Exchange in Toronto has invited Stefan Sagmeister to explore what happiness is all about. The artist has done some great album artwork and is now exploring how to bring happiness via stats and images. It looks like a good show!

In the spirit of design week, join us at the DX for Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show. Running until March 3rd, the site-specific exhibition has “hijacked” the DX and converted it into a happy place complete with bright yellow walls upon which Sagmeister’s very own maxims for happiness have been personally handwritten. From the restrooms to the elevators, no surface has remained untouched. Grab a friend or two, celebrate design and be happy!

If you’re in Toronto and want to know about happiness head on down to the Design Exchange to check it out.

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