on one of my recent flights i read two papers written by james montier, global equity strategist for dresdner kleinwort. the theme for both articles was the psychology of happiness and how to get more of it. since i happen to love being happy and have been intrigued by the growth of an industry around the study of happiness, i thought i’d share.
here are the basic takeaways:
1) spend more time and energy having life experiences vs things. pretty much anything loses it’s shine and excitement over time, while experiences live on with you, have greater influence on you long term and tend to get better over time (particularly if you have great pics or if you’re a good story teller
2) there are real benefits to being happy, including social rewards, income, health, longevity and coping abilities
3) the primary contributors to happiness are a) genetic set-point (50%), b) current life circumstance (10%), and c) intentional activity (40%) – thus the reason to be more active/have more experiences
4) there’s actual evidence that shows those who value materialistic goals higher than intrinsic aims are less happy
montier explains “intentional activity” well – so here’s an excerpt:
Intentional activity can be (somewhat artificially) broken down into three areas:
- Behavioural activities – such as exercising regularly, having sex, being kind to others and spending time socialising.
- Cognitive activities – such as trying to see the best, pausing to count how lucky one actually is.
- Volitional activities – striving for personal goals, devoting effort to meaningful causes.
Unlike changing life circumstances, intentional activity is likely to be more resistant to hedonic adaptation. The very nature of activities means they are episodic, and hence are unlikely to become part of the “norm” in the way alterations to circumstances do.
finally, i just have to share montier’s top ten list for improving happiness (in no particular order). i love that these are based on actual research
1) don’t equate happiness with money. people adapt to income shifts relatively quickly, the long lasting benefits are essentially zero.
2) exercise regularly. regular exercise is an effective cure for mild depression and anxiety. it also stimulates more energy, and is good for the mind and body.
3) have sex (preferably with someone you love). need I say more?
4) devote time and effort to close relationships. confiding and discussing problems and issues is good for happiness, so work on these relationships.
5) pause for reflection, meditate on the good things in life. focusing on the good aspects of life helps to prevent hedonic adaptation.
6) seek work that engages your skills, look to enjoy your job. doing well at work creates happiness, and the easiest way of doing well at work, is doing a job you enjoy.
7) give your body the sleep it needs. too many people have a sleep deficit, resulting in fatigue, gloomy moods and lack of concentration. (pay attention all you bloggers who are reading this at 3am!)
8 ) don’t pursue happiness for its own sake, enjoy the moment. because people don’t understand what makes them happy, pursuing happiness can be self-defeating. additionally, if people start to aim for happiness they are doing activities for happiness’s sake rather than actually enjoying the activity itself.
9) take control of your life, set yourself achievable goals. people are happiest when they achieve their aims, so set yourself goals which stretch you, but are achievable.
10) remember to follow rules 1-9. following these guidelines sounds easy, but actually requires willpower and effort.
check out one of his papers here: http://www.trendfollowing.com/whitepaper/happiness.pdf
note that neither paper is that recent – the first is from june 2004, the second from november of 2005 – but still relevant and a good read. now go be happy.