How to Be Happier

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a terrific article on how to be happier. It’s subscription only, but here are some highlights:


The article states, “Possibly the biggest obstacle to greater happiness is so-called hedonic adaptation. Sure, you are thrilled when you first get promoted or get a pay raise. But soon enough, the thrill fades and you are lusting after something else.

“‘When something good happens, you want to find a way to hold on to it for longer,’ says David Schkade, a management professor at the University of California at San Diego….’You have to combat adaptation…You want to celebrate the small things, not just the big ones. If you save all your celebrations for getting married or becoming vice president, you won’t celebrate very much.'”


“Studies have found that commuting ranks as one of life’s least enjoyable activities. The reason: While folks often adapt to changes in their lives, both good and bad, it’s tough to adapt to commuting, because you can never be sure how much traffic you’ll hit.”


…like money – i.e., by taking a high-paying job that necessitates a long commute. “You’ll miss out on seeing friends and family, which surveys suggest are among our happiest times.”


Spend your money on things and events that make you feel good, and that you’ll have pleasure remembering. Especially things and events that involve love and friendship.


“Having lots of choice might seem like a good thing. But in fact, it can lead to unhappiness.

“Consider a study conducted by professors Jane Ebert and Daniel Gilbert. Participants were allowed to choose an art poster to take home. Some were told that, if they didn’t like the poster, they could exchange it for another. Others were told their decision was final.

“Who was happiest with their choice?” asks Prof. Gilbert of Harvard University. “Those for whom the choice was irrevocable. When options are open, the mind generates debate. When options are closed, the mind generates satisfaction.”

“This insight spurred Prof. Gilbert to limit his own choices. “It made me realize that I ought to propose to my girlfriend,” he says. “Sure enough, now that she’s my wife, I’m happier.”

#5, incidentally, was the suggestion I found most interesting. One of the main justifications for capitalism is that it provides us with choice – the assumption being, the more choice, the better. And obviously, many choices are important and necessary and wonderful to have. But if too much choice isn’t always a good thing, what does that say about the intrinsic goodness of capitalism? And what if many of the choices we’re offered aren’t meaningful (i.e., Coke or Pepsi), or are harmful (i.e., I can be home with my kid in the evenings OR take a second job so that I can provide for her at more than the poverty level)?

No answers, right now, just questions…but you should still follow the advice in the article!

Article Source:
The Pursuit of Happiness: Six Experts
Tell What They’ve Done to Achieve It
December 6, 2006; Page D1

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