I have just finished reading Daniel Gilbert’s book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ and found some interesting things. Although I did not find the answer to all of my questions, it gave me new insight in our imagination. We, you and I, use our brain to imagine how happy we would feel in the future. We do this based on what we feel today, our memory of similar experiences and try to project that into the future. The book shows that we are pretty bad at it. Our memory fails to give us the complete film on events from the past. We remember the ending better than the beginning and the middle for example. We also over-estimate how happy we really were, because we forget about all the details that made us unhappy. When the ending was happy the whole event looks happy in our memory. When we try to imagine what makes us happy in the future we use incomplete information from our memories. A much better way to see if something would make you happy is asking people who have experience with what you are looking for. Just the facts. Just ask how they feel now. The research of Daniel Gilbert showed me that I have to ask experienced experts how they feel now. This way I will learn far more about the things I believe will make me happy in the future. Two things that Dan talks about in the chapter ‘Reporting Live from Tomorrow’ are the false believes over the joy of money and the joy of children.
Joy of money
More money makes you happy when you make EUR 10,000. More money does not make you happier when you earn EUR 50,000 – 100,000. In order to be happy we need enough money to pay our bills and have a little room to purchase extras. Above that there is an income threshold where making more than this amount contributes very little to being happier. According to the research for the Better Life indexmost people draw a clear line around EUR 50,000 or as high as EUR 100,000. After that, researchers have had trouble proving that more money makes that much of a difference.
Joy of Children
Thinking about children? Think again. Children are a drain on your happiness. You will only get to the same level of happiness in your relationship when the children leave the house. Yes children do make you happy, when they leave your house. This chart is from Gilbert’s book: These studies show that marital satisfaction decreases after the first child is born and increases when the last child leaves home. How do we do it? How do we raise children, stay with our partner and mostly see the happy moments. Research shows that it’s hard to love someone for an entire lifetime, whether that person is your partner or child. The research also shows that our brain can do just that. You are capable of constructing a version of reality in which our partner is our ideal mate and, “there is nothing more rewarding than raising children.” With these two major false believes out-of-the-way, what does makes us happy? Three key findings In “This Emotional Life” introduction, Dan Gilbert shares three key findings on the science of happiness:
- we can’t be happy alone
- we can’t be happy all the time
- we can be happier than we are currently
So we need to socialize. Spend time with your family, have a diner with friends. This will make you happier. With a few minor changes you can probably be happier than you currently are says Gilbert in the introduction. He does not say what they are. Let’s look at what other research show what can make us happier than we are at this moment.
Drivers that matter more than you think
Dr. Jennifer Aaker (@aaker), General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, analyzes what people think makes them happy and then contrasts that to an experiment that provides an unexpected answer to that question. We Don’t Know What Makes Us Happy (But We Think We Do)
Drivers that matter less than you think include money, beauty, youth, intelligence and education. Drivers that matter more include:
- social skills,
- free time, (as in you can control your time)
- volunteering and
Money, beauty, intelligence can make you happy, but this happiness does not last long according to Aaker’s research. Volunteering, and its positive implications on happiness will help you.
- People who give time and money report greater well-being
- Those who have a greater well-being invest more hours and donate more money
The way I see it, volunteering satisfies our social needs and makes you happy. Striving for useful instead of successfulwill create a better world and will give you long-lasting happiness.
What makes you happy
What makes you happier over a longer period? Do you support your community and feel happier? Share your tips below. Credit photo: Wandering Angel Inspiration: What makes us happy Book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (aff) Should you have children? It depends… How delusional are you? The key to a successful marriage Get rich AND die trying: Ambitious people earn more money – but they die younger and are no happier, says study