The bold magazine cover question stood out among all the Hollywood celebrity headlines in the grocery store check out. Curious, I picked up the Psychology Today and began leafing through to find the article. “That magazine has been selling so fast we can’t keep it in stock,” the cashier said. I tossed the magazine onto my pile of produce. “If you’re interested in that, you should also read Happy for No Reason – it’s a great book,” she said as she proceeded to share with me her philosophy on happiness.
Everyone appears to be interested in the pursuit of happiness. In a study of more than 10,000 participants in 48 countries, psychologists discovered that people from every corner of the globe rate happiness as being more important than other person goals- such as having meaning in life, becoming rich, and getting into heaven. And happiness is more than feeling good. A growing body of research has linked it to all sorts of benefits, from higher earnings and better immune system functioning to boosts in creativity.
Based on psychological studies, happy people appear to have unique habits that can serve as a (sometimes) counterintuitive instruction manual for long term happiness:
1. Take more risks. – If you always do the same things, go to the same places, and eat the same foods, you limit your ability for sustained happiness. Happy people have an intuitive grasp of the fact that it’s important to go beyond the boundaries of their comfort zone, and simply be more curious about what else is out there. From time to time, they seek out experiences that are novel, complicated, uncertain and even upsetting – in order to become stronger and wiser.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. – Apparently, too much attention to detail can interfere with day to day functioning. While attention to detail is important in our work and other accomplishments, too much focus on minutiae can be exhausting and paralyzing. Happy people accept the fact that striving for perfection is a loser’s game.
3. Help celebrate others good fortune. – Many people feel good about supporting friends when they’re down, but psychologists have found that the happiest people are those who are able to celebrate when things go right for others, and have friends who can do the same for them.
4. Don’t try to escape negative emotions. – Happier people have psychological flexibility. That is, they allow themselves to feel angry or sad vs. trying to escape their feelings with a drink or other habit; and they use the negative feelings as a signal that something might need to be done or changed in their lives.
5. Balance your sense of purpose with your sense of fun. – If you focus only on activities that feel good in the moment, you begin to lose a sense of purpose. People who are the happiest tend to be good at sacrificing short-term pleasures when there is an opportunity to make progress toward something they aspire to in life. They’re also honest with themselves about what they find most rewarding and meaningful – they know what does and doesn’t energize them.
My continuing study of happiness might seem unrelated to my work as a financial advisor, but the happiest people I know are usually the most financially stable for a number of reasons. They rarely use money as a short term tool to make themselves feel better. (Shopping binges and big ticket splurges they regret later, for example.) They’ve taken the time to discover what truly makes them happy; and they’ve developed a self-awareness of what causes them stress and anxiety and learned positive ways to cope with these emotions.
We are far from therapists, but in our work we use tools like our Discovery Meeting to help our clients decide what’s important to them, and help them set priorities among all their choices. With a clearer vision of what makes them happy and what they want, they make better financial decisions. This leads to better financial stability, financial security, and yes, even happiness!