Ever notice how happiness levels don’t seem to change much in the long run? Taking effortful actions can help to change this.
Two years ago, I took the Coursera course The Science of Wellbeing with Laurie Santos from Yale University. My key takeaways were that the things that we think will make us happy like getting a promotion, getting married, or buying a luxury home, generally don’t increase long-term happiness.
This is due to the psychological principal of hedonic adaptation. Like how we adapt to smells and don’t notice them as much after a few minutes, we each have a baseline happiness level that we return to despite changes in circumstances. This has been show in a study of lottery winners and people who became paraplegics.
Hedonic adaptation is a blessing when it comes to challenging circumstances, but it also dulls our happiness unless we take effortful, intentional steps to change this. Here are 5 strategies recommended in the course.
- Invest in experiences instead of material goods. Experiences are fleeting by their nature so there’s no time to adapt. We also relive the happiness as we think about people we can share or experience with and as we recount the experience.
- Take time to savor. When we savor all the nuances of things and experiences, it heightens our pleasure.
- Create negative visualizations. Imagine what life would be like if you never bought that luxury home, never got that promotion, never met your significant other. This helps you appreciate what you have even more.
- Imagine this is your last day. Imagine this is the last time you will be able to drive your car, visit that restaurant, see your children. One gift of the pandemic is we have come to appreciate these things more because so much has been removed!
- Gratitude. Each day remember three things your grateful for. Try doing this during dinner or in a journal. Consider having a gratitude visit. Write a 300-word letter of gratitude to someone who’s made an enormous impact on your life but who you never properly thanked. Then hand deliver the letter or meet them over zoom and read it to them. This increases happiness of the letter writer and receiver by up to a month.
Also consider that true happiness comes from being a peace with ourselves, quieting our judgement, and appreciating everything we do have. Effortful attention placed on meditation and mindfulness exercises, quieting your negative self-talk and saboteurs, and spending more tapping into the best of yourself are extremely helpful in creating a step change in your overall happiness. The Positive Intelligence program I teach has helped created these results for me and my clients. What’s even better is that as we’ve grown and become more at peace, our relationships have improved and our performance has increased.
Also cited in the Science of Wellbeing is that as individual’s happiness levels increase, so do their contributions in the form of charity and volunteer work. So if you tend to play the martyr who is focused on the needs of others instead of themselves, you can consider an investment in your own happiness as an important investment that ultimately helps the larger community!
About Lisa Brewer
Lisa Brewer works as a Mindset and Executive Coach with The Leader Inside You and helps individuals eliminate chronic pain through her work with Zero Pain Now. Most of Lisa’s individual clients are goal oriented, looking to advance in their careers, and are feeling held back by procrastination, fear, or overwhelm. Lisa is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a Master NLP Practitioner, a PCC and is soon to be certified in Positive Intelligence. She also teaches The Science of Willpower, incorporating the work of Kelly McGonigal, Charles Duhigg, and BJ Fogg into the program, so behavior and mindset change are a huge part of her coaching. You can learn more about Lisa at www.LisaBrewerCoaching.com.