In 1978, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts conducted a famous study that looked at the happiness levels of a group of people who had won the lottery and also a group who had recently lost limbs in accidents, who it would be fair to say must have felt like their lives were falling apart.
What the researchers found was shocking.
It was predicted before the study that the lottery winners would be flying high enjoying a life of no financial limits, no work commitments or debt problems and that those who had lost their limbs would be wallowing in self-pity as they had lost so much which they would never get back!
But in reality, the results showed a not such a distant divide in happiness levels. Instead of these polar opposite lives that were imagined, the happiness levels were at a similar range.
But how could this be?
Well according to Dan Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness, “The part of our brain that enables us to think about the future is one of nature’s newest inventions, so it isn’t surprising that when we try to use this new ability to imagine our futures, we make some rookie errors.”
Basically what Dan Gilbert is saying is that the human species is programmed to focus on the Here and Now.
We have a survival mechanism that keeps humans alive, for instance, all animals have two main functions, to survive today and to reproduce for tomorrow.
You as a human-animal are only just developing the ability to think about how your actions today will impact on your future.
For instance, if you go to the gym, you know that you have to go every day if you want results in the future (admittedly quite a short-term future). It’s easy to see from the examples of our friends who go to the gym and those who don’t.
It’s precisely the same with other aspects of our life, like entrepreneurship, for example, if your business wants to make fast cash and decides to start selling poor quality products that don’t match the buyer’s expectations your not going to be successful or last very long in the business.
To create a successful business, you must put a lot of work in for several years to build a brand, to build trust, to develop and nurture a base of trusting consumers.
Short Term Thinking
If you believe that money, shiny objects like fast cars, watches, or even new relationships with good-looking partners or holidays in the Caribbean will be the answer to overcoming unhappiness you’re going to be quickly disappointed.
This same short term thinking is also common the other way. You may believe that relationship breakups, loss of money, business failures or any unplanned adverse event for that matter would be devastating and will leave you feeling unhappy for a very long time.
In the study, it’s was people who had lost their limbs and people who had won the lottery for you it might be a divorce or business failure vs a business success or a new house yet your expectations of where these events will lead your happiness levels aren’t what they might seem.
What the study showed was that to lose something as valuable as a limb or to gain extreme wealth is neither as extremely devastating or as exhilarating as you might think.
Theses results showed something far more powerful: your ability to deal with the cards that your given is far greater than you give yourself credit.
You are more resourceful than you think!!
When you talk to people and they tell you their stories they will often tell you that failure has been a great lesson or hardship has created the human they’ve become or pain has become a stepping stone for greatness.
I like to see it as a strength of the human spirit.
Pain is something we should not avoid or at least not avoid it the amount that we do.
If you avoid the fear of flying or the new taste of eating healthy, you will likely end up in a far more unhappy place.
Similarly, those who believe money and success will bring Happiness are equally as unaware of the reality that is a future that is maybe only marginally happier at the cost of what? Brocken relationships, stress-related illnesses and loneliness.
It’s almost like we see good events as high mountains to be achieved, and we see unfortunate events has utterly devastating and to be avoided at all costs.
Yet rather than massive hills and valleys, when you look back and plot your happiness life events graph. You will see the bumpy ground.
A lot of the highs and lows you feel will come before the event. Your expectation of the event often creates an imagined reality that can hurt you even more.
In the book ‘Solve for Happy’ Mo Gawdet, comes up with an equation for Happiness:
“Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.”
This equation rings correct here, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have happy events happen to us when it happens we can often not appreciate it, but our expectations are so high already.
If you can learn to let go of your expectations, you will find that the world is offering you lots of fantastic happiness opportunities right here and now.
The Buddhists teach that the cause of suffering is desire. They believe that if we can learn to let go of our desires, we will become free of suffering!
What I love about this is that it doesn’t promise to make you the happiest person, but it will free you from suffering, which is undoubtedly a great place to then experience the ups and downs of the world from.
Below I have given you 12 proven ways to start to cultivate happiness in your life if you have any more please let us know in the comments below.
Stop the negative self-talk-
Start to notice your inner critic, look for patterns. This could be certain parts of the day or before doing certain activities. Once you can preempt the inner critic, you can start to replace the negative thoughts with more positive ones or when you catch the inner critic tell the little voice that it’s not true.
you could make a journal where you record all the achievements you have done at the end of every day. This will help you see how amazing you are.
Find your passion and make it part of your life:
You’re going to be spending the best part of your life working, so why do something you hate for money that won’t make you as happy either. Instead, make a list of your values and start looking for jobs that align with them.
Choose your friends:
Time is the most precious thing you have, and it’s slipping away. While it’s essential to look forward to spending it, spend it wisely.If there are people in your life, who have a negative outlook and want to bring you down, find a way to move away from them. These types of people need to abuse others with their negativity to feel a sense of power, getaway now!
Learn to grow:
Growth comes from doing things that scare us; this can be small scares or big scares. By doing these things and seeing nothing terrible happens, we start to grow in self-confidence, self-worth and self-reliance. When we see how resilient we are, the future looks a lot less scary
Let go of other peoples opinions:
Mahatma Gandhi said, Happiness’ is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” You can’t be happy if you’re living for the approval of others.
When we can be ourselves, we can be happy, and this means letting go of the need to please others.
So many songs take us back to a past event, if there’s a song that makes you feel great, use it when you need a lift up if you don’t have one go and create one!
Choose your problems:
Problems don’t go away they change, so why not choose the issues that you have. If you’re worried about the issue of being overweight, why not turn that to the question of getting to the gym every day. If your problem feels overwhelming, choose a chunk of the problem and tackle it until you are ready, then select the next piece of the puzzle.
If you have time to worry about the future, things must be ok right now! The present moment is all we have don’t miss it.
Find ways to contribute:
When we take and do not give back, not only does it make us and those around us miserable, but it’s unhealthy, the happiest people are those who give. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it can just be some of your time, maybe offer to help someone, just sitting and listening to someone could make their day, and it will also make you feel happier, its a win for everyone.
Use Gratitude to find an abundance:
Find daily parts of your life that you’re grateful for; it could be something a friend said that was positive; it could be a smile that a stranger gave you, it can be anything. The smaller, the better, learn to appreciate the small stuff and the bigger stuff will seem incredible. By practising being grateful, you will find that you feel so full of abundance, you will come to realise how much you do have going for you.
Spend time growing with people who share your passion:
Find an activity that will help you become like a class or a course this will help your social connections to have a foundation of collective meaning and will allow you to talk about moving forward and progressing in life. There’s nothing wrong with meeting for coffee and just chatting, but it can feel a bit empty if you don’t have a shared passion.
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Activist and entrepreneur on a mission to bring wisdom and wellness to the world.