5.22.23 – Fast Company –BY ART MARKMAN
The goal is to raise your ‘happiness set point.’ Finding happiness, joy, and satisfaction in your life is important. When you look around at other people, you’ll see that they differ in how often they seem to be happy.
Finding happiness, joy, and satisfaction in your life is important. When you look around at other people, you’ll see that they differ in how often they seem to be happy. Indeed, a significant amount of the difference in happiness between people seems to reflect an overall happiness set-point where some people really are happy more often than others on average.
It is unrealistic to assume you should be happy all the time, of course. (And if you routinely experience sadness, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and a lack of motivation, you should talk to a doctor or therapist about possible depression.)
That said, there are several things you can do to lift your spirits and potentially even to raise your own happiness set point:
AVOID THE ZERO-SUM
It is easy to get sucked into thinking of life as fundamentally competitive. When you’re negotiating with someone else, you might easily assume that any time the other party gets what they want, it must be that you have failed in some way. When you are looking for a promotion at work, you may strive to do well, but also have concerns when others are succeeding.
In fact, much of life need not be zero-sum in this way. Indeed, in many contexts, creating joy and success for yourself can do the same for others as well. Time you spend nurturing relationships in your personal and professional life can be rewarding for everyone. There are actually lots of win-win situations in which you can do well by doing good.
The more that you focus on setting goals in life to cooperate and enhance the success of your self and others at the same time, the more likely you are to be happy. Part of the reason for that is that you can interpret other people’s success as your own. You spend less time living in fear that the successes you have achieved will suddenly vanish.
That doesn’t mean that you should never compete, only that you shouldn’t frame most of your life as if it is a competition with one winner.
DE-ESCALATE THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
When you are sad or anxious, it is easy to take bad situations and make them worse. A colleague makes a negative comment about a situation. You agree and add a negative thought of your own. Your colleague responds in-kind, and soon it is a race to the bottom.
You may even engage in this spiral when you’re on your own. One negative thought about work reminds you that you have a task you haven’t completed, which calls to mind a client who is upset, and the next thing you know, you have surrounded yourself with thoughts of bad things that are happening, and then you’re sad, anxious, or angry.
The trick is to recognize when you’re going down that path and shift to a mode of thought that reduces the bad energy. For example, when someone else does something that has a negative impact on you, it’s easy to think that they did it in order to be mean to you. But, most people are not evil, so they are probably acting pretty rationally given the situation they are in and the goals they are trying to achieve. When you take their perspective, you can often empathize with the path they took, even if you wish they had done something else. That can damp down the anger and frustration at what happened.
STEP OFF THE (HEDONIC) TREADMILL
A power concept in psychology and economics is the “hedonic treadmill.” The idea is that when you achieve some great outcome or get an upgrade to some other aspect of your life like a raise or a bigger house, you are initially happy about it. Soon, though, you adapt to that change, because it is part of your life as it is. Then, you start to aspire to more, and that makes you dissatisfied with a change that was initially pleasing.
That cycle isn’t necessary, though. You can actually remain grateful for the things you have and find ways to enjoy them every day rather than taking them for granted. If you have a nice view out a window in your home, take a few minutes to stand and enjoy that view. Be mindful of the wonderful things you have achieved and that you own. Savor that rather than focusing only on what you do not yet have or have not yet achieved. There will always be other people out there with more. Do not let that spoil your own happiness and satisfaction.
DON’T DELAY ALL YOUR GRATIFICATION
You may be familiar with the marshmallow test originally done by Walter Mischel. In these studies, children were put in a room and given a marshmallow (or other treat they really like) and told that the experimenter was going to leave the room. If the child avoided eating the marshmallow while the experimenter was away, they could have two marshmallows, but if they ate it, they could only have one. This study was testing children’s ability to delay gratification.
Many aspects of our lives require that we do things now that are less pleasant, so that we can have better outcomes in the future. Successful people can often stay so focused on doing what is necessary now, that they don’t focus on enjoying things. And that can make it hard to feel much joy or satisfaction.
It is actually okay to do some things that are enjoyable—even if they have no long-term benefit. Go out and have a great meal or a night on the town with friends. Take a walk in a beautiful place. Spend some money on something you have always wanted. Although there are downsides to giving in to short-term temptations all the time, there is also a benefit to doing fun things, even if they have no lasting value.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR PHYSICAL SELF
While you may want to step off that hedonic treadmill, you should also step onto a real one. Or at least do some physical exercise regularly. The state of your body affects the state of your mind. If you feel good physically, it is easier to also feel good mentally than if you’re tired, feeling pain, or just uncomfortable.
On top of that, exercise itself can lift your mood. Even a long walk can help. If you’re feeling cooped up in the office, see if you can have a meeting with a colleague while walking. Get a fitness watch and try to get more steps in each day. Maybe start or end your day with some yoga or stretching. Sadness often leads you to avoid physical activity. Fight against that by making sure you do at least a little movement every day.