Advertising
Advertising

How to Be Happier with What You Have

How to Be Happier with What You Have

20070924-smile.png

    “There are two ways to increase your wealth. Increase your means or decrease your wants. The best is to do both at the same time.”Benjamin Franklin

    Misery shouldn’t be the price for ambition. Somewhere I believe many people got the idea that to want more, you have to be dissatisfied with what you have now. Believing this, your choice is either to dampen your passions or become miserable with what you have.

    Advertising

    I think this is a false dichotomy. You can be satisfied and ambitious. And while many self-help books have covered the topic of ambition, fewer cover the idea of becoming immensely satisfied with what you’ve already got.

    Beyond affirmations and beliefs, I think there are some practical tips to do this. Engineering your daily life can be a great way to maximize your current fulfillment. Best of all, it isn’t incredibly difficult to do. Here are some tips I’ve found useful in becoming happier with where I am:

    1 – Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

    Investors understand that diversification keeps one bad fall from ruining you financially. Keeping your interests diversified, ensures that one slip won’t make you miserable. Tying your entire life into only one area isn’t just obsessive, it’s dangerous.

    Advertising

    Life balance has become a bit of a cliche. Balance implies a weak compromise where efforts are juggled. But the alternative to balance doesn’t need to be obsession. Having several areas of focus at a time will help smooth out the fluctuations in your experience. Pick 3-5 things that are critical for you and a dozen more you feel are important.

    2 – Engineer Your Day

    Spend a bit of time reorganizing how you run your daily life. Looking over at the horizon it can be easy to miss what is under your feet. Focusing on improvements of your routines, habits and environment can make a huge impact in your current satisfaction. Even if they have little influence on your bank account or GPA.

    Start by doing a run down of how you invest your time. Carry around a notepad with you for a day. Record every time you start or stop an activity. This will give you a detailed look at how you spend your time. It should also give you an idea of where you can make improvements.

    Advertising

    The goal isn’t to have the most productive day possible or one that is devoid of all “bad” habits. Your objective is simply to experiment with changes that might make your day more interesting, fun or fulfilling.

    3 – Break Comparisons

    If you are like most inhabitants of industrialized nations, you are richer than most medieval kings. You are free of most diseases that plagued our ancestors. You have far more human rights. And you are far less likely to die a violent death. By such a comparison, you should be overjoyed compared to your great-great-grandparents. Why doesn’t this feel like the case?

    The answer is because most people base their satisfaction on comparing themselves with others. You may be fabulously wealthy compared to your forefathers, but you also have to compare your life to people who are far wealthier, healthier and more attractive than you.

    Advertising

    Breaking comparisons with other people will make you happier, but it isn’t easy to do. There isn’t an OFF switch in your brain for competition. However, there are a few ways you can make adjustments to your life that help avoid the competitive misery:

    • Diversify your social life. If you only associate with people from one class, you will always struggle with comparison. My suggestion is to broaden the groups of people you associate with. Not just in terms of income, but age, experiences, culture and background. The more diversification, the more difficulty you have nitpicking.
    • Shut off the media. If information isn’t helping you make decisions and only makes you feel miserable, why are you consuming it? Surrounding yourself with celebrity magazines and television shows featuring spoiled rich kids can fuel that urge to compare.
    • Find your talents. Emphasize the things you are good at and make you unique. The more you cultivate a unique identity, the less chance you have of making linear comparisons between your life and your friends.
    • Cultivate abundance. Competition is largely based in zero-sum. The idea that someone else’s gain is my loss. Rarely is this the case. Focus on how the effects of another’s win can become your own gain. Emphasizing an abundance mindset can help you avoid the comparison that inevitably comes from thinking scarcity.
    • Focus internally. Perhaps the most important tip at all is to put less focus on external results. If you build a stable inner world, you can survive the storms of the outer world. Focusing on the intangibles of your passions, challenges, bonds and purpose will lead to a greater current satisfaction.

    Don’t Make Yourself Miserable

    It took awhile for me to realize that happily working towards a goal gave the same results as stressed frustration. The stereotype that the high-achiever needs to be an obsessive maniac is a good one to make you feel miserable.

    It is easy to look at outside problems as the source of your misery. But too often you bring it upon yourself. Ambition is important, but don’t see it as a trade-off for appreciating what you have. When you trade today for tomorrow, you might realize you have nothing left.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

    Trending in Featured

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

    Advertising

    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

    Advertising

    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

    Advertising

    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

    Advertising

    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next