Times are tough. The economic recession is having an impact on all of us. Tourism is down, budgets are being trimmed, layoffs are on the rise, and jobs are becoming increasingly scarce. Many of us are worried not just about our financial future, but about our ability to meet our monthly expenses. All of this anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on our emotional well-being and physical health. Stress puts us at increased risk for harmful behaviors such as substance abuse or overeating. During times such as these, it can be easy to forget about what is most important in life.
Many of us hold on to the erroneous belief that more money would make us happy. Research shows that there is a correlation between money and happiness up to a certain level of income. Poverty, with all of its profound stressors, is clearly a cause for unhappiness. However, studies show that there is no significant correlation between money and happiness above a household income of $50,000 per year. Moreover, the significant economic gains experienced by Americans in the past few decades have not been accompanied by a rise in life satisfaction and are actually associated with increases in distrust and depression.
After an initial period of elation, even lottery winners are not significantly happier. One study showed that they report experiencing less pleasure in ordinary activities than accident victims. In some cases, winning the lottery has been shown to result in the development of severe depression. While most people cling to the idea that their problems would be resolved if they only had more money, this is simply not true. In fact, we feel poor only when we are comparing ourselves to those around us, and people who are focused on material gains at the expense of personal relationships are some of the more unhappy people around.
So if more money won’t do it, what does make us happy? Here are some research-based tips to help you increase your life satisfaction:
1. Make relationships a top priority. Human beings are social creatures and much of our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships with our family and friends. As such, it is important to invest time and energy in your relationships. Resist the temptation to isolate in times of stress. Take some time for yourself, but don’t spend all of your free time alone. Isolation can lead to loneliness and depression.
2. Get in the “flow” of life. Take a break from ruminating about your past and worrying about your future. Make an effort to spend time living in the moment. Become fully immersed in whatever you are doing. When you get into the flow of life, you forget yourself and bring your focus, energy, and talents to bear to achieve your goals.
3. Limit your time spent in “passive” activities. Recent research shows that unhappy people watch more TV than happier people. They are also more prone to gain weight and experience relationship problems. Get outside and get active. Research shows that regular rigorous exercise can often be just as effective in treating depression as antidepressant medication.
4. Make an effort to help someone in need. Acts of generosity and altruism, such as volunteering your time for a worthy cause or engaging in community service makes people happier.
5. Spend some time counting your blessings. Share your gratitude daily. People who take time to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives report feeling happier. People who focus on the negative aspects of their lives report less life satisfaction.
In the end, happiness is not something that a new truck, new clothes, or financial success will bring. Just like the Christmas toys that lose their appeal in a few days, materialistic things give only the most fleeting joy. True happiness lies in our connection to ourselves and to others.