Monday, April 12, 2010

In search of happiness

What is Happiness?
The recent economic woes have had an unexpected benefit for many people: working fewer hours meant more time with family, more time to spend with friends, and greater satisfaction in people's lives. What, exactly contributes to happiness? People work to make money to buy things that they feel will make them happy. But do they?

Research into these questions indicates that money and objects do not, in fact, make people happy. Having enough to live comfortably is important and does contribute to happiness, but do you really need to drive this year's model, or have the latest-and-greatest [insert product here]? Probably not. And if you buy the newest item, it will only serve to bring greater and greater dissatisfaction over time, as you realize that something even newer, even better is available. That leads to new purchases, the need to work more to pay for them, less time with family and friends.

Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert has spent years studying what makes us happy. In a New York Times interview, he said,
We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy — money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.

Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things. So if you have “x” amount of dollars to spend on a vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or an object. One reason for this is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects usually aren’t.

See The Smiling Professor by Claudia Dreifus for the complete interview.
Many people live and work under the belief that they must make money, and what they do to earn that money is irrelevant. People distinguish between work and play for a reason. Very few people make money from their play, do what they truly enjoy to make a living. But does it need to be that way?  Several people argue that it does not.

The Art of Non-Conformity
At The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau has put together a terrific web site dedicated to teaching others to do what he has done: to make a career doing what he loves to do (for him, it's writing and travel--no wonder I love AONC!). Chris does not argue that people need to do what he does, rather he provides readers with the tools they need to break free from the daily grind and venture into a new world where their work is their play, and the act of playing provides the income they need to live that comfortable life.

Much of the information Chris provides is free, but not all. After all, he is using his AONC platform to achieve success and happiness in his life. He is very good at what he does, he offers terrific advice, and he is honest with his readers about the work it requires and the dedication they need to be successful. But that is exactly what is so refreshing about Chris' work. He is honest. He doesn't try to sell people on the quick-fix.

Soul Shelter
Tim Clark and Mark Cunningham at Soul Shelter provide another example of a web site dedicated to finding happiness through pursuit of what you love. They write about the process of balancing meaning and money. Does making money have to be a soulless activity? Does living a meaningful life require that people remain poor? Tim and Mark argue that these are merely two extremes (aren't humans good at setting up dichotomies?), but the reality can be somewhere in between.

See what Daniel, Chris, Tim, and Mark have to say. How can you lead a happier, more meaningful, life?

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