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InspirEmail No 371 - February 2022  - Six Rules for Happiness
'Inspirational messages to refresh the spirit and boost the emotional bank account'

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Six Rules for Happiness

After recently completing the revision of my book, Decide & Conquer: The Ultimate Guide for Improving Your Decision Making, it occurred to me that research has provided us with some important insights into what makes people happy. In fact, we can summarize what we know into six simple rules.

But first, before I describe those rules, let me acknowledge that a good portion of what determines our happiness is genetic. Some people are just programmed at birth to be happier than others. That said, there still is significant room for us to control variables that can improve our happiness. Here are my six rules to consider:

1. Have Goals

It has been said that if you don't know where you're going, every road will get you nowhere. Clear goals give us direction, they help keep us consistent, and they provide a benchmark against which we can see when we go astray. If you want to increase your happiness and improve the likelihood that you'll feel good about yourself, set realistic and measurable goals. And you need to be constantly adjusting those goals. Make sure your short-term goals when accomplished - are compatible with, and will lead to, your long-term goals. And when goals are met, set new ones.

2. Practice delayed gratification

There is substantial research indicating that children who can delay gratification grow up to be healthier, happier, and more successful than those that can't. The temptations of immediate gratification are great. As human beings, we suffer from the tendency to want to grab for immediate rewards and avoid immediate costs. If it feels good, we want to do it now. If it implies pain, we want to postpone it. Quitting college for an immediate paycheck, for instance, may be appealing at the moment, but you're likely to regret the decision later in life. Similarly, that trip to Bali comes with an immediate reward while the credit card bill comes sometime in the future. The evidence tells us that a key component of long-term happiness is the ability to not forsake the future for the thrill of the moment.

3. Be a satisficer rather than a maximizer

Some people seek decisions that are satisfactory and sufficient. We call these people satisficers. Others try to optimize every decision. They're maximizers. Try to be a satisficer. The problem with maximizers is is that they're susceptible to regret. They're more likely to feel sadness or remorse over a previous decision. This is because, regardless of the choice they made, they often fret that maybe another choice would have been better. They think about 'what could have been.' Satisficers are content with a choice that is good enough and, as a result, they have less reason to experience regret over the choices they've made or to ruminate over better options that they missed.

4. Moderate your expectations

Parents often express that their greatest wish is for their children to be happy. Then they make the mistake of raising a child's expectations with constant praise. There is an old Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown says 'there is no heavier burden than a great potential.' The research suggests a corollary: 'There is no lighter burden than no potential.' The message here is that happiness is increased for our children and ourselves, by moderating expectations. Then every achievement, no matter how small, is a win. Happiness reflects not just how well things are going at the moment but whether things are going better than expected.

5. Keep your options to a minimum

You can increase your happiness by actually limiting your decision options. That is, less is more. While a free society thrives on choice, we as individuals are overwhelmed when choices are too many. Just because some choices are good doesn't mean that more choice are better. Since more isn't necessarily better, we should look to keep our options to a half-dozen or fewer in most cases. Choosing among 4 or 5 flavors of ice cream, for example, is likely to result in an outcome that makes us happier than if we have to choose among 31 flavors. By selecting among fewer options, we're less likely to regret the choices we didn't make.

6. Carefully select who you compare yourself to

Somerset Maugham is reported to have said, 'It's not enough that you succeed. Your friends must also fail.' Research on happiness suggests that there is some truth here. More specifically, you're likely to increase your happiness if you compare yourself in terms of achievements, careers, health, finances, and the likes with others who are less successful than you are. We all tend to compare ourselves to others. Happiness is likely to be increased if that comparison puts you in a favourable light.

A final note: You may have noted that having lots of money, per se, does not make my list. Research indicates that once most people make about $50,000 or $60,000 a year, additional increases in income don't increase happiness. The rich are no more likely to be happy than those with middle-level incomes. Billionaire David Geffen summarized this best: 'Show me someone who thinks money buys happiness and I'll show you someone who has never had a lot of money.'

Written by Stephen P. Robbins
You can learn more about Stephen and his work at  . . . Stephen Robbins >>>


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- Inspirational Quote -

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp,
but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you

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