18 non-monetary things you can do to be happy

December 8, 2006

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin” — John Lubbock

These days, studies are published on ways to become happier. However, it’s important to remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And while I might list 18 non-monetary ways to be happy, I’m sure there are a lot, lot more.

  1. Be with loved ones.
    Research shows that happy people spend very little time alone. Instead, they surround themselves with friends and family, and find joy in sharing their lives with others.
  2. Marry someone you love and respect
    Advice from Socrates: “By all means marry: if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”.
  3. Smile a lot
    Acting the part often leads to feeling the part. Besides, it’ll make you look a lot better, and might even make someone else happy.
  4. Laugh a lot
    Not only is it good for your heart, but also for you and the people near you.
  5. Be honest — except for a few white lies
    Honesty is the best policy, and saves a lot of heartache down the road. Of course, the road to honesty is to become a person of exceptional integrity, which while difficult, is possible. But remember to tell your next-door neighbor that she looks like she lost some weight…
  6. Spend less than you earn, and plan for your retirement
    No matter how little you’re earning, and how badly you want to buy those expensive shoes (apply whatever seems to pull you the most) don’t splurge on them if your bank manager isn’t too pleased with you.
  7. Give as much as you can
    Children in orphanages often write to Santa: “I don’t really want anything, but my sister needs a coat because it’s so cold”. Give to those with less than you, both in terms of time and money. Few other actions are as rewarding.
  8. Lead a sensual life
    Surround yourself with pleasant smells: nice perfume, beautiful flowers, baking cookies. Keep a nice painting or photo on your wall. Buy flowers. Eat spicy food.
  9. Get rid of clutter
    Clean your wardrobe, your desk, your kitchen. Don’t let things that don’t help pile up.
  10. Donate things that you don’t use
    Whether they’re books that you don’t read, clothes that you don’t wear, or gifts that you’ll never use: give them to someone who’ll appreciate them.
  11. Be healthy
    Eat healthy, avoid junk food and excess alcohol, exercise regularly, and make sure you go for your yearly check-ups.
  12. Remember that you’re healthy
    An interesting study shows that happiness is not directly correlated to being healthy. Many healthy people take their health for granted. Whereas some sickly people appreciate the few healthy days that they enjoy. Hypochondriacs are the most miserable.
  13. Be grateful
    Gratitude is essential to happiness. Psychiatrists have found that talking and writing about what they’re grateful for amplifies adults’ happiness. Learning to savor the small pleasures has the same effect.
  14. Spend some time reflecting on life
    Meditate, keep a journal, or do both. They will give you perspective and structure to your life.
  15. Set your own standards
    Forget the Jones. Establish goals for yourself, based on what you think is reasonable. You’ll be happier when you achieve those, than what the Jones’ have.
  16. Find activities that you love
    Try to spend most of your time doing work or activities which make time flow faster. The happiest people are usually busy with things that they love to do, whether it’s cooking, starting a new business, or being with a child.
  17. Construct routines, but remember that surprises often lead to greater happiness
    Life is too full of uncertainties to be controlled. Yet those experiences which we don’t plan for, often lead to greater growth and fulfillment.
  18. Stretch yourself mentally.
    Learning leads to a satisfaction much greater than any impulse purchase.

And finally, for ways to buy yourself some happiness, check out this post


How to “buy” happiness

September 20, 2006

Yes, you can buy happiness.

According to a 2004 poll by Associated Press, 56% of people earning more than $75,000 a year say they are “very satisfied” with life, while only 24% of people earning $25,000 or less a year say the say thing about their lives. However money can’t guarantee happiness.

After all, according to those numbers, 44% pf people who earned more than $75,000 a year didn’t claim to be “very satisfied” with life.

There are certain things in life which are more important to happiness, than money: good health, a happy family life, good relationships, friends, a stress-free (or less stressful) life. Money can help to improve many of these factors, but first, a brief mention of the two most important things that money can’t buy:

  1. Hearts: Just like the song, you “can’t buy me love”. Getting someone to love you takes a lot of things, including plain dumb luck. Never try to spend your way into someone’s heart.
  2. Respect and Admiration: Your new luxury car or huge plasma TV will not make people admire you. Yes, they will think you are trying to impress. And of course they will wonder about just how insecure you are. But if you want someone to look up to you, you’ll have to make use of what you have inside yourself, not what you have inside your garage.

Despite the fact that money can’t guarantee happiness, there are some ways in which money will make you happier:

  1. Comfort: Money can buy you a sense of security. Not having to worry about the details of survival is a wonderful things. Insurance and health cover remove some of the uncertainties that would plague us otherwise.
  2. Education: We’re happier when faced with a challenge, and we have an immense capacity to grow. Whether it’s learning about art history or taking cooking classes, most of us have interests which we’d be happier pursuing.
  3. Travel: Travel broadens our horizons and lets us experience the wonder of something new. The funny thing is, even if a trip is bad, we tend to remember a lot of great things about it, later on.
  4. A life full of experiences: I am definitely a person who’d prefer to save the money than to splurge on Starbucks, but small daily pleasures do add up, whether it’s gourmet coffee, great home-cooked food, or a glass of nice wine. For some people, life is better when it’s enriched with the arts: reading a daily poem, or visiting the museum, might be your cup of tea.
  5. Memories: Life is better when you have something to remind yourself of your wonderful past. Take pictures, buy silly souvenirs, and leave things that remind you of where you’ve been, nearby.
  6. Beautiful surroundings: Money can buy you a nice home, nice interior decoration, and expensive flowers. As humans, we tend to appreciate the beautiful things in life, so it’s worthwhile spending to make our living spaces a joy to look at.
  7. Beauty: We may be fickle, but study after study shows that attractive people are happier. I’m completely against obsessing with looks, but spending a bit for a good haircut, comfortable and stylish clothes, and mood-enhancing perfume, certainly pays off. And any woman will tell you that shoes are a girl’s second-best friend 🙂
  8. Nearness to work: I can’t remember the exact studies right now, but I once read about how the daily commute adds to our stress. And I don’t think that anyone loves their commute. So, live near your office, or work at home. If you can’t do those, try to make the commute less horrible, be it with an i-Pod, or a chauffeur-driven car.
  9. Health: Money can’t buy you health, but you can certainly spend on healthy things that will make you feel better, including organic food, a swimming pool and gym membership. It’s up to you to put the healthy things you buy, to good use. Of course, money can also buy treatment options, but a good health plan should cover those.
  10. Relaxation: Soothing music, yoga classes and massages: don’t dismiss them before you’ve tried them.
  11. Friends: In no way can money buy you friends. But we’re happy when we’re social, and money spent on friends and being friendly, makes us happier in the long run. So, that Sunday brunch, your best friend’s birthday gift, and the dinner party you were planning to host, are all worth the time and effort. And money.
  12. Kids: Obviously, I’m not suggesting you buy kids, or even attempt to buy their affection. But they’re expensive brats, and spending on them goes a long way (as any parent will attest). I feel like this is a self-explanatory point, but whether it’s spending to get the kids out of the way (baby sitting) or to make them more tolerable to be around (education, entertainment, food, etc) kids tend to make us happier.
  13. Pets: Furry friends make our lives fun, and studies show that they lead to lower stress. Unfortunately, just like kids, pets tend to be expensive: apparently, they’re worth that expense.
  14. Romance: Your relationship with your s.o. is the most important one in your life, so spend what you need to, to make it work: from flowers to diamonds to a second honeymoon.
  15. Time: This, in my opinion, is the single most important thing that money can buy. None of us have more than 24 hours in a day. Trying to extract the most out of each of those precious hours is one of the most difficult things to do. Money can help you to do it, be it through gadgets, a chauffeur or a private jet.

I’m a very anti-consumer-debt person, so I don’t think any of the above is worth buying on credit. Although buying something on credit might make you happy temporarily, in the long run, you’re likely to have to cut back on your lifestyle in order to repay those loans.

Many of these items are not applicable to people trying to live on a stringent budget, for whatever reason. However, if you’ve got the cash and are considering whether to buy a yatch or a luxury sedan, don’t. Spend the money on a chauffeur instead, or use it to visit your local cafe each day, where you can enjoy gourmet coffee and meet new friends.

This post is part of the group blogging project at Problogger. It’s also a continuation of my series on how to be happy, the first of which was on happiness and health.

I’ve added this post to my new blog, Happiness Creator. Please visit it 🙂

Happiness and Health

September 13, 2006

I have decided that my previous post regarding happiness barely scratched the surface of the topic. So, I’ve decided to do a series of post on the relationship between happiness, and certain things…

This is the first post of that series. Happiness and physical health.

The funny thing about health is that most of us don’t appreciate it till it’s taken away from us.

For anyone trying to improve their lives, the first aspect that they should attack is their health. Physically healthy people tend to be happier. An improvement in the state of your health has many benefits, including greater mental clarity, greater focus and greater energy, which can then be used to improve other areas of your life.

So how can you go about trying to improve your health?

The first step is to recognize that you want to be healthy, and to set that as an intention. Most people don’t pay attention to how they feel physically, until they feel distress. The first step is to actively try to improve the way you feel physically. This will include trying to learn methods of improving your health, as well as avoiding unhealthy things and seeking out healthy activities.

I would consider exercise to be the most healthy activity. Even if you don’t eat well, the benefits of exercise counter that to a large extent. (I speak from personal experience!)
Exercise doesn’t have to be unpleasant or strenuous, or even very long. Choose an activity you enjoy: take lessons in yoga, go swimming, take a hike and explore the countryside. An easy way is to pick a group activity that focuses more on the fun, than on the movements you’re doing, which is why dancing is so great. Once you’ve gotten used to an increase in your activeness, start working out with weights, which in my opinion, offer the greatest health benefits. Stretching activities like yoga and pilates have amazing after-effects in terms of the relaxation that you feel. A former yoga skeptic, I always tell people that there is no possible way to describe the amazing feeling after a yoga session.

It’s important to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to ill health, as does too much sleep. Try to establish a sleep routine, and to sleep in a dark, quiet, comfortable place. Don’t drink caffeine too near your bed-time.

Speaking of caffeine, the benefits of that are still controversial. One to three cups of tea or coffee are supposed to be beneficial, but I’m still undecided about this. Personally, I’ve developed a slight caffeine addiction, so I don’t think I can deal with this aspect too well. However, I am a firm believer in the beneficial effects of tea and green tea.

Too much alcohol is unhealthy. As is too much food.

Be careful about what you eat. Try to opt for natural foods, of the organic and free range varieties. Avoid sugary, starchy and processed foods.

Get regular check-ups.

Experiment. Listen to people’s experiences, and try out new things. You never know what might work for you. Personally, I am very impressed by the reported health effects of going vegan, and am dying to try it.

Cheat occasionally. Don’t live your life too bound by the rules of trying to be healthy, or you’ll suffocate. Go drinking with friends, sleep in on a weekend, eat a few french fries.

Finally, eat chocolate. Chocolate rules. ’nuff said.

How to be happy

September 12, 2006

“Nothing is worse than a rich girl who feels sorry for herself”. So why is it, that the rich don’t seem to be much happier than the rest of us? Why do we all think that money can’t buy happiness, but pursue it almost blindly, hoping that it will at least rent some joy?
All around us, we see examples of extremely successful people, like actors and athletes, who have made it really big, and yet do not seem to be very content with what they have.  

If money can’t buy happiness, then what can? 

The brief answer is, financial success can only buy financial toys. Money can buy a lot of useful things: toys, time, freedom. But it can’t buy the affection of those we love. And most of the stuff it buys disappoints us in the end.
Some money is absolutely essential. When you’re poor and worried about your next meal, or how to buy something essential, you can’t be happy. Once you reach a certain level of financial achievement, you can be free from those money demons: at least your basic needs are met. 

But more money does not equal more happiness. We always want something more than what we have. When we try to spend our way into happiness, we are never happy because:

  1. We want something more, or something better, and
  2. What we just bought doesn’t seem to live up to the grand expectations we had of it.

The things that bring us most happiness are our friends and family.
A significant number of close friends means that you have people to share your ups and downs with (and you get to go to, and throw, a lot of parties 😉 )
A happy relationship with your spouse is incredibly important for overall happiness.
Children make us happier in the long run: despite what many studies say, anyone will tell you that their children are their greatest joy.

Thankful people are happier. I understand this first-hand, because I started keeping a thankfulness journal once, and I could feel my spirits lift immediately. Thankful people appreciate the wonderful life that they are enjoying. 

Your experiences are what make you happy.
Till that end, money can actually make you happier.
Money spent on enjoyable experiences (travel, an easier or non-existent commute, a brighter living area) is money well spent.
Unlike “stuff”, you enjoy experiences both during the actual occurrence, and in the memories that persist. In fact, your memories often tend to magnify the past, so that the happy parts are exaggerated and the more negative parts overlooked. That’s why pictures of your last vacation usually evoke such powerful feelings. 

Money spent on experiences which are challenging, is money especially well-spent, since most of us are glad to be able to rise to a challenge. Learning to play tennis, for instance, is a great way to spend money because of they joy you get when tackling those difficult moves. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ll blog on happiness in greater detail, because it’s difficult to deal with the topic in one single post. 

It’s tough to break happiness down into each component part, but I think it ultimately boils down to two things: your relationships, and your experiences.

Update: My first post on the happiness series is up here.

Using Waiting Time

September 10, 2006

The truth is, most of us spend much of our lives waiting for something or the other: the plumber, a taxi, our new boyfriend to call. If we could only fill up waiting time with work, then our days would be so much more productive. David Maister has a really good post about waiting lines and the psychology behind them; he mentions some things which make waiting seem longer. It’s a very insightful piece written from the perspective of businesses, and I agree with all the points! Especially the one about waiting alone being longer than waiting with others.

From a personal perspective, there are a variety of things we can do to be productive, enjoy ourselves, or at least make the wait seem tolerable: listen to music, hear educational audiotapes, read, write, etc etc.

I am the first to admit that although filling up waiting time with work seems great in theory, it’s sometimes a bit hard to practice. Often, the anxiety of the wait makes concentrating on something else next to impossible.

For less stressful waits, you should always try to use up that time well. In fact, I think that’s why “waiting in groups” makes waiting seem less time-consuming: when you’re in a group, you can always interact socially.

But even if you’re not waiting in a group, you should always be prepared to wait, with a list of “do while waiting” kind of tasks. These days, thanks to GPRS on my cell phone, I can check my mail and my favorite blogs, while I wait.

What do you do when you wait?

Following your dreams

August 21, 2006

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing things that don’t seem ordinary.

I joined one university when most people thought that I could go to a better one, I started working in a research job when most people thought I would accept a lucrative offer as a banker.I’m not sure how I could’ve fared, how it would have been had I taken the road more traveled.

Most probably, I would be working at a high-paying, stressful investment bank, fighting tooth and claw for some elusive promotion. Maybe I’d get married to an equally ambitious guy, and we’d live a lifestyle typical of urban executives.

Instead I’ve wound up living a completely different lifestyle, and I’ve started blogging.

I digress, of course.

I actually wanted to begin with a quote I read as a teenager, and which stuck with me: “live your life as though you’re living it over”.

You’ll never get a chance to relive your life. Once you don’t accept an option, you’ll never have the chance to go back and try it out, or see how it goes.Every time you come to a fork in the road, you need to trust our intuition and make the choice based on what you think, and what you want: not what society deems appropriate or desirable. If it’s an important decision, take some time to think.

Try your best to drain out those voices of reason who keep advocating what Jones would do.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide what you want to do. Somebody (I forget who), once said, “Telling someone to listen to their intuition is like telling someone to listen to people”.He was right in that we do have many voices inside our heads. But it’s just a matter of practice before you learn how to screen out the voices which are driven by fear and ego.

As a very basic test, ask yourself:

  1. Is this an attractive option because I think that this is what most people would do in this situation, and they must have good reasons for choosing this option?
  2. Am I tempted to choose this option because it’s the easy way out? Am I scared of the challenges I see in the future, am I scared of potential failure?

The concept of living your life over again is helpful in that it helps you to avoid decisions that are based on fear and insecurity.Over time, the voice in your head which helps you make brave, conscious decisions will grow stronger. Practice listening to your intuition and you’ll soon learn how to identify and avoid fear-based choices.