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Focussing On Happiness (Part 1)

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

About three weeks ago, I enrolled on a course with Yale University... The Science of Wellbeing. With everything that has been going on in the world, I thought it might be a nice way to spend some of the extra time gifted to me by not having to travel between coaching sessions!

I'm in my fourth week and I thought I would share one or two cool things that I've learnt... I appreciate not everyone will have time to do a course, so I thought I would share a few things which I found interesting. In a later blog, I'll write about some of the things which I feel would be handy to integrate into our every day habits.

It is clear to me that there needs to be a global focus on happiness and wellbeing! Whilst we see countries like Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand (ironically named the SINZ countries) move away from GDP as a measure of success, instead focusing on wellbeing, we know that this is not the case everywhere. For example, In 2018 the UK's NHS issued 70.9 million prescriptions, up from 36m in 2008.

Despite our living standards and affluence having significantly increased over the last few decades, it would appear that we're less happy today than we once were. One such study suggested that the average happiness measurement in 1940 was 7.5 as compared to 7.2 in 2015 despite that in the 1940s many people still had their toilets outside!

Interesting Learning Worth Sharing

  • Earning loads won't make you happy. Earning anything more than $75,000 (£61,488) doesn't make you any happier. Earning more does however bring you a life that you think is better. I do accept though, that £61.5k is a lot of money. Another study by Jebb (2018) offered us a slightly more attainable figure stating that a yearly income of between £43,478 and £54,347 led to “emotional well-being.”

  • Getting stuff won't make you happy. If you're a person that gravitates to materialism, then you will typically be less happy in your life. Nickerson (2003) interviewed 12,000 freshers in 1976 and followed them up 20 years later. Those who had more materialist beliefs had lower life satisfaction two decades later and a greater incidence of mental health issues.

  • Being in a couple, doesn't make you happier! 25k people were surveyed for 15 years, of those, 1,716 got married in that period and whilst these people tended to have a positive bump to happiness in the following two years, after the 'honeymoon' period, there was no discernible difference in the happiness levels of those who were married vs non married. (Lucas et al 2003)

  • Losing weight doesn't make you happy. 1,979 obese individuals were followed for 4 years after a diet programme. Those who lost weight ended up being less happy four years later as compared to those who maintained or gained weight. (Jackson et al 2014) I should however mention that it may well contribute to better physical health!

  • Plastic surgery won't make you happy. By following those who had cosmetic surgery as compared to a control group who had not, it was discovered that the following indicators got worse following the surgery: Physical Appearance Scale, Suicidal Ideation and Alcohol Use over the last year. Those who had not had cosmetic surgery had no discernible change in these factors. (Von Soest et al 2011)

So, generally speaking, having a good job, lots of money, awesome things, true love or the perfect body are not your pathways to happiness. Shock horror I hear you say (or perhaps not!) So what does make us happy and why do so many people crave things which won't positively impact on happiness?

Is our brain our friend?

It seems in many ways, our brain has a few annoying features that can trick us into thinking some things will make us happy when in fact they will not.

There are four specific things our brain is wired for which can play havoc on the choices we make:

  1. Our mind's strongest intuitions are often wrong.

  2. Our minds judge things relative to reference points

  3. Our minds are built to get used to stuff

  4. We don't realise our minds are built to get used to stuff

Keep an eye out for my next blog which will give a little more detail on the above, then towards the end of the week I will share my third blog in the series which will give you the antidote to the annoying features of the brain!

Thanks for reading!

PS - The Science of Wellbeing Course is currently free, so if you want to dive into more of the learning, why not sign up? It takes 10 weeks, roughly 2-4 hours of study a week and a little bit of homework around habit building!

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