Increasing Happiness

The Science of Happiness

While taking the science of well being course on coursera I decided to take the course quite seriously. For one, I started without taking any of my baseline assumptions for granted and applied my skepticism as best as I could to “commong knowledge” ways of looking at happiness.

Overall the course was a good start on a life long journey to find meaning and happiness. Many of the findings are common knowledge, but definitely not common practice.

I will cover some of the most important ideas I found critical.

  1. Materialism and consumerism are not roads towards happiness

  2. Everyone has a large component of their happiness being their mindset. Most of the impediments to happiness are problems with ones mindset.

  3. Working on hard problems and challenging yourself every day is a key to lifetime satisfaction.

  4. Community and surrounding play a large role in fulfillment which an important factor to happiness.

  5. Practicing gratitude is critical to happiness.

A lot of the problems for “too much” or “never enough” comes from a lack of acceptance of circumstances and appreciation for what we already have. If someone has more, it should not diminish what we have.

  1. Goal setting is important, one of the techiques to help with goal setting is WOOP.

WOOP - Wish, OUtcome, Obstacle, Plan. What do I wish for today? For next week?

If someone is deficient in terms of meaning you have to work at it and create a daily ritual.

  1. A well developed and embodied philosophy of life. Whether this be through stoicism, zen philosophy, or other forms of spirituality it is essential to fullfillment and happiness and often shrugged off.

Our minds strongest intuitions are often totally wrong. “If only I got that promotion, money, etc.” I would be happy hasn’t worked for all of human history. The Hedonic treamill is real, it is a state of constantly striving for more “as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.” To gain increases in happiness is more complex.

One of the studies mention that “after a certain point income does not make us happier and that point is roughly X” This makes sense, except it isn’t accounting for all the variables that created a nice logarithmic curve. Someone whose quite resourceful could get more happiness per unit of income than another. In contrast, many people living in small communities with literally no money are quite happy. I know the reason they simplified this though, it is easier to talk about a very particular slice of the world. Namely, the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) population.

In short, you could decrease your consumption and follow all the techniques in this course along with the resources listed below and increase the happiness. Thus decreasing consumption, increasing happiness. American consumerism is fundamentally wrong, in addition the lack of a strong philosophical foundation for finding fulfillment is something that has been eroding in the West for a long time. Deeper philosophical wisdom has been replaced with other less function or simply a void exists where people fill it with stuff. This is my suspicion why websites like The Minimalists have gotten people thinking.

To quote Henry David Thoreau, we have become the tools of our tools:

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on earth in an ox cart, with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way. The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain-tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper.”

Want less, change your mind to be grateful for more, set higher goals, and make major fulfilling positive impact on the world. Easier said than done, but definitely it is overall easier than continuing being unhappy or unfulfilled in life, eh?

Additional resources

  1. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

  2. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment

  3. Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending

  4. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

  5. The American Paradox By David Myers

  6. Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth

  7. The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Breathing in, I see all my ancestors in me: my mineral ancestors, plant ancestors, mammal ancestors, and human ancestors. My ancestors are always present, alive in every cell of my body, and I play a part in their immortality.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Living

“Whether this moment is happy or not depends on you. It`s you who makes the moment happy, not the moment that makes you happy. With mindfulness, concentration, and insight, any moment can become a happy moment.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Living

“If we continue to hold on to a dream for something in the future, we lose the present moment. And if we lose the present, we lose everything.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now

  1. The Importance Of Living by Lin Yutang

“The best social philosophies do not claim any greater objective than that the individual human beings living under such a regime shall have happy individual lives. If there are social philosophies which deny the happiness of the individual life as the final goal and aim of civilization, those philosophies are the product of a sick and unbalanced mind.” ― Lin Yutang, Lin Yutang: The Importance Of Living

“I can see no other reason for the existence of art and poetry and religion except as they tend to restore in us a freshness of vision and more emotional glamour and more vital sense of life.” ― Lin Yutang, Lin Yutang: The Importance Of Living

“Peace of mind is that mental condition in which you have accepted the worst.” ― Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

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