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By Eric Barker
March 31, 2015
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

We all want to be happy. That’s obvious. But how much would people pay for a moment of happiness?

Researchers did a survey — and the answer was about $80.

Other than pure love and dodging discomfort, people were willing to pay the most for happiness.

Via The Upside of Your Dark Side:

  • $ 44.30 for calm tranquility,
  • $ 62.80 for excitement,
  • $ 79.06 for happiness,
  • $ 83.27 to avoid fear,
  • $ 92.80 to avoid sadness,
  • $ 99.81 to avoid embarrassment,
  • $ 106.26 to avoid regret,
  • $ 113.55 for love.

(Suddenly heroin is looking pretty cheap, and Starbucks is an absolute steal.)

At $80 a shot, well, I’m about to save you a lot of money.

What’s it take to become happy very quickly without dramatically changing your life (or spending $80)? The key to happiness really comes down to one word:

Attention.

We all have regrets and worries. We all have bad things we could think about. But they don’t bother us when we pay them no mind. The Buddha once said:

And research is agreeing with him. People always think more money or a better this or that — a thing or event — is going to make them happier.

But when we look at the data, very happy people don’t experience more happy events than less happy people.

Via 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior:

So it’s not really what happens. It’s what you pay attention to and the perspective you take on things. “Look on the bright side” is a cliche, but it’s also scientifically valid.

Paul Dolan teaches at the London School of Economics and was a visiting scholar at Princeton where he worked with Nobel-Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

He explains the importance of attention in his book, Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think:

Make sense, right? So how can you and I put this to use?

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself about attention that can have a profound affect on your happiness.

Are you actually paying attention?

“Savoring” is a powerful method for boosting happiness. It’s also ridiculously simple:

Next time something good happens, stop whatever you are doing, give it a second and appreciate that moment. Pay attention to it.

Savoring is all about attention. Focus on the bad, you’ll feel bad. Focus on the good and… guess what happens?

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

“Stopping to smell the roses”? It’s true. People who take time to appreciate beauty around them really are happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

This isn’t speculation. Studies show slowing down and appreciating good things boosts happiness and reduces depression.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

Do one thing at a time. Pay attention. Enjoy it. You’ll feel less busy and you’ll be happier.

(For more on how to savor those precious good moments in life, click here.)

Okay, you’re going to pay more attention. But maybe that’s not your problem. You might be paying attention to the wrong things.

 

What are you paying attention to?

Why are lawyers 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and more likely to end up divorced?

Training your mind to look for errors and problems (as happens in careers like accounting and law) makes you miserable.

Via One Day University Presents: Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness (Harvard’s Most Popular Course):

Don’t pay so much attention to the bad. Pay more attention to the good. Stop looking for problems. Enjoy what you have.

Gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.

And feeling gratitude doesn’t just make you happier. It’s correlated with an objectively better life:

(For more on how to use gratitude to improve your life, click here.)

Now I know what many of you may be thinking: I agree, but my attention span is terrible.

Well, we can do something about that too.

 

Can you pay attention?

You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.

Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explained in the Harvard Gazette, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

This is why you keep hearing so much about mindfulness these days. Meditation can help you train your attention. A 2011 Yale study showed:

(For more on the easiest way to learn how to meditate, click here.)

Another issue may be that you’re not really noticing what truly makes you happy and unhappy. It’s a common mistake. But one we can fix.

 

Are you paying attention to what makes you happy and what doesn’t?

When something makes you really happy, jot it down. Then do that thing more often. Daniel Nettle jokingly refers to this as “Pleasant Activity Training.”

Via Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile:

Yeah, it’s stupidly simple. But as Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker explained in my interview with her, you probably don’t do it:

(For more of the things research has proven will make you happier, click here.)

Okay, time to bring out the big guns. This is something you can do at any moment to make yourself happier. And all it takes is asking yourself one question.

 

Are you paying attention to what’s going on right now?

You probably spend a fair amount of time worrying about the future, regretting the past or reliving an argument that ended long ago.

And that means you’re not paying attention to what’s happening right now. None of those negative things are actually occurring here in front of you. If you were focused on right now, bang, you’d be happier.

When happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky studied the happiest people, what did she find?

That thing you’re making yourself miserable about: is it here, right now, in front of you? Or are you projecting into the future or the past? Pay attention to the present and you’ll probably feel much better.

(For more on what makes the happiest people in the world so happy, click here.)

Still paying attention? Let’s wrap this up.

 

Sum Up

Most people don’t do anything to make themselves happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Be the exception. It’s simple. Try shifting your attention to the good around you.

Worrying about the future or dwelling on the past or letting your mind wander is a prescription for unhappiness. Those things aren’t in front of you and they’re not real. As Mark Twain once said:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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