TIME psychology

8 Powerful Things That Will Inspire You

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Eight ways to inspire yourself to get to the next level in life, with links to the research behind them:

  • To have meaning in your life you need a story. You need to reflect on how things could have been and why they turned out the way they did. Seeing that things had a direction and a purpose provides meaning.
  • Need something to help you act in line with your beliefs and values? To make sure you stay you? Buy a mirror.

For more on the best way to be both happier and more successful, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

How to Help Others the Right Way

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

I’ve posted a number of times about how helping others makes you happier. But I know this leaves some people scratching their heads:

How much should I help others? How often? Will I be exploited? Will I end up resenting people I love if they don’t reciprocate?

We all know selfless givers who are taken advantage of and taken for granted. Nobody wants to feel like a sucker.

So this simple thing doesn’t seem so simple — and it feels safer to just be selfish no matter what fancy research and your conscience might tell you.

Adam Grant has a wonderful book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which directly tackles this issue and provides some firm answers grounded in research. To help others the right way, give these tips a shot.

 

Constant Selfless Giving Is Not The Way

Being a martyr stresses you out and is actually bad for your health.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Research shows that on the job, people who engage in selfless giving end up feeling overloaded and stressed, as well as experiencing conflict between work and family. This is even true in marriages: in one study of married couples, people who failed to maintain an equilibrium between their own needs and their partner’s needs became more depressed over the next six months.

 

Chunking Beats Sprinkling

Want to be happier? Do all your giving one day a week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

The chunkers achieved gains in happiness; the sprinklers didn’t. Happiness increased when people performed all five giving acts in a single day, rather than doing one a day. Lyubomirsky and colleagues speculate that “spreading them over the course of a week might have diminished salience and power or made them less distinguishable from participants habitual kind of behavior.”

And this is exactly why selfless givers end us stressed out and overloaded.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

…selfless givers are more inclined to sprinkle their giving throughout their days, helping whenever people need them. This can become highly distracting and exhausting, robbing selfless givers of their attention and energy necessary to complete their own work.

 

So How Much Should You Give?

Remember The 100 Hour Rule. One hundred hours a year — in other words, 2 hours per week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

One hundred seems to be a magical number when it comes to giving. In a study of more than two thousand Australian adults in their mid-sixties, those who volunteered between one hundred and eight hundred hours per year were happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who volunteered fewer than one hundred or more than eight hundred hours annually. In another study, American adults who volunteered at least one hundred hours in 1998 were more likely to be alive in 2000. There were no benefits of volunteering more than one hundred hours. This is the 100-hour rule of volunteering. It appears to be the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining.

A hundred hours a year breaks down to just two hours a week. Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem go up a year later.

 

What’s The Best Kind Of Giving To Do?

A kind that is meaningful to you. No, you can’t fake it if you want the benefits.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Psychologists Netta Weinstein and Richard Ryan have demonstrated that giving has an energizing effect only if it’s an enjoyable, meaningful choice rather than undertaken out of duty and obligation.

 

Sum Up

Breaking it down:

  1. To be happier and healthier you need to give to others.
  2. Don’t be a martyr. Constant selfless giving is not the answer.
  3. 100 hrs a year is the minimum to increase happiness, so do about 2 hrs per week or a little more.
  4. You need to do it because you want to, so find a way to help others that is meaningful to you.
  5. It’s better to cluster those activities than to spread them out.

What do I personally plan to do? I’m going to designate a DAY OF GIVING per week and make sure I’m clustering my 2hrs of meaningful helping.

In a few weeks I’ll post my results. Please give it a try yourself and let me know how it works for you. You can write me here.

This is going to be fun. :)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

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TIME Careers & Workplace

Warren Buffett’s 9 Tips for Happiness and Success

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Warren Buffett knows a thing or three about becoming wealthy and successful, and the Oracle of Omaha is not averse to handing out mostly excellent advice to others who’d like to follow in his footsteps.The personal finance site GOBankingRates has pulled together 14 pieces of advice Buffett has given to graduating classes and/or young people. They’re all great tips for the young—but also excellent advice that all of us should follow, no matter what age we are. Here are some of the best. You can find the full list here.

1. Invest in yourself before anything else.

Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do—anything that improves your own talents,” Buffett told Good Morning America. That’s excellent advice, whether it’s getting more education or training, to improve a skill you already have or to learn a new one—or whether it’s starting a company of your own. (In case it’s the latter, here are 10 Steps to Success as an Entrepreneur.)

2. Change bad habits as soon as you can.

Habits can make or break you, Buffett says. “I see people with these self-destructive behavior patterns,” he says. “They really are entrapped by them.”

The trick, he says, is to get out of the trap before it closes on you, which is why he advised graduating students at the University of Florida to form good habits as soon as possible. “You can get rid of it a lot easier at your age than at my age, because most behaviors are habitual,” he told them. “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

True enough, but if you’re older than a college senior, don’t despair. Though it may be tougher, habits can be changed at any time in life. Here’s the secret of how to do it.

3. Know your own strengths and weaknesses.

Use that knowledge to capitalize on the things that you do well, and avoid the risks of getting in over your head in your weaker areas, Buffett advises. “You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but knowing where the perimeter of that circle of what you know and what you don’t know, and staying inside of it, is all important,” he’s said.

4. Never risk something you need to get something you don’t need.

It’s not that taking risks is wrong–but do it only for the right reasons, Buffett explained to the University of Florida class. He added that he’s seen both businesses and individuals take big risks out of greed when they should have held back.

“If you risk something that is important to you for something that is unimportant to you, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I don’t care if the odds you succeed are 99 to 1 or 1,000 to 1.”

5. Find work you love.

“You really should take a job that, if you were independently wealthy, that would be the job you would take,” Buffett said in that same commencement speech. “You will learn something, you will be excited about it, and you will jump out of bed. You can’t miss.” Finding work you love is a better bet than doing something because it pays well or because it would look good on your resume, he added. I couldn’t agree more.

6. Surround yourself with people you admire.

Buffett has often talked about the importance of mentorship and the role his own mentor, Columbia professor Benjamin Graham, played in his life. But even beyond that, he advised a high school student to spend time with people whose qualities he aspired to. “Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

7. Face down your fears.

Don’t let fear stop you from doing things, especially things you know you must do to be successful, Buffett advises. In fact, he did this himself–he was once terribly afraid of public speaking, so he took a Dale Carnegie course to improve this skill. He’s now one of the most sought-after and frequently quoted speakers in the world. You don’t need to go that far, but if there are things you’re afraid to do, or that you know are your weak points, do what you must to get better at them and become more comfortable doing them.

8. Your time is a precious resource. Use it accordingly.

Bill Gates once wrote that being jealously protective of his time was an important lesson he’d learned from Buffett. “There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings.” Even though you’re not a multibillionaire, you shouldn’t either.

9. Never ignore a great opportunity.

Though much of his advice is on the conservative, cautious side, Buffett is a big believer in grabbing opportunities with both hands when good ones arise. “Big opportunities in life have to be seized,” he said in a commencement speech at Georgia State. “We don’t do very many things, but when we get the chance to do something that’s right and big, we’ve got to do it. And even to do it in a small scale is just as big a mistake almost as not doing it at all. You’ve really got to grab them when they come, because you’re not going to get 500 great opportunities.”

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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TIME psychology

8 Things That Make You Happier: Backed by Research

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Wouldn’t you love a real list of things that make you happier? Here’s what scientific research says will work:

 

1) Thank Someone

First thing in the morning, send an email thanking or praising someone. (Texting is fine, too.)

 

2) Spend Money — On Someone Else

Harvard professor Michael Norton, author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, explains how spending money on other people can generate more happiness than spending on yourself:

 

3) Give 5 Hugs

People assigned to give or receive hugs 5 times a day ended up happier than the control group.

From Sonja Lyubomirsky’s very interesting book, The How of Happiness:

In a one-of-a-kind study, students at Pennsylvania State University were assigned to two groups. The first group was instructed to give or receive a minimum of five hugs per day over the course of four weeks and to record the details. The hugs had to be front-to-front (nonsexual) hugs, using both arms of both participants; however, the length and strength of hug, as well as the placement of hands, were left to their discretion. Furthermore, these students couldn’t simply hug their boyfriends or girlfriends half a dozen times; they had to aim to hug as many different individuals as possible. The second, the controls, was instructed simply to record the number of hours they read each day over the same four weeks.

The hugging group (which partook in an average of forty-nine hugs over the course of the study) became much happier. Not surprisingly, the students who merely recorded their reading activity (which averaged a not-too-shabby 1.6 hours per day) showed no changes.

 

4) Do Stuff You’re Good At

People who deliberately exercised their signature strengths on a daily basis — those qualities they were uniquely best at, the talents that set them apart from others – became significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full month later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.

This has been shown repeatedly in research studies.

 

5) Do 5 Little Nice Things For Others

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…individuals told to complete five acts of kindness over the course of a day report feeling much happier than control groups and that the feeling lasts for many subsequent days, far after the exercise is over. To try this yourself, pick one day a week and make a point of committing five acts of kindness. But if you want to reap the psychological benefit, make sure you do these things deliberately and consciously—you can’t just look back over the last 24 hours and declare your acts post hoc.

 

6) Create Something To Look Forward To

Make plans to do something fun:

“One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.”

 

7) Spend Time With Friends

Having a better social life is the happiness equivalent of making an extra $131,232 a year:

There is substantial evidence in the psychology and sociology literature that social relationships promote happiness for the individual. Yet the size of their impacts remains largely unknown. This paper explores the use of shadow pricing method to estimate the monetary values of the satisfaction with life gained by an increase in the frequency of interaction with friends, relatives, and neighbours. Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

 

8) Before Bed, Write Down Three Good Things That Happened Today

This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.

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

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

A Philosopher’s Guide to Happiness

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide is worth reading. Frederic Lenoir explores what the greatest thinkers — Aristotle, Plato, Chuang Tzu, Voltaire, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kant, and Freud — have to add to the ongoing conversation on happiness.

The question of happiness is forever being discussed: eventually it gets worn down and loses its edge. But although it’s become so common- place, and seems so simple, it’s still an enthralling question, one that involves a whole skein of factors not easy to untangle. … [T]he pursuit of happiness isn’t a pointless quest. We really can be happier if we think about our lives, if we work on ourselves, if we learn to make more sensible decisions, or indeed if we alter our thoughts, our beliefs, or the way we imagine ourselves and the world.

***
On why there is no recipe for happiness:

Another difficulty arises from the notably relative character of happiness: it varies with each culture and each individual, and, in every person, from one phase of life to the next. It often takes on the guise of things we don’t have: for someone who is ill, happiness lies in health; for someone who is unemployed, it’s in work; for some single people, it lies in being a couple—and, for some married people, in being single again! These disparities are heightened by a subjective dimension: artists are happy when practicing their art, intellectuals when handling concepts, romantics when they are in love.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, shed considerable light on this point when he noted in Civilization and Its Discontents:

In this, [the individual’s] psychical constitution will play a decisive part, irrespectively of the external circumstances. The man who is pre-dominantly erotic will give first preference to his emotional relationships with other people; the narcissistic man, who inclines to be more self-sufficient, will seek his main satisfactions in his internal mental processes; the man of action will never give up on the external world on which he can try out his strength.

***
The origins of the word

In Greek, the word for happiness, eudaimonia, can be taken to mean “having a good daimon.” These days, we would say “having a guardian angel,” or “being born under a lucky star.” In French, bonheur comes from the Latin bonum augurium: “good omen” or “good fortune.” In English, happiness comes from the Icelandic root happ, “luck” or “chance,” and there is indeed a large element of “luck” in being happy, if only because happiness is, as we shall see, to a large degree based on our sensibility, on our biological inheritance, on the family and social environment in which we were born and grew up, on the surroundings in which we develop and on the encounters that mark our lives.

***
The philosophical journey and the path to wisdom

We are conditioned but not determined by various factors to be more or less happy. So, by using our reason and will, for example, we have the ability to increase our capacity for happiness (though the success of our quest is not thereby guaranteed). Because they shared this conviction, many philosophers have written books purportedly on “ethics,” devoted to what will encourage us to lead the best and happiest lives imaginable. And isn’t this philosophy’s main rationale? Epicurus, a sage from Athens who lived shortly after Aristotle, points out that “in the study of philosophy, pleasure accompanies growing knowledge; for pleasure does not follow learning; rather, learning and pleasure advance side by side.” This quest for a “good” or “happy” life is called wisdom.

[…]

So it is a philosophical journey, in this broader sense, that I would like to propose to the reader. There is nothing linear about the route, which won’t be following the chronological order of the authors’ lives or the emergence of concepts: this would be conventional and boring. It is, instead, a ramble, the most exciting imaginable, with many questions and concrete examples on the way.

***
The intellectual distrust of happiness

The essayist Pascal Bruckner offers another view: “I love life too much to wish to be permanently happy.” Indeed, there is a movement against the pursuit of happiness, which I’ve discussed before. Lenoir, however, adds to this conversation and speaks to a reason for the intellectual mistrust in happiness: vulnerability.

I think that there is another reason why certain academics and intellectuals mistrust this theme and are reluctant to tackle it—a reason that they find difficult to admit to: to discuss it properly, we have to expose ourselves on a personal level. We can discourse ad nauseam about language, hermeneutics, the theory of knowledge, epistemology or the organization of political systems without this necessarily involving us intimately. Things are completely different when it comes to the question of happiness, a question that, as we shall see, affects our emotions, our feelings, our desires, our beliefs and the meaning we give to our lives. It’s impossible to give a lecture or a talk on this subject without a member of the audience asking, “What about you? What’s the meaning of your life? What system of ethics do you follow? Are you happy? Why?” A lot of people find these questions embarrassing.

In the end, happiness is a philosophical pursuit. Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide is a great place to start your inquiry.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

4 Books That Will Make You Happy And Successful

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What is the good life?

That’s the primary question I’m trying to answer with this blog.

Shortcuts and lifehacks are great. Surprising trivia is nice. But how can we really live great lives? I don’t have time for much less.

And I don’t like corny fluff. I want answers backed by research, expertise or deep insight.

Here are four books that really helped me. And I think they’ll help you too.

 

Find Direction In Life

What is it?

Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?

What did I learn from it?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen combines personal experience and MBA principles to provide a path for good life choices.

Confused about a rational but ethical way to find your life’s purpose? What your five year goals are? This is the book for you.

Video:

(Short on time? Just watch from 7:50-11:34 mins.)

Check it out here.

 

Be Happier

What is it?

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

What did I learn from it?

5 hugs a day makes you a happier person. We often pick the easy, lazy choice but it’s the challenges in life that bring joy.

These and many other great insights you can use every day to increase your smile-to-frown ratio.

Video:

This one is a very thorough overview of happiness research. Settle in to cover all the big points. Need a quicker version? Read this.

Check it out here.

 

Be A Good Person Who Succeeds

What is it?

Wharton professor Adam Grant‘s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

What did I learn from it?

People who give to others often get exploited and end up at the bottom of the heap. Not surprising.

But givers also come out at the top of the heap: happier, more successful and loved.

Adam Grant’s well-researched book provides a strategy for being the latter: a good person who succeeds due to their kindness.

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 42 seconds in to 4:02.)

Check it out here.

 

Have A Happy Family

What is it?

Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More

What did I learn from it?

Feiler does an excellent job of rounding up the latest research on what makes loving families thrive.

He gives surprising insights (kids should decide their own punishments), supports things we know in our hearts (grandmothers make a huge difference) and provides strategies you never would have thought of (the project management system used at the office can also help at home.)

Video:

(Short on time? Watch from 5:38 to 8:28.)

Check it out here.

 

Sum Up

Again, they are:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What are the top five books you must read?

What are five books that can change your life?

Which books can teach you how to be the best you?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Surprising Secret That Can Make You Happier at Work

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You might achieve more when you care less

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The number of hours in the day stays constant, but your to-do list is ever expanding.

You start the day worrying about how you’ll get everything you need to do finished, and end it by worrying if everything you’ve accomplished is up to your standards.

Your daily stress is only interrupted by occasional spikes of anger at your colleagues, boss, or employees and their unreasonable expectations or inability to take some of this mountain of work off your plate.

Does this sound like you? If so, author and blogger Kelly O’Laughlin has some advice for you. Recently on the blog Quiet Revolution, which accompanies Susan Cain’s hit book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, O’Laughlin shared the story of her friend who, like many entrepreneurs, found herself utterly overwhelmed by her work–so overwhelmed, in fact, that she was seriously considering quitting.

O’Laughlin had another suggestion, however. Don’t leave; just care less.

You are probably trying too hard

Wait, what? How could phoning it in be good advice?

O’Laughlin points out that if you’re the type to be so stressed about your work in the first place, your phoning it in is probably the same as others’ measured consideration of the right level of effort. “If you relate to this story [of her overworked friend],” she writes, “I’m willing to bet that your 80 percent of effort is most people’s 100 percent. So, by caring less, you’re actually caring just enough.”

Perfectionism, she goes on to say, isn’t just bad for the perfectionist herself (though it can, of course, be miserable for those afflicted). Counterintuitively, it’s also often bad for your work.

“It’s great to want to be helpful and make a difference at work, but you have to take care of yourself first,” O’Laughlin explains. “You aren’t helping anyone if you burn out and quit. Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

She adds: “And here’s a bonus: You might achieve more when you care less. When you reduce the pressure on yourself to attain perfection, you can flow more quickly and easily through your tasks. Trust that your intuition and experience will guide you. Freedom from the weight of perfection can be creatively liberating.”

What’s your ‘minimum effective dose’?

O’Laughlin’s prescription might seem heretical to some stressed-out strivers, but she’s not the only expert urging those overwhelmed by work to take a long, hard look at whether their intense levels of effort are really necessary. Dr. Christine Carter, an author and happiness expert, has pushed a similar idea, the ‘minimum effective dose.’

“We need to accept that more is not necessarily better,” she has written. “The first step in dialing back the busyness of everyday life is to figure out your minimum effective dose of everything. Figure out how much time you actually need to spend on your email, going to meetings, driving your kids to their activities, etc., in order to be effective at home and at work.”

Are you brave enough to try simply caring a little bit less?

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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MONEY consumer psychology

When Money Can Bring You Happiness

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Here are 3 reasons to spend yours wisely.

You’ve heard the refrain countless times: Money can’t buy happiness.

Or love. Or class, for that matter.

But a wave of new research suggests that cash can indeed increase your pleasure—if you manage it the right way.

In fact, the influence of money on well-being is such a hot topic that experts around the country have devoted their studies to it.

Want a peek at what some of them have discovered?

We asked three researchers who spend their days delving into the ties between money and satisfaction to divulge their most intriguing revelations—and explain how you can leverage their insights to get happier.

Professor Michael Norton Says … Spend on Others to Be Happy

A professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Norton has an interest in the intersection between finance and personal satisfaction that stems from his diverse academic experience.

After earning a Ph.D. in psychology, Norton received a fellowship to study business at the MIT Media Lab and the Sloan School of Management.

“Considering how much time people spend thinking about how to increase money and happiness, [I wanted] to figure out the relationship between the two,” the co-author of “Happy Money” explains. “[I wanted to know], when it comes to how we spend, are we getting it right?”

His Key Findings Initially, Norton, 40, uncovered that people spend most of their money on themselves.

“But my fellow researchers and I thought maybe this wasn’t the best way—that an outsized focus on the self might be part of the reason why having more money doesn’t necessarily make us happier,” Norton says.

To test his hypothesis, Norton designed a study in 2008 in which participants rated their happiness before being handed an envelope containing cash. Half were instructed to spend the money on a personal expense or gift for themselves; the rest were told to donate it or buy a gift for someone else.

The results? Those who gave the money away reported higher levels of satisfaction, whereas those who spent on themselves weren’t any happier.

Curious to understand the implications, Norton conducted a few more experiments.

In one, Belgian salespeople received 15 euros to spend either on themselves or on a co-worker. In another, recreational dodgeball players were asked to use $20 for their own purposes or for a teammate’s.

Time and again, people who gave money away reported increased happiness compared with the control group.

Not only that, but their performance improved. For every $10 a salesperson spent on herself, the employer reaped $3 in sales—but every $10 employees spent on co-workers translated to $52 in sales.

Likewise, charitable dodgeball teams scored more goals. Every $10 spent selfishly led to a 2% decrease in wins, but $10 spent on teammates increased them by 11%.

How to Boost Your Own Bliss While any degree of generosity will up your joy, some kinds of giving are more powerful than others. “The closer you are to the recipient, the happier you’ll be,” Norton says.

So buying flowers for your mom has a greater effect than, say, contributing to a stranger’s Kickstarter campaign.

And while the amount you spend doesn’t influence your happiness, Norton says, theimpact of your contribution does.

For example, when it comes to charitable giving, you’ll get the most bliss for your buck if you donate to organizations that create a personal link between the giver and the recipient, such as Kiva or Adopt A Child.

But regardless of who you give to, try to make it a habit. “The happiness surge you feel from a one-time gift eventually wears off, but people who chronically give are happier overall,” Norton says.

Professor Cassie Mogilner Says … Shell Out for Experiences to Be Happy

In 2004, when Mogilner was working her tail off as a marketing Ph.D. candidate at Stanford, she perpetually found herself strapped for cash and time.

“In business school, there’s so much attention focused on the bottom line,” says Mogilner, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “But I realized that, for me, time felt like a much more precious resource than money.”

Intrigued, she began to channel her research efforts toward investigating the association between time, money and happiness.

Her Key Findings Over the past 10 years, Mogilner, 35, has found that time is a significant happiness predictor because, more so than your possessions, how you spend your spare hours reveals your interests and unique “you-ness.”

Just look at social media: People share photos of weddings, vacations and delicious dinners—but you don’t see many posts about trips to the mall.

To that point, Mogilner has also investigated how long we enjoy the mental boost that comes from temporal experiences versus material goods. “We get used to a new pair of shoes very quickly—it’s a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation,” she says.

So while you might be psyched about your new boots at first, before long, they’re relegated to the back of the closet. Instead of being a source of joy, they now serve a purely functional purpose.

“In contrast, we adapt more slowly to experiences,” Mogilner says. “The way we spend time becomes a part of our memories—our personal narrative.”

People also tend to feel less regret after shelling out for a good time, adds Mogilner.

“After you spend $100 on a dress, you can see the other dresses you didn’t buy right there in the store,” she explains. “But if you spend $100 at a restaurant, you’re less likely to second-guess your decision because you can’t see the alternative meals you passed up.”

How to Boost Your Own Bliss Mogilner’s latest research focuses on the concept of buying more positive time—such as renting an apartment closer to work as opposed to buying a luxury car in which to commute.

“Our lives are the sum of our experiences, so we should be supremely deliberate in spending our time in the best and happiest ways possible,” she says.

Her preliminary findings? People are more satisfied when they outsource a chore anyone can do, like cleaning the house or picking up dry-cleaning.

And when it comes to deciding how to use the time you’ve just freed up, Mogilner says you can maximize your happiness by keeping a few points in mind.

“Activities with a social aspect have the strongest effect,” she says, pointing to things like a family picnic, a concert with friends or a date night with your spouse. “Social activities increase happiness because they cultivate relationships with others—and having strong, stable connections with others is the most important ingredient for well-being.”

Another satisfaction inducer, she says, is experiencing out-of-the-ordinary events—such as taking a vacation somewhere new and exciting—which will have a greater impact on happiness than everyday pleasures.

Speaking of vacations, you can get even more happiness bang for your buck if you book your trip well in advance.

Research published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that just anticipating a getaway is as enjoyable as the trip itself. So start planning your winter break—now!

Professor Jeffrey Dew Says … Get on the Same Financial Page With Your Partner to Be Happy

Fifteen years ago, Dew and his wife were colleagues in the mental health field, but partway into his career, Dew had a change of heart and decided to enroll at Penn State for a dual Ph.D. in human development and family studies.

His transition back to student life had major consequences: He and his wife lost their benefits and half their income.

“I wondered how the change in our financial situation might impact us as a couple,” says the 38-year-old Dew, who’s now an associate professor in the department of family, consumer and human development at Utah State University. “I looked at the scientific literature, and found that not many researchers had asked this question.”

So he decided to explore it himself—ultimately uncovering a major connection between money and marital happiness.

His Key Findings In 2012, Dew and his colleagues analyzed data after following married couples over the course of five years. In an initial survey, the spouses were asked how often they fought about various topics, including money, chores, intimacy and time spent together.

Dew was particularly curious to see if any of those arguments correlated to divorce rates, and found a striking trend: For men, money fights were the only conflict that predicted a split. For women, money and intimacy were equally loaded—but financial disputes were a much stronger divorce determinant.

In fact, couples who argued about money several times per week were 37% more likely to divorce than those who only had financial spats once a month.

Why are finances such a fraught subject? Dew has a few guesses.

“Money fights are frequently a stand-in for bigger relationship issues,” he explains. “On the surface, an argument might appear to be about overspending, but underneath, it’s a struggle over trust or power.”

Plus, if you’re under financial duress, there’s likely an added layer of stress to a relationship—and that can take a serious toll.

So Dew and his team did a follow-up study in 2013 with 450 married and cohabiting couples, with the goal of determining how happy couples combat financial pressures.

“We looked at the frequency of their financial management behaviors, such as creating a joint budget and putting money aside for retirement,” he says. “[And what we found is that] the more often couples engaged in sound financial practices together, the more likely they were to be happy.”

How to Boost Your Own Bliss The secret to happiness, according to Dew, is to get on the same financial page with your partner by opening the lines of communication as soon as possible.

That’s not to say you have to agree on everything. “Most issues can be worked through, although it will take compromise from both sides,” Dew says.

Dew’s suggestion: Commit to regular money dates—be it monthly or quarterly.

“And try sandwiching these financial discussions between two enjoyable activities, so that they’re less stressful,” Dew says. Consider opening a bottle of wine while you go over the numbers, and then head to dinner or a movie afterward.

One thing to focus on during your money date nights? A financial goal that’s meaningful to both of you, such as saving for a dream trip to Hawaii two years from now or paying off your house by 2020.

“It’s so easy for money to drive people apart,” Dew says. “But by having a shared objective, you can instead use it to bring you closer together.”

More From LearnVest:

 

TIME psychology

2 Things That Lead to a Happy Life, Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

I’ve posted a number of times about two nearly-lifelong studies: the Terman Study (covered in The Longevity Project) and the Grant Study (covered in Triumphs of Experience.)

While different in some respects, both followed a sample of people from youth until death and provided insights into what makes for a happy life.

What two big ideas do they both strongly agree on?

 

1) A Happy Childhood Matters More Than You Think

The Grant Study found being happy when you’re old is tied to having had a warm childhood:

Vaillant concludes that a loving childhood is one of the best predictors of mid and late-life riches: “We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.”

The Terman Study realized that “Parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death.”

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

The long-term health effects of parental divorce were often devastating— it was indeed a risky circumstance that changed the pathways of many of the young Terman participants. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. Parental divorce, not parental death, was the risk. In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future.

Sadly, our own childhoods are not something we can change, but this is something to keep in mind if you are or will be raising kids.

2) Relationships are the Most Important Thing

What was the Terman study’s most important recommendation for a longer life?

…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

Read that sentence again. It wasn’t receiving help from others, it was giving it:

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

The Grant Study found that “the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.”

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

Vaillant’s insight came from his seminal work on the Grant Study, an almost seventy-year (and ongoing) longitudinal investigation of the developmental trajectories of Harvard College graduates. (This study is also referred to as the Harvard Study.) In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

“Vaillant was asked, ‘What have you learned from the Grant Study men?’ Vaillant’s response: ‘That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.‘”

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

The Grant Study realized there was a single yes/no question that could predict whether someone would be alive and happy at age 80:

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

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

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved.

More on the Terman study here. More on the Grant Study here.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Find Happiness: 3 Secrets From Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You’ve probably read a lot of stuff on the internet about how to find happiness… but you’re still not jumping for joy.

Some of the tips feel corny… so you don’t actually do them. Others stop working after a while so you stop following through.

What gives? Isn’t there a solution that really works and keeps working?

I’m with you. I want answers. Who has them? Sonja does. So I gave her a call.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor at University of California at Riverside and one of the leading experts on happiness. She’s the author of two great books on the subject:

Okay, let’s find out why all these tips we see again and again may not be working — and what will make you happier.

 

What’s The Best Version Of You?

A lot of what you read about becoming happier sounds downright corny. Counting your blessings, doing good for others… all those cliches your wise grandmother told you to do.

But here’s the thing: the cliches are often true. Grandmom knows a lot. Here’s Sonja:

Psychologists often have to confirm the obvious, or what your grandma might tell you. It happens to be the case that in most of what I study, the folk wisdom is correct. People who are randomly assigned to be grateful once a week for six weeks, they actually do become happier and their relationships are improved. People who do acts of kindness get various benefits.

But if it feels corny — even if it works — you often don’t follow through. So what addresses that very real issue?

Sonja says that the best method is the one that clicks for you. Maybe you’re already showing gratitude. Maybe you’re the most gratitudinous person on the planet. (Yeah, I made that word up.)

But there’s an area of your life that could use a boost, something that will move the needle and that’s where to start. Here’s Sonja:

You have to find the strategy that works for you. You pick one thing that you think you’ll feel natural doing, that you want to try, that you think you’ll enjoy. For me, it’s savoring. I don’t think I savor enough. So now when I’m with my kids I just enjoy being with them and try not think about what I have to do tomorrow. Everyone can choose something like that. For someone else it might be starting an exercise program. For another person, it might be trying to improve a friendship you’ve kind of let go; you haven’t really called that person in a while. Choose one goal and then just take small steps towards it.

So don’t feel like you have to do something that sounds silly to you. But what is going to click for you?

Ask: “What’s my vision of my best possible self?”

When your life is perfect, what is it like? And that can tell you what’s really important to you and what your values are.

Research shows that thinking about your best possible self doesn’t just clarify goals — it can also make you happier just by thinking about it. Here’s Sonja:

Imagine your life in ten years and that your goals have been accomplished. You’re living your best possible life. Think about that in different domains. I did this once with students and they said to me, “I didn’t even know what my goals were.” So they were forced to articulate their goals. Some people said to me things like, “Yeah, I didn’t think my goals were feasible until I wrote about them,” and they realized there were concrete steps they could take.

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

Great. But I have bad news. That happiness trick is going to stop working after a while.

Huh? Why?!? Don’t worry: it’s not your fault…

 

“Hedonic Adaptation”

That’s just a fancy way of saying: You can take ANYTHING for granted.

Yes, anything. Researchers looked at people who suffered terrible accidents and ended up in wheelchairs. Guess what? Eventually, they adapted and were happy again. Hooray!

But researchers also looked at lottery winners… Yup, people eventually adapted to that too. Ugh.

We all take things for granted. We never experience something and then BOOM — we’re happy for the rest of our lives.

When we say “I’ll be happy when X happens” we’re just not telling the truth. That great job, that dream wedding, that beautiful baby — none of them is the final key to happiness we think it will be. Here’s Sonja:

“I’m not happy now, but I’ll be happy when I have a baby, when I move to that city where I’ve always wanted to live, or when I get that job, when I have that career I want… then I’ll be happy.” Actually, our happiness really lies inside of us, and so people who aren’t happy at their current job probably won’t be happy at their next job either. We carry ourselves from one job to another. The idea is that most people are not really aware of the power of hedonic adaptation. Yes, that job or relationship or that move is going to make you happy… but it’s not going to make you happy for as long or as intensely as you think it will, because we adapt.

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

Depressing, I know. But we ain’t done. Not by a long shot. Here’s what you can do about it…

 

New! Different! Surprising!

Habits are awesome for getting things done and they make our lives much more efficient.

But because of hedonic adaptation, habits can be a big problem for happiness — you can get in a rut.

But there’s a solution. Actually, there are three:

  • Novelty: Try a new angle. Watching Netflix on the couch feeling stale? Go to the movies.
  • Variety: Try different strategies. Gratitude isn’t doing it anymore? Try savoring.
  • Surprise: Not sure how something will turn out? Awesome. Grab that special someone and take tango lessons. Or sumo wrestling classes.

To beat hedonic adaptation, we need to keep things fresh. Here’s Sonja:

Novelty, variety and surprise can prevent or slow down adaptation. So, with relationships, let’s say you get married and you get a happiness boost. Studies show that it takes about two years for people’s happiness levels to go back to what they were before the wedding. That doesn’t mean that you’re not happy with your marriage, but we get used to it to some extent. So we want to introduce some variety and novelty and surprise to the marriage in a positive way. Don’t watch Netflix every Friday night; mix it up. Do different things with your partner. The kind of things that can lead to more surprises, again in a positive way. Same thing with a job. Open yourself up to new opportunities, challenges, taking risks, learning new things, and meeting new people.

When I talked to one of the leading experts on love, Arthur Aron, he said the same thing: doing something new and exciting has enormous power to spice up a relationship — and make you happier.

I know, I know, you need a concrete answer of what to do. But you also need something tailored for you. Well, here’s a great way to find that:

Ask yourself: “What would I do if this were my last month?”

When you feel like good things are going to end, it dramatically shifts your perspective. You take advantage of opportunities. You do the things you know you love. You get off the couch and see those people who mean so much to you.

And she’s done the research — answering this question has power. Here’s Sonja:

We asked students at George Mason University in Virginia to pretend that it was their last month before they move far away. Every week they’re supposed to do something to savor their last time with friends or family. To go on that hike that they’ve always wanted to go on, to go to the restaurant again that they really love, etc. And they got happier. They increased in measures of flourishing, positive emotions, and well-being.

(For more on how to stop being lazy, click here.)

Okay, lots of stuff here and we don’t want this to be yet another internet happiness list that doesn’t produce results. Let’s round this up into something you can use…

 

Sum Up

Research-backed happiness wisdom from Sonja:

  • Ask “What’s the best version of me?“: This can tell you what you value and what’s missing in your life. Now you know what interests you and can get you closer to that perfect, happy life.
  • New! Different! Surprising!: You can and will take anything for granted. So spice up the things that make you happy by adding novelty, variety or surprise.
  • Ask “What would I do if this were my last month?”: If you felt you’d never be able to do that fun thing again or see that special someone again, you’d get off your butt. So ask the question — and then do that stuff.

Happiness doesn’t have to be complicated. Research shows simple things like hugs really do make us happier. And as Bil Keane once said:

A hug is like a boomerang – you get it back right away.

I’ll be sending out a PDF with more joy-inducing tips from Sonja in my next weekly email. (Including the answer to the one thing you do all the time that killshappiness.) To make sure you get it, sign up for my weekly email here.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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