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Wealth is not the answer to happiness


Jan. 17, 2017 The National

I believe my life will really begin – that I’ll be happy – when the right person, or circumstance, comes along. Ring any bells?

Being happy. The eternal quest is especially pertinent at this time of the year. It’s when we tend to take stock of our selves and lives – with the result that January is divorce month in many nations. Some have named the first working Monday after New Year’s as D Day.

Reasons include giving the relationship one last go over the festive season and deciding it won’t work, budgets bursting the world over as people lose sense and overspend, contemplating whether they are “happy” and concluding they are not.

Money – as expected – is an especially volatile topic this month.

Happy. Take a moment to think what that means to you.

Perhaps you are confusing it with “happyism”: a selfish and consumerist version of happiness.

Happiness comes in various forms. Like hedonic or eudaemonic, and boy are they different. Allow me to introduce you to both:

Here’s the science bit: they engage different parts of the brain, therefore they are very different.

Hedonic: pleasure-oriented. It’s all about “me”. Think of it as individualistic and material.

Eudaemonic: Aristotle would approve. It includes having a sense of purpose, taking on new challenges, growing as a person. It’s all about what I can do and be.

Reading around these issues reminds me of a dear friend. She lacks for nothing, has lots of money, is in the longest, committed, marriage I know, travels extensively, you name it.

But her life is on hold. Not entirely her choosing, but still she yearns for a sense of purpose and the uplift it’ll bring.

She needs eudaemonia in her life. Women who scored high on psychological tests for it weighed less, slept better, and had fewer stress hormones and markers for heart disease than others, including those who had achieved hedonic happiness, according to a study led by Dr Carol Ryff, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The women who were better off were purposefully engaged in life, and pursued self-development.

Truth be told, I don’t like the word happy. I prefer joy. Think: what brings you joy, what do you enjoy? I’m sure this is an easier ask than “are you happy?”

More importantly, you can imagine, and implement, things that are joyous.

If you actively include them in your life, you’re in a virtuous circle.

This is how someone who gets joy out of poetry could create their nirvana: have poetry books in every room in the house. Join a poetry group that meets once a month.

Go with a friend to poetry readings. Try their hand at writing poetry during their weekend.

It has been proven that actively incorporating and pursuing this sort of joy brings you longer lasting pleasure than say getting a bonus – even though both make you happy to start with.

My eudaemonia-lacking friend started taking flying lessons and loves it. Not everyone has her budget so here’s something you can do for very little: social engagement. The age-old therapeutic act of hanging out with great friends really does do you good.

But none of this will work if you don’t make a key decision: to be happy. It is a choice.

To help you be happy, or happier, I highly recommend you read Hector and the Search for Happiness – read, not watch the movie.

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