5 Tips for loving life in tough economic times
Many of us hold onto the belief that more money would make us happy. Research shows that there is a correlation between money and happiness. However this is only true up to a certain level of income. Poverty, with all of its profound stressors, is clearly a cause for unhappiness. However, when a household income rises above $75,000 per year, there is no real connection between money and happiness. Now $75,000 per year is nothing to sneeze at, especially in this economy. Still it’s hard for many of us to swallow that an extra million dollars wouldn't bring some happiness. But this just isn't the case. There have been significant economic gains experienced by Americans in the past few decades. These gains have NOT been accompanied by a rise in happiness. In fact, these economic gains have been associated with increases in depression.
After an initial period of giddiness, even lottery winners are not significantly happier. One study showed that they report experiencing LESS pleasure in ordinary activities than accident victims. In some cases, winning the lottery has been shown to lead to severe depression. Most people cling to the idea that their problems would be solved if they only had more money. This is simply not true. We feel poor only when we are comparing ourselves to those around us. People who are focused on material gains at the expense of personal relationships are some of the most miserable people around (you know who you are).
So if more money won't do it, what does make us happy? Here are 5 research-based tips to loving life in tough times:
Make relationships a priority. We are social creatures and much of our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships. As such, it is important to invest time and energy in your relationships. Resist the temptation to isolate in times of stress. Take some time for yourself, but don't spend all of your free time alone. Isolation can lead to loneliness and depression.
Get in the "flow" of life. Take a break from brooding about your past and worrying about your future. Make an effort to spend time living in the moment. Become immersed in whatever you are doing right now. When you get into the flow of life, you forget yourself. You bring your focus, energy, and talents to bear to achieve your goals.
Limit your time spent in "passive" activities. Research shows that unhappy people watch more TV than happy people. They are also more prone to gain weight and have relationship problems. Get outside and get active. Regular vigorous exercise lifts your mood. It can often be just as effective in treating depression as antidepressant medication.
Make an effort to help someone else. Volunteer your time for a worthy cause or engaging in community service. Acts of generosity and altruism make people happier.
Count your blessings. Make a list. People who take time to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives report feeling happier. People who focus on the negative report less life satisfaction.
In the end, happiness is not something that a new car, new clothes, or financial success will bring. Just like most birthday presents, which lose their appeal in a few days, more "things" gives us only the most fleeting joy. True happiness lies in our connection to ourselves and to others.