How we think about the future is also colored by how we recall the past. It’s the peak moments of pleasure and pain that stick with us the most.
Say you’re at your friend’s wedding and you trip and fall on your face in front of everyone. That one moment of embarrassment might negatively affect your whole day, and even change your disposition about attending future weddings.
Worrying too much about future situations or achievements can prevent you from being happy right now. For example, focussing too much on achieving, especially in your job, may negatively impact your health and relationships, and distract you from your current experiences.
We also often begin goals with unreasonable expectations for ourselves and when we get frustrated, we end up settling for less, making our path unhappy most of the time. For instance, when we try to get fitter, we often aim for extreme exercise routines that are way beyond our capabilities. Then after inevitably failing to reach our expectations, we take a “what-the-heck?” attitude, leading to no more exercise.
So, when reaching for a better future, don’t forget about your quality of life in the present!
As we’ve seen, we’re prone to letting our past and future cloud our happiness in the present. So how can we make decisions that bring us happiness both today and tomorrow?
We can learn to listen to feedback from our activities. Focussing on the feelings that come as a result of your daily activities will help you ascertain what really brings you happiness.
To start, you can use tracking methods such as the DRM (“Day Reconstruction Method”) to discover which activities and people bring you the most pleasure and purpose.
For one or two weeks, write down all of your activities each day, their length, who you were with, and rank them on a scale from one to ten to represent how much pleasure and purpose you experienced when doing them.
You might also want to ask other people for their thoughts and advice. Friends and family will of course have a more objective view on your current situation and might be in a good position to say how a decision might impact how you’ll feel in the future.
To get the most out of other people’s advice, ask specific rather than general questions. You might ask your partner, for example, “How do you think our daily routine would look in a few months if we decide to get married?”
Use this feedback to make better decisions and foresee your future happiness. Think about the immediate feedback you get from your activities in the past, as well as objective information from those around you. But avoid over-thinking. For example, we often spend a huge amount of time on minor decisions, like choosing the tiles for the new bathroom, and not much time on big decisions, like which house to buy.
By now, you should see how what you do affects your feelings, and you may wish to change how you behave in order to be happier.
The best way is by deceiving your unconscious brain.
You can start by redesigning your immediate environment to automatically make you happier. Even simple, small changes to the settings for your daily activities can alter your feelings towards them significantly, as well as help you form healthy habits and break bad ones.
For example, changing your office light bulb to a blue bulb can have a huge effect on your efficacy, as it’s been shown to biochemically increase alertness.
You can also set up primes and defaults that make you behave the way you wish with little effort. Fill your environment with incentives and reminders for positive behavior. So, if you want to go for a run in the morning, lay out the clothes you need the night before, and make a playlist of your favorite music to run to.
It’s a great idea to have people around you who support your goals and it’ll help to seek out people who have similar objectives to yours. For example, buddying up with a friend with the shared aim of losing weight will combine mutual support with friendly competition and will help both of you keep to your goal.
For extra incentive, you can make public promises regarding your goals. This will make you feel more obliged to reach them. If you want to quit smoking, tell everyone at your office. You’ll have the added motivation of avoiding the embarrassment of explaining yourself if you light a cigarette, and you might even receive some help.
Lastly, it’s important to stay realistic about what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it and divide big plans into bite-sized steps.
Every day, we let ourselves get distracted. Our phones and new technologies are often what capture our attention almost constantly throughout the day. It’s become increasingly difficult to fully engage in a single activity and our brief attention span has become an obstacle to being happy.
The reality is, distraction costs time and energy and is destructive to happiness. In fact, just the act of moving your attention from one thing to another, such as from your work email to your Facebook feed takes “switching cost.” That is, your brain needs time and energy to re-orient itself between tasks, which leads to a decrease in efficacy in both tasks.
Imagine you’re trying to finish a paper for university whilst watching a film and texting your friend. Attempting to do all three simultaneously means you’ll do all three poorly. This multi-tasking stops you from consciously attending to any experience, focussing on what you gain from it and how it makes you feel.
If you immerse yourself in an activity, like talking to your friend without checking your phone, you’ll gain far more enjoyment and purpose from it.
So, what can you do to avoid distraction?
First, establish new defaults to break bad habits. You could switch off all non-essential notifications on your phone, keep it on silent as much as possible and even consider dropping internet on your phone altogether.
You can also make commitments to pay attention to your friends and family. For instance, when sitting down for a meal, play the “phone-stacking game” whereby everyone must place their phone in the middle of the table at the start of the evening and the first one to check theirs has to foot the bill.
Finally, make a mindful effort to focus on the “here and now,” whether it’s work or pleasure. Being in the moment becomes easier with some practice and will allow you to benefit more from your experiences.
Rather than overhauling your personality and radically changing how you think, you can increase your happiness by having a balance of pleasure and purpose in your everyday activities, focussing on their positive aspects and making small adjustments to your surroundings.
So try some of these tips:
- Spend more time with people you like and less with those you don’t!
It may seem obvious to socialize with people we like, but often we hang around with people who don’t bring out the fun or the purpose in our lives. So, make a concerted effort to surround yourself with people who do bring out your pleasures and purposes.
2. Do something for someone else.
Caring for others can foster a strong sense of purpose within us and make us feel incredibly good. One study showed that on average, participants felt happier when they spent $20 on somebody else rather than themselves. Consider what you might do regularly to help or give to others.
Check out my related post: How to deliver happiness in business?