While loneliness and some time alone can be a pleasant change of pace from time to time, nobody likes to feel lonely. This may sound obvious enough, but just how dangerous isolation can be is something you do not know. Persistent isolation has been shown to cause stress over time and produce more protein fibrinogens in your body that block arteries, boost blood pressure, and make you more likely to get diabetes and have a heart attack.
What’s more, in compiling seven years’ worth of data from nearly three and a half million people, researchers found that loneliness increased a person’s chances of death by 29 percent. Meanwhile, social isolation increased that chance by 26 percent, and living alone by 32 percent. Remarkably, these statistics show that loneliness is deadlier than type 2 diabetes or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
This brings us to the third item on the STORIES checklist: Relationships. Curbing loneliness is about finding ways to connect with other people. And the good news is that there are many ways of doing this.
The way to be less lonely, essentially, is to do something fun, something, actually. Most encounters include other individuals in some way, whether you are playing sports outdoors or playing a board game indoors. But psychologists have found that these behaviors can also offer a sense of belonging in the wider sense, even though you are seeking solitary experiences such as meditating, reading an fascinating book or working on a drawing.
And remember, whenever you have an interesting experience, it gives you a good story to tell, and sharing stories is one of the best ways to form bonds with others.
Ideally, as a person, your experiences speak about who you are, so think about what you want to do, and then see if you can join a group in your community or online. There are plenty of outdoor groups if you want to go hiking; if you like reading, join a book club, or start your own.
Check out what’s going on in your community. It’s highly likely that there’s a group or association doing something that you find interesting. If not, there may be a festival within a reasonable distance that you can attend. And when’s the last time you talked to your neighbors?
No matter what you’re up to, there’s probably a way to make adjustments and find ways for your activities to connect you with others.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard about flow, a state of being in which you’re so fully immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time. Studies have found that when we’re experiencing flow, we’re also experiencing some of the happiest moments in our lives.
This brings us to the Intensity part of the checklist. After all, finding flow essentially means being so intensely focused on what you’re doing that all your troubles recede. Needless to say, when it comes to deciding how to spend your time, choosing an experience that gives you flow is often the smart way to go.
For starters, what you do should be challenging enough that staying engaged with the activity requires all your abilities and demands a state of full-body awareness. This is what athletes call the zone.
Notice that mindless video games, binge-watching, and scrolling continuously through a news stream are not engaging behaviors enough. They’re not going to leave you with the kind of transformative gratification you’re going to get from good flow, even if they can cause you to block everything around you and suck hours from your life.
A handy, simple rule of thumb for telling the difference between good and bad flow – or, as the author calls it, real flow and fake flow – is to know that good flow requires you to put in true, intense effort in order to receive the reward at the end.
In reality, the progression of a true flow experience is not unlike the journey of the hero: there is an initial struggle, followed by a release in which you reach the zone and the flow begins, and then, at the end, you feel exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, but still ecstatic to have your metaphorical dragons killed.
Difficult experiences are thus not only worthwhile, they can be some of the happiest and most rewarding things you’ll ever do, if they’re intense and require your full engagement.
And where can you find such experiences? Well, sports are great for adding flow to your life, but you can also get it from performing in front of an audience, writing, carpentry and any number of other activities that require skill and attention.
For example, have you ever considered taking an improv comedy class? In the author’s experience, few activities are more intense than trying to be funny in front of a live audience.
Extraordinary is the penultimate product on the checklist to change how you spend your time. This stands for experiences that are out of the ordinary, as the name implies. But that also means paying attention to the moments at the highest that decide how unforgettable an event is.
Peak times have a disproportionate amount of impact on how we view things, as well as endings. Psychologists actually have a term for this effect: the law of the peak-end. Basically, it means that for an annoying amount of time you will stand in line, but if the line speeds up in the last moments, you can hopefully look back at the encounter as not that annoying.
In other words, even though the experience was mostly annoying, you’ll remember it as being pleasant enough because of how it ended, or how it peaked.
The peak-end rule applies to a person’s experiencing self and remembering self, and knowing about this difference can allow you not only to make better decisions about how you spend your time, but also to plan those experiences better.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to pack up as many peak moments every day as you can. After all, if it’s all odd things all the time, you’re just going to burn out. Plus, to make the odd stand out, it takes an average baseline. Since the needs and desires of everyone are different, we must all find the right balance that works for us.
It’s also worth noting that you can inject a seemingly ordinary moment with extraordinary significance just by appreciating the inherent wonder in nature and human existence. Therefore, while it makes sense to add new and exciting experiences to your everyday life, you can also have a happier life by recognizing the everyday as already pretty special.
For starters, consider a cup of tea. It might be ordinary on its own, but it can be pretty exceptional if you make each brew part of a regular relaxing ritual. All societies have hierarchies of some kind, and there are individuals of different rank everywhere there is a hierarchy. We have clerks, supervisors, managers and directors in the workplace, for instance. But there are also two other key ways to gain status: there are experts who gain status through their schooling, and wealthy individuals who have gained their own money through their schooling.
This is significant, since researchers have found that status can bring happiness, primarily through the added amount of control and number of options in life that come with it.
According to a University of Cambridge study, three things can lead someone to flourish in life: control, capabilities and social participation. And the way you increase these three things is by attaining more education, money and power – the three elements of status.
With more education comes more capabilities, and with more money comes a wider array of experiences to choose from. This equates to more opportunities and more chances for social engagement, which in turn can lead to increased happiness.
As for the kinds of interactions that can lead to a greater position in life, continuing your education is one of the best things you can do to become more of an expert in your profession. When you visit more cities, do new things, and go on more adventures, travel is also a great way to learn more information through transformative experiences.
As for social participation, this can be increased through any activity that helps you become more connected to your community, and a more important figure within it. This could include joining a local committee or just networking with more colleagues and peers.
It also helps to do things that help you become more fit. But this isn’t about body image – it’s about being in better shape so that you can increase the range of physically demanding adventures and activities that are available to you.
Turning off the TV is the final step to higher status. It’s no coincidence, according to the author, that the lower someone’s status is, the more he or she watches TV. The more you watch, the less story-worthy interactions you have. So start thinking about TV as a last resort when all other options are inaccessible to switch to.
When it comes to the association between status and money, however, it’s important to understand that it’s not about how much you make, but how you use it. Happiness doesn’t come from buying interchangeable material things that anyone else can buy.
It comes by using your resources to support others, as well as your time. By focusing their attention on the seven main elements that make up the best experiences, the STORIES checklist helps individuals bring more satisfaction, sense and happiness to their lives: Story, Transformation, Outside & Offline, Relationships, Intensity, Extraordinary, and Status & Significance. These are all features that direct you to interactions that foster your personal growth and increase your happiness, while keeping you away from hollow behaviors that add no value or facilitate unhappiness.
So, as a piece of advice, try this weekend to go offline and get wild. For the weekend ahead, schedule some outdoor activities, including hiking, canoeing or biking. Pack a picnic and head out to the seaside, or set up camp in the nearest park or forest reserve. You might also only set up some long lunches with friends for the weekend.
Whatever you want to do, intend to turn all your internet devices off and leave them off on Sunday from 7 PM on Friday until 7 PM. Then make a note of how you feel when you are untethered over the weekend. There’s a fair chance that you’ll experience some signs of withdrawal, but see if you can replicate this experiment at least one weekend a month while attempting to move towards getting more free weekends on the internet.
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