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How to Be Happy

According to Gilbert, humans are terrible predictors of what will bring joy.

The February ’10 Reader’s Digest offered an interesting article, titled “Joy,” by David Hochman. He disussed the beliefs of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, whose provocative research was put into public awareness by the bestseller Stumblings on Happiness. According to Gilbert, humans are terrible predictors of what will bring joy. Here is some of what Gilbert found that can bring happiness:

1) Commitment. “People who commit to relationships are much happier than those who don’t. That’s why married people are happier than those who just live together. When people commit to something that’s expensive or difficult to get out of, they report feeling happier.”

2) Little things. “Worry less about big, big sources of joy and find a steady stream of small sources”—take walks with your spouse, spend time with your kids, etc.

3) Hang in there. “People are quite strong—much stronger than they themselves realize. One piece of advice I give people who have experienced hardship is to just hang on.”

4) Go to church (or somewhere). “Churchgoers are happier than nonchurchgoers but not for the reasons people expect. It’s not the religion part that makes people happy; it’s the going-to-church part. It’s the community part.” (Yes, the gym counts.)

5) Giving. “[Studies show] that when people were given money to spend, those who spent it on others were happiest. Giving is literally a joy.”

6) Invest in experience. “Experience is almost always a greater determinant of happiness than things are.” (In other words, choose the vacation over material things.)

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