Have a Happier New Year

| January 5, 2020 | 0 Comments

As a financial planner, my basic role is to help people make their lives better, whether it’s through realizing their dreams or simply organizing their finances. In more than 20 years of working with clients, I’ve found that the most impactful conversations are often not about money. They are about life, health and relationships.

With that in mind, I’ve been listening to a podcast called the “Happiness Lab,” by Dr. Laurie Santos. It’s based on her class at Yale University called the Science of Well-Being, which was so popular it had to be taught in a concert hall.

What Research Tells us About Happiness

You can control more of your happiness than you realize. According to the book “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubormirsky, about half of our happiness is hard-wired; our genetic pre-disposition to how we see the world. The good news is that the other half can be managed and improved.

Our life circumstances don’t matter as much as we think. Obviously, leaving a war zone or an abusive relationship will have a large impact. But once your basic needs for food, shelter, and safety are met, things like winning the lottery or getting a new job have less of an impact than people often think. But rich people can be just as unhappy as poor people, and often feel guilty about it.

You can become happier, but it takes work and daily effort. Much like weight loss or exercise, there are things you can do daily to improve your level of happiness. Like anything worthwhile, they don’t come easy and require constant attention.

Our minds are often wrong about what will make us happy. The day you win the lottery or get a big pay raise will be a great day, but soon you’ll return back to baseline. Similarly, people will often describe truly horrible events in positive terms (after a while). Things are often not as bad or as good as we think they will be.

Six Things You Can Do to Improve Your Well-Being

Make time for social connections. Researchers consistently find that happier people spend more time with other people. Even introverts. Human beings are social animals, and person-to-person contact is critical to our well-being. And that doesn’t include social media or texting; Dr. Santos calls these the “junk calorie” version of interaction.

Helping others makes us happier than we expect. Dr. Santos cites several research studies in which people were given money and told to either give it away to other people or spend it on themselves. Those who gave it away were measurably happier than those who kept the money. Another technique here is to frame your work as helping others in some way, rather than drudgery to pay the bills.

Make time for gratitude every day. When you meet up with friends, does your conversation tend toward things for which you’re grateful? Or do you tend to focus on things that annoy you or life’s many challenges? I know I have to work hard on this one, but according to Dr. Santos, happy people tend to focus on the things they’re happy about. Just writing down 3-5 things you’re grateful for at the end of the day has been shown to improve your well-being within 2 weeks.

Healthy practices matter.Getting seven-to-eight hours of sleep and regular exercise have a profound impact on well-being.

Being in the present moment is the happiest way to be. People who focus on what is happening right now tend to be happier than those who are worrying about other things. For example, the next time you have some ice cream, focus on the taste and the ice cream, not the text message you just received. Meditation for even 10 minutes a day has been shown to improve happiness and well-being as well.

Become wealthy in time, not money. Most people today feel pressed for time, adding to our stress and inability to live in the moment. You can increase your happiness by freeing up your time (allowing you to interact with other people).

These things take effort. But the result is a better, happier, healthier you. Isn’t that worth a little extra effort?

This column is prepared by Rick Brooks, CFA®, CFP®. Brooks is director/investment management with Blankinship & Foster, LLC, a wealth advisory firm specializing in financial planning and investment management for people preparing for retirement. Brooks can be reached at (858) 755-5166, or by email at rbrooks@bfadvisors.com. Brooks and his family live in Mission Hills.


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