“If only I had (fill in the blank) then I would be happy.” How often have you found yourself saying these words? It’s so easy to think that having this or that will make us happier but can buying more “stuff” truly make us happy?
Recently, this was the topic of conversation at a lecture I attended titled The Pursuit of Happiness: Why Is It Elusive For So Many of Us. The presenter was Bob Logan and I have to say this was one of the best presentations I have been to in a while. Mr. Logan has had quite an interesting life. He taught high school history, sold mainframe computers for AT&T, coached multiple NCAA division 1 football games, was head coach of an Italian football team and even helped to raise millions of dollars for missions landing on Mars. Currently, Bob serves as Assistant Dean for External and Corporate relations at the University of Arizona College of Science. Bob is also a sought after speaker on the scientifically proven techniques that have been shown to bring happiness into our life.
Mr. Logan opened the presentation by telling the story of Air New Zealand Flight 901 which crashed on November 28, 1979. This was a sightseeing flight that would leave Aukland, New Zealand in the morning, fly to the Antarctic continent and then fly back to Aukland. This was the fourteenth flight for the aircraft and on November 28th, the plane crashed into Mount Erebus killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew members. It was determined that a change in the flight plan the night before was the cause of the crash. The pilots had not been informed of the change and at the time of the crash, the plane was flying on autopilot.
As I sat listening to this horrific story, I wondered what does this have to do with finding happiness? That’s when Bob asked the following questions:
1. Are you off course?
2. Are you on autopilot?
3. How often do you check your own guidance?
4. What is your destination?
As I asked myself these questions, I realized there are definitely areas in my life where I operate on autopilot. It’s so easy to fall into a routine and do the same thing every day. I like to think that I am being efficient and organized but in reality, I am missing out on so many opportunities to be present and truly appreciate all that is good in my life. When we appreciate the good, that goodness begins to grow and we have more of it. When we fail to appreciate the goodness and we take it for granted, the goodness depreciates. And that’s when we get off course. We start searching outside of ourselves for all that “stuff” that we think will make us happy.
One of my teachers, Dr. Vasant Lad, gives a beautiful definition for happiness. He says, “true happiness is your being, your existence, your life. To become happy you need nothing. If you depend on something or someone then that is not true happiness.”
There have been thousands of studies done on money and happiness and it has been determined that, yes, a higher salary can bring a level of happiness but only up to a certain point. Research indicates that it is not necessarily how much money you have but rather how you spend the money. For example, if you buy a “life experience” instead of material things, the experiences can contribute to your overall well being because they connect you with others, they create lasting memories and experiences can help you identify what is truly important in your life. It’s true what they say……memories do last a lifetime. On the other hand, the latest iPhone….not so much!
Another way that money can buy happiness is when you buy things for other people. Spending money on others provides a much higher level of happiness compared with spending money on ourselves. But, it can’t be a one and done type of thing. When you do this on a consistent basis and make it a habit, the positive effects are likely to stay with you longer. And, you don’t have to break the bank to do this. A gift from the dollar store can have just as much meaning as something more expensive. Better yet, volunteering can be a way to give to others. The only cost is your time!
Obviously, financial security is important to all of us and living within your means will provide a certain level of happiness. Regardless of what you spend your money on, if you are spending more money than you make, this will certainly create unhappiness in your life. Not to mention a boat load of debt! So, it goes without saying that paying off your debts can contribute to your overall happiness. I can attest to this one because I remember the day I paid off my house. I don’t think the reality had truly sunk in yet but as I was at the bank making my final payment, the teller said “that must feel so good to pay off that debt.” And then it hit me….the weight of my mortgage was gone and I did feel happier!
Aside from money, Mr. Logan mentioned a few other ways to generate happiness in your life.
1. Smile more – seems so obvious yet we just don’t do it enough.
2. Spend time in nature.
3. Be creative.
4. Practice gratitude – feeling grateful is the core of happiness.
5. Having a balanced life – understanding what is really important in your life ie., work, family, faith, friends.
As a health and wellness coach, I would be remiss if I did not mention that diet can play a key role in how happy we feel. Did you know that eating a diet filled with processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sweets can increase your risk for depression by 60%? But, if you eat a whole food plant based diet, you decrease your risk for depression by 26%. So, I guess you could say putting your money where your mouth is CAN buy happiness!
If you want to put this to the test, might I suggest you head over to your local farmers market this weekend. Not only will this be a “life experience” but it’s also a way to give to others and enjoy delicious whole foods! The farmers market is definitely my happy place. Give it a try….it just might be your happy place as well!