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New Year’s Resolutions For A Happier Life

31st Dec 2013

The new year is often a time for reflection, when our achievements and failings over the past twelve months are the most salient.

This reflection prompts many to make resolutions, promising to do better at one or more facet of their lives in the coming year. Last year, we offered a few suggestions about how to stick to those resolutions, which are hopefully just as valid now as they were a year ago (you can find them here).

This year, our New Year post suggest a few resolutions that might help you have a happier 2014.

Buy experiences

Howell, Pchelin & Iver (2012)find that people are made happier by buying experiences than by buying more possessions, and that they view money spent on experiences as being money better spent. When asked to answer a series of questions relating to their life, participants who reporting buying experiential goods were 18% happier, and 13% more satisfied with their life, than those who did not.

Our natural tendency to be risk averse may also lead us to be more reluctant to buy experiences, such as attending a play or a football match. This is because the quality is difficult to verify in advance, compared to material possessions which can be more easily refunded.

A new paper, by Caprariello & Reis (2013), finds that our greater enjoyment of experiences is mostly a result of these experiences being shared – for example by watching a play with friends.

Make yourself wait for good things

When we have free time, for example a holiday or a weekend, our instinct may be to rush into the most enjoyable activity, for example by going jet-skiing on your first day, and sleeping on the last. This might be a result of the way in which we discount the future. However, Kemp et al (2008), Do et al (2008) and Nasiry & Popescu (2011) , find that our memory of our experiences ‘anchors’ to the last component of that experience. By saving water-skiing until the last day of your holiday, your memories of that holiday, and so your sense of wellbeing, in the near future at least, can be improved.

Care more about others

Dunn et al (2014) and Anik et al (2013) have found in a series of experiments that we feel better when we spend a small amount of money on others rather than on ourselves. When salespeople at a pharmaceutical company are given a small amount of money (€15), either at random or as a bonus, they are significantly happier afterwards if directed to spend it on others than if they spend it on themselves. Similarly, these small bonuses are found to increase workplace productivity, but this is only profitable if people are asked to spend the money on someone else. Participants asked to spend the money on others sold €78 more of the product after receiving the bonus than the control group did in the same period. When asked to spend the money on themselves, sales only rose by €4.50.

Care less about others

The Easterlin Paradox is a well known finding which suggests that, as the saying goes, “money doesn’t make us happier”. However, more recent research has suggested that whilst our absolute wealth may indeed have no effect on our happiness, how much money we have relative to others affects both our well-being and life satisfaction. In fact, the research suggests that moving from being the worst paid person in the workplace to all workers being paid the same amount has the same effect on happiness as increasing pay 200%.

The reason for this is thought to be that we often compare to others in order to make judgements about ourselves and like to “keep up with the Joneses”. Focusing less on how others are doing and more on ourselves might make us both happier and more empowered to make beneficial changes to our lives.