Satisfaction is the ultimate luxury and the key to happiness

Isaac Mostovicz writes that that our inability to foresee the future honestly leads to our inability to find real happiness...

Is money the key to happiness? Is losing your job always an unhappy event? New research in psychology and economics has revealed the seven secrets of a happy life.

The psychologists who conducted the study explored the reason behind why many people struggle to find real happiness. According to the study, we overestimate the emotional impact that events will have on our lives, preferring to linger on the most salient features of an experience, without taking into account all the repercussions. That means that when we chase a dream, say, of living on a paradise island, we only anticipate sunny weather, beautiful beaches and pure luxury. Instead, we might find ourselves homesick, without our friends and feeling displaced. Our inability to honestly conceptualise a new experience will leave us unsatisfied when we arrive there.

Instead of continually looking to greener pastures, the new research suggests that the secret of happiness lies in what we already have. It cites the value of friends over wealth and shows the brighter side to divorce and losing your job.  The most important finding, is that to achieve happiness, you should be satisfied with that you have.

This contradicts research that was released last month that offered the sum of $75,000 as the benchmark for achieving happiness.  The concept of buying happiness is, as I said in my post reflecting on this previous research, irrelevant to the nature of happiness itself.

The research also brings up the question of what luxury really is. Luxury is not a need – no one needs a diamond, for instance, but instead diamonds are a want. To desire and to want is key to giving us a purpose to live for and aspirations to target. If we reached the level of happiness in the way proposed in this research, whereby we should be satisfied and not yearn for more, we may fall into despair, because our goals had already been reached leaving us no further journey to take. Instead, luxury tells us that we do have a purpose by accentuating the difference between a must and a want, enabling us not to sink into constant pursuit of need with a false hope for happiness.

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Happiness for $75,000?

Isaac Mostovicz writes that money still can't buy happiness...

In a recent post I wrote that if people are always seeking something better in their lives, they might not appreciate what luxury they already have. Happiness cannot be purchased — to possess it, one just has to know what luxury means to him or her.

This week the Associated Press reported that academics have determined that money can indeed purchase happiness, to a point. Researchers for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people’s emotional well-being increases along with their income up to about $75,000. Going beyond that figure would do little for their daily mood, according to the report, but make the person feel they have a better life.

I think this research is interesting, but I have to disagree with the idea that you can put a number on how much happiness costs — it’s certainly different for every individual. I have two friends who love to travel and see the world, but whereas one derives pleasure from seeing how cheaply she can do it, the other enjoys high-end travel: business class flights, five star hotels, the works.

Both of these friends associate travel with luxury, but do so at very different price points. Luxury always comes down to the individual. It is, by definition, something that we do not need. Yet the bracket of this ‘need’ is rather flexible. It is up to each person to decide what is a necessity that they cannot go without and what is a luxury that they want but really do not need. Often it is those whose level of true need is low that are the happiest: they can appreciate more the luxury in their life and take more opportunity to enjoy it.

So for researchers to measure and quantify to a five-figure sum something that is so specific to each individual, this report disregards the true nature of happiness itself.

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Is happiness the ultimate luxury?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

A study to be published next month by scientists at the Netherlands’ Erasmus University will argue that being happy can help you live a longer life.  It concludes that, while being happy does not cure ills, it does correlate to people not getting sick in the first place.  It can also add years to your life because happy people are more likely to look after themselves, both physically and mentally.

So should happiness take its place as the consummate luxury pursuit?  And, if so, how can it be pursued?

Happiness as a concept is being studied from more and more perspectives.  Developments in neuroscience are allowing scientists to measure and map our behavioural reactions to an increasing number of stimuli.  Is the ultimate luxury product then the one that registers the best emotional response to you personally or perhaps the highest average positive emotional response amongst a given group?

Lord Richard Layard of the London School of Economics has also developed an economic model which is often referred to as “happiness economics”.  He argues that current tax regimes and public policy do not address (or attempt to disincentivise) the negative impacts of competiive consumption rom our lives (i.e. the consumption which does not make us any happier, or makes us even sadder).  Nor does it account for the fact that our tastes evolve over time so that we might need extra money to achieve the same level of happiness as someone with different tastes.

Various studies have also determined that our level of happiness does not substantially increase after an individual’s purchasing power reaches around US$10,000.  Instead, cultivating closer ties to one’s family, friends, or to common interest groups can help, or being able to freely express oneself (in speech and through voting, for example) and to enjoy a reliable and predictable system of justice can make one feel happier. (And even more interestingly, these might differ according to how one pursues his life purpose, as an earlier Theta vs. Lambda post suggests.)

The jury is still out on whether happiness itself will become the metric du jour for what constitutes a luxurious life.  For now, its material proxies still seem to be hotly pursued.

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