- Once you have enough to cover your basic needs, money stops making you feel fulfilled. It’s easy to chase the dream of being rich, and then get stuck: if money won’t buy happiness, what does?
- Fortunately, there’s a lot of research on what makes people happy. This article covers three pillars of a meaningful and happy life.
- Do difficult things that matter, and work hard at them. Overcoming challenges and moving toward a goal is hard work, but it gives you a sense of purpose and makes you deeply happy. We’re happier chasing the carrot than we are eating it.
- Lift up the people around you. Generosity is one of the best predictors of happiness, wellbeing, longevity, and a sense of meaning. Use the hacks below to build generosity into your life.
- Get outside yourself with meditation, float tanks, psychedelics, breathing exercises, or any other tool that challenges your thoughts and gives you perspective. Stepping outside yourself brings long-term happiness.
In a recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode [iTunes], Jack Canfield, the originator and co-creator of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, talks about his journey to find more happiness. The advice isn’t as straightforward as you might think: Canfield talks about everything from LSD to finding your purpose to avoiding stupidity. He starts with simple advice: if you want to be happy, don’t focus on money.
“I made six million dollars in a year,” Canfield said. “I bought all the things you’re supposed to buy. I bought four cashmere sweaters in different colors and all that stuff…it quickly got very clear that the things outside me were not going to make me happy.”
Research supports what Canfield says: if you want to be happy, getting rich won’t do it.
That’s not to say money is worthless. It actually can buy you happiness — to a point. Princeton researchers found that people are less stressed and respond better to life’s challenges once they’re making $75,000 a year. That’s about the income at which most people can achieve decent financial security, which allows them to relax and prepare for a rainy day.
However, the researchers made an important distinction: money buys life satisfaction, but not happiness. People with more money were just as emotionally unfulfilled as their less wealthy counterparts. So while money can ease stress and make you comfortable, once you have enough to cover your basic needs, there are diminishing returns on the satisfaction money brings.
So what actually makes you happy?
There’s research on that, too. Here are three things that bring you genuine happiness, and how you can incorporate them into your life.
Do difficult things that matter (and work hard at them)
For all of human history, people have worked to make life easier. Now, we’ve finally reached a place where life is pretty comfortable. Technology has made day-to-day life cushier than ever before.Yet depression is on the rise, and more and more people are dissatisfied with their lives.
Research suggests that being comfortable all the time actually makes you less happy. As humans, we find meaning in overcoming difficult things. When you face and overcome challenges, you become a stronger, happier person in the process. You also show yourself that you’re tougher than you thought, which builds your sense of self-worth.
One of the rules for life in Game Changers — a collection of wisdom and tools from the most successful people in the world — is that joy in life comes from pursuing things that really matter to you. If your basic needs are met, stop seeking more money. Ask yourself these questions instead:
- What annual income do you actually need to have your needs met?
- What would you do if you made twice that amount tomorrow?
Work toward making the amount of money you actually need instead of trying to be rich. Focus the rest of your time on the answer to the second question — adding into your life things that matter to you. If you aren’t sure what matters, pick a few things to try that might keep your interest.
It sounds counterintuitive, but if you want happiness, set difficult, meaningful goals for yourself, make a plan to reach them, and get to work. Happiness comes from facing challenges and expanding your comfort zone, not staying in it.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few common goals:
- Lose X percent body fat
- Build X pounds of muscle
- Meditate for X minutes every day
- Track your performance at work, and learn to become X percent more productive in the next 3 months
- Take an online class to learn a new skill, or learn about a new topic (psychology, painting, gardening, quantum physics — whatever floats your boat)
Lift up those around you
Generosity is another strong driver of happiness, right down to the neurological level.
Being generous lights up a part of your brain called the temporo-parietal junction, which in turn activates reward and mood-lifting pathways. It’s not just happiness, either — helping others also links strongly with increased health, longevity, wellbeing, and a sense of meaning in life. The authors note an interesting caveat, though: the benefits go away if the compassion you’re giving overwhelms you.
So if you want to be happy, lift up those around you — but put on your oxygen mask before helping others, so to speak. Don’t go overboard with generosity at the cost of your own performance.
Make it a habit to do one selfless thing, big or small, every day. A few examples:
- Buy coffee for the person in line behind you
- Write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life
- Compliment a friend or a stranger
- If your partner or friend has been overwhelmed lately — sickness, a new kid, or any of the other challenges life brings — call and ask if you can pick anything up for them.
Small acts of good can bring you a lot of depth and happiness, and will strengthen your connection with the people around you.
Get outside yourself
It’s easy to get caught in your head, especially when you’re stressed. Make it a point to do something in your life that lets you step outside yourself and get some perspective on your life. Here are some options:
- Meditation makes you happier and increases your ability to deal with stress. Plus it’s free and you can do it in ten minutes a day. Not sure where to start? Here’s a simple guide to meditation.
- Sensory deprivation tanks (also called float tanks) suspend you in water in a lightproof, soundproof pod, kept at exactly your body temperature. They cut off sensory input as much as possible, which makes you feel like you’re floating through infinite, empty space with nothing but your mind for company. A typical floating session lasts 90-120 minutes, and is a powerful way to step outside your normal thoughts and get some clarity on your life. People report a deep sense of peace and happiness after floating, Floating is also great for anxiety and depression, and can even increase creativity. You can read more about float tanks here.
- Psychedelics are another powerful way to get out of your head. They’re illegal in many parts of the world, so do your due diligence before trying them, but in short, more and more research suggests that psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca can permanently increase happiness and openness. Take a look at this guide to psychedelics for a detailed breakdown of each compound and the research supporting it, as well as an honest look at the risks of psychedelics and advice about how to have a positive experience. Biohack responsibly.
For more tools you can use to increase your happiness, check out Game Changers. It contains the best wisdom from interviews with hundreds of top performers, distilled into practical habits you can use to win at life.