246 - Happiness


We are forever being told that our life targets are fame and fortune. I suggest that we would be better off looking for health and happiness. Health, because we predicate so much of our lives on the assumption that our health will continue as it is – when we are able to actually improve it and if we do not look after ourselves, it will certainly get worse. Happiness is a different matter, and recent discussion in the press prompts me to join in, using what has been published as a basis for adding my two pennyworth and as a basis for asking questions, much as usual.

What set me off first was coming across the Happiness Report 2018, [1] in particular hearing one of its authors (Richard Layard [2,3]) on the radio. This shows that I have managed to miss the previous such reports, indeed to have missed the existence of a body of research on something I have for several decades rated as important. There are, we are told, six key variables found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The 2018 report tells us that, while the bulk of the report is on immigration, the affected parties, (migrants, host communities, those left behind) are generally experiencing positive effects. You are also (rapidly) as happy as the community to which you move1 The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.   


One of the arguments for a change in our behaviour—always a popular topic with me—is a claim that many of us behave as if happiness has a fixed total; if I am happier, it is inevitably at someone else’s expense. This particularly applies to all happiness that you measure using social status – if your own status rises, someone else’s must have somehow fallen. There is a general assumption that more money means more happiness; this is not borne out by study of the topic.  A short term course of psychological therapy is 32 times more cost effective at increasing happiness than simply increasing income.[14][15] link [2] In 2010, Kahneman and Deaton found that higher earners generally reported better life satisfaction, but people's day-to-day emotional well-being only rose with earnings until a threshold annual income of $75,000.[13]  "When asked to take stock of their lives, people with more money report being a good deal more satisfied. But when asked how happy they are at the moment, people with more money are barely different than those with less.”  [4]     

Indeed, source [4] provides ways in which we can have more happiness by spending our money more cleverly – meaning, I think, in ways which maximise happiness:  Specifically, we suggest that consumers should follow these eight listed points:

(1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; An experience is stimulating; it avoids the wandering mind that is strongly connected to unhappiness [5] Being focused on something is a good thing we could apply at work, too.

[5] Fig. 1. Mean happiness reported during each activity (top) and while mind wandering to unpleas- ant topics, neutral topics, pleasant topics or not mind wandering (bottom). Dashed line indicates mean of happiness across all samples. Bubble area indicates the frequency of occurrence. The largest bubble (not mind wandering) corresponds to 53.1% of the samples, and the smallest bubble (praying/worshipping/meditating) corresponds to 0.1% of the samples.

(2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves;  The argument here is based on the assumption that almost anything we do to improve our connections with others tends to improve our happiness as well—and that includes spending money. Funnily enough, I discover that this marks me as even more of a miser than I had thought. Or that I have a lack, long recognised internally; some sort of emotional component is missing. I do not get a kick out of donating to charity, nor of spending money on others. Having others spend money on me doesn’t improve matters either as there is then a geas to return the favour. I find myself largely in agreement with the merchant banker who, when confronted by a charity collection box, asked “What is in it for me?”. Monty Python. I recognise, having moved recently from full occupation and talking all day to being fully unoccupied except by self-imposed targets, that I need some interaction with others, however brief, to stay sane. Even given the low opinion I have of my fellow humanity in general, I discover the need for interaction. Stimulating conversation is so hard to find, especially outside the family.

(3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones; The thinking is that, since we adapt to delights, we’d be better off indulging ourselves on small things than large ones – more doses of happiness. But beware of boredom / familiarity. You are less likely to adapt to small pleasures, oddly enough. To encourage slower adaptation you apply what is learned in [6] that people attend to self-relevant, unexplained events, react emotionally to these events, explain or reach an understanding of the events, and thereby adapt to the events (i.e., they attend less and have weaker emotional reactions to them. So the novelty, surprise, uncertainty and variability are important features in causing ourselves to adapt more slowly. Time for Kato to leap on M. Clouseau from hiding?

(4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance;  Bad things are good for you, too. What has been discovered from researching this is that people in general do not know themselves at all well. My interpretation of that is that we (too many of us)  have not gone out to have adventure (perceived risk) in ways that taught us anything. Like about privation, or stamina; to learn what we can cope with say as mental or physical stress, and cope – or learn to cope, or to discover that this is not as hard as we had imagined. As one Ten Tors trainee memorably said, “Each time we come out on Dartmoor I discover a new level of tiredness at which I can still function”. I agree completely; furthermore, if you ‘been there’ before, you know the level at which you function (or don’t) and you can allow for it, deal with it, work to reduce the effects. You discover (or rediscover) the value of simple things like warmth, food, air, being dry, being clean, being wanted… it makes you appreciate what you have. See my webpage on decision-making to understand this point more. [212, Choices, and see [4] directly].  

A critical skill set that happy people tend to have in common is emotional intelligence (EQ). At TalentSmart, we’ve tested the EQs of more than a million people and know what makes high EQ people tick. So, we went digging until we found some great ways that emotionally intelligent people create their own happiness.

1. They don’t obsess over things they can’t control. It’s good to know how the Brexit might affect your country’s markets or that your company could merge with its largest competitor, but there’s a big difference between understanding these larger forces and worrying about them. Happy people are ready and informed, but they don’t allow themselves to fret over things that are beyond their control.

2. They choose their battles wisely.
Emotionally intelligent people know how important it is to live to fight another day. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged and unhappy for some time to come. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.

3. They get enough sleep. I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to improving your mood, focus, and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, removing toxic proteins that accumulate during the day as byproducts of normal neuronal activity. This ensures that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your energy, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation also raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Happy people make sleep a priority, because it makes them feel great and they know how lousy they feel when they’re sleep deprived.

4. They heed their moral compass. Crossing moral boundaries in the name of success is a sure-fire path to unhappiness. Violating your personal standards creates feelings of regret, dissatisfaction, and demotivation. Know when to stand your ground and express dissent when someone wants you to do something that you know you shouldn’t. When you’re feeling confused, take some time to review your values and write them down. This will help you to locate your moral compass. 

5. They exercise during the week.
Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a soothing neurotransmitter that also limits impulsivity. A University of Bristol study showed that people who exercised on workdays reported improvements in time management, mood, and performance. The benefits of exercise always outweigh the time lost in its pursuit.

6. They have a growth mindset.
People’s core attitudes fall into one of two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. This creates problems when you’re challenged, because anything that appears to be more than you can handle is bound to make you feel hopeless and overwhelmed. People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. This makes them happier because they are better at handling difficulties. They also outperform those with a fixed mindset because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.

7. They clear the clutter.
 I don’t need to remind you of how much time you spend at work. Take a good look at your workspace. You should create a space that’s soothing and uplifting. Whether it’s a picture of your family, a plant, or an award that you’re proud of, display them prominently to keep them on your mind. Get rid of the junk and clutter that hold no significance and do nothing positive for your mental state.

8. They lend a hand.
Taking the time to help your colleagues not only makes them happy, but it also makes you happy. Helping other people gives you a surge of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which create good feelings. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were 10 times more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion. The same study showed that people who consistently provided social support were the most likely to be happy during times of high stress. As long as you make certain that you aren’t overcommitting yourself, helping others is sure to have a positive influence on your happiness.

9. They let their strengths flow.
A University of Chicago study of peak performance found that people who were able to reach an intense state of focus, called flow, reaped massive benefits. Flow is the state of mind in which you find yourself completely engrossed in a project or task, and you lose awareness of the passage of time and other external distractions. Flow is often described as an exhilarating state in which you feel euphoria and mastery simultaneously. The result is not just happiness and productivity but also the development of new skills through a heightened state of learning. The key to reaching flow lies in organizing your tasks such that you have immediate and clear goals to pursue that play to your strengths. As you begin working on these tasks, your focus increases along with your feelings of adequacy. In time, you reach a flow state, in which productivity and happiness flourish. Set clear goals each day and experiment with task order until you find the secret formula that gets you flowing.

10. They believe the best is yet to come.
Don’t just tell yourself that the best is yet to come — believe it. Having a positive, optimistic outlook on the future doesn’t just make you happier; it also improves your performance by increasing your sense of self-efficacy. The mind has a tendency to magnify past pleasure to such a great degree that the present pales in comparison. This phenomenon can make you lose faith in the power of the future to outdo what you’ve already experienced. Don’t be fooled. Believe in the great things the future has in store.

(5) delay consumption; This is the complete opposite to ‘pay later’. This is the person who does their homework first and watches tv (goes out, consumes some enjoyment) afterwards. This is the person who does the chores first so as to enjoy the down time all the more. The research says this makes you a happier person. Hedonism is like all pleasures, better left to wait a little while. Instant gratification is not good for you. That is not the same as saying it is bad for you, of course. One might recognise that the opposite viewpoint of instant gratification leads to the short-term thinking and behaviour I have been moaning about forever. Or, as it increasingly is seen by me, simply avoiding thinking at all. There is a second reason why "consume now, pay later" is a bad idea: it eliminates anticipation, and anticipation is a source of ‘free’ happiness, not just the thing itself, but the anticipation. Indeed, some research has shown that the anticipatory pleasure is often greater than the event itself. I reckon that would depend on the way you anticipate things. Question: which is more pleasurable, looking forward to a holiday or thinking back on it? If the former, then you have the kernel of the value of anticipation. Source [4] adds that this future delay has two more effects: (i) it may change your choices towards more virtuous ones. Something to do with marginal utility, I suggest. (ii) it creates an uncertainty, so preventing adaptation, in turn keeping attention on the product (or event or whatever) – which promotes happiness, however odd that may seem. 

(6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives;  Ungh? ….in thinking about how to spend our money, it is worthwhile to consider how purchases will affect the ways in which we spend our time.  This is as much to do with self-knowledge and self-honesty as anything else. As [4] puts it indirectly, if your chosen team wins or loses tomorrow, does that actually effect anything next week, despite what you claim today about happiness? Less directly, what effect does a single ‘purchase’ have on a typical day? 

(7) beware of comparison shopping;  One of my personal bugbears. I derive very little pleasure from shopping; I have no difficulty deciding if a something is useful or not (and I can decide that for <price>, I can afford to find out – and generally I view choice between this version and that one as either an opportunity to review what benefits (pleasure, even) I think I am buying, or what I have appreciated about the concept of the product. The indecision process is not pleasurable, though the decision process can be, especially if I have done my homework – some of the anticipation discussed in (5). To me, the time spent in whatever the purchase process takes is part of the cost of the product, for very rarely is this a pleasurable experience. I think car sales is/are very good at increasing anticipation and directing expectations so that the delivery itself exceeds those (thus making you happy with the product and more likely to provide repeat business). See [7]. Thus comparison shopping tends to make one focus on things that have little or nothing to do with utility or marginal happiness. This is okay if the whole process itself is a source of happiness to you. I suggest that for too many people comparison shopping is a game of trying to get something for nothing; I say tnstaafl. ²   I continually, boringly, moan at the lady wife about her fascination with comparison shopping; I say she loses sight (totally) of the reasons for having the thing; whatever the comparative measures used, they are inappropriate to the problem of choosing the optimal product – they change the selection to something less relevant. Thus the eventual choice is likely to be less than satisfactory.

(8) pay close attention to the happiness of others. This is not an exhortation to pursue point (2) (use your money to benefit others rather than themselves) more vigorously, but to use things like product reviews to help you decide whether or not to follow the herd. For example, is a reviewer in your herd? Is <what they like> close enough to <what you like>?   I find that what makes me laugh is not what makes others laugh; I find that if you tell me I’ll enjoy a book, too often you mean you did, but that has little to do with whether I will. A good review tells me why you enjoyed a thing. Indeed, I discovered at university that the company made a difference: Monty Python was funny if watched at Wadham and not at all funny if watched in Brasenose (now isn’t that strange?). I’ve been in cinemas and laughing out loud, up to the point where I realised mine was the only such laugh and that therefore I was seeing something they weren’t, and/or spoiling their fun. 3



As [4] says: Money allows people to live longer and healthier lives, to buffer themselves against worry and harm, to have leisure time to spend with friends and family, and to control the nature of their daily activities—all of which are sources of happiness (Smith, Langa, Kabeto, & Ubel, 2005). While people with more money have every opportunity to be markedly happier, it is quite clear that the factor ‘more money’ doesn’t generate the same factor increase in happiness. Which begs a number of questions why. The argument made in [4] says that this is because the spending of that extra money is not targeted at increased happiness. That is, Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t. 

The point raised in (3), that novelty, surprise, uncertainty and variability are important features in causing ourselves to adapt more slowly, may go some way to explaining complaints that one’s life is boring. I agree with anyone who says that learned experience might provide safe habits—for example I prefer to park in very similar places for a collection of reasons I can articulate but which amount to ‘things don’t go wrong’—and yet I would be quick to agree that such behaviour is boring. But only boring if you have cause to think about it; if instead you use this attitude of habit to make yourself able to enjoy other new experiences, let’s say for example that safe parking means you don’t worry about where you left the car, then not-worrying is a positive that permits happiness to be higher. Indeed, I have long claimed that worry is a non-productive activity unless it causes you to take action to diminish the concern. What is known within the family as Barbara’s Question: “What are you going to do about it?”. If the answer is “nothing” then there really is no cause for worry; if you are still worrying then I suggest that you should have found an action to take, i.e. that the decision that you can do nothing is itself a bad decision. If, conversely, you are worrying because someone else’s action or inaction is going to cause a problem, is it really your problem to solve? Point (8) may well apply.  

The estimable Richard Layard was heard by me to say that happiness is a commodity that most of us treat as if its sum total is fixed. He went on to demonstrate how this thinking percolates, but argues that this need not be so and that, indeed, happiness can be generated. What is an important corollary there is that the sum total of happiness is not fixed, that it can be created and, therefore, we can make ourselves happier by finding ways to create that state (but not at the cost of the happiness of others). Point (2) above says to me that one of the ways we can make ourselves happier people is to go make someone else happy – what must be a win-win situation; you feel good, I feel good, no-one feels bad, so the sum total of happiness must have gone up; success. That only leaves the question how to do that.  My further reading list [10 onwards] gives many routes to increase your own happiness. [12] for example, gives you a collection of actions which may well make you happier. [11] gives a list of ten points from Travis Bradberry [11] in the Huffington Post that you apply to yourself, from which I have copied some into the sidebar and commented, both in blue.

This is a list with which I find myself agreeing at first and then steadily disagreeing. On points 1-5 I absolutely agree, though I am beginning to wonder just what exercise is strenuous enough, and I suspect I’ve been way over the top for a long time, possibly losing the fun aspect of exercise. I suspect many people have problems with point (4), 'heeding your moral compass’, which I see as a function of internal honesty. On point (6), the growth mindset, I think I have proved that people can change, having reinvented myself since 2005. I have found a lot of evidence that just six weeks consistent (and assumed new) behaviour grows a new habit. Whether one chooses to change in positive ways is a function of the other points. Indeed point (6) might be about being able to cope with challenges. (7), being free of clutter, I agree with, but to me that is about mental clutter and so about self-honesty and clear thinking. I’m looking at (8), wondering if it makes a difference and whether I should try it. Doses of serotonin are to be found in exercise and in singing, already discussed in earlier work. I see (9) as the 'ask a busy person’ thing, but also about leaving someone alone when they’re in the productive zone. I disagree with point (10); I’d agree if this was phrased as ‘there is more to come”, or “we’re not finished yet”, or “there are new experiences to be had”. That last is a bit like an unfinished bucket list.


You would think that the measurement of happiness using self-reporting would be flawed, being a subjective method. Yet attempts to use objective methods (lifespan, wealth, education) all assume that these things are relevant. A combination of the two is used by happiness economists (is that a paradox?). It can be argued (that is, it is argued, but you may disagree) that happiness is what you make it, so if you say you’re happy, who is anyone else to argue? A better question would be to ask what you could do to make yourself happier, assuming that is something you would want to do. This is the problem with the subjective measures, since people say they want more income, or to be on a higher social plane (whatever that means to them) or to be healthier. If those are indirect ways to being happier, then I suggest that the question asked is not quite the right one. What would I do to make myself happier? Not much, because I’m pretty happy already. So does that mean I fail to score on the happiness meter?

Equally, some people are inherently dissatisfied. Whether that state equates to unhappiness, I don’t know, because I see that as an internal conflict. I have spent a lot of my life feeling frustrated – and I’ll suggest here that this was to do with wanting any and every change to come more quickly, so that is frustration confused with patience, and showing a lack of the constructive anticipation discussed earlier. The ‘now’ society has a lot to answer for in terms of collective anger.

Are there collective benefits to having a happier population? Evidently so: there is greater co-operation, greater social interaction and hence cohesion, in turn greater tolerance, possibly because one of the attributes of a happy society is a willingness to communicate, which increases the opportunity for mutual understanding, hence consideration and even more happiness (in the form of contentment). This is not to say that a happier population is any less demanding of change for the better, but it might well go about seeking such changes in very different ways from the confrontational ones we are, and have been, accustomed to. I suspect that a happy population would be a lot more productive – not just better directed work when ‘at work’, but more purposeful in so many respects.  This might, indeed, be the state that the Church has been seeking. Or a part of it.

DJS 20180501

I stopped partway, writing: “more to come, but published unfinished and with not all the typos discovered, simply because I want to go have a run (pursuing happiness) before going to band (expectation of happiness).

Top pic , https://steemit.com/freedom/@adamkokesh/happiness-causes-freedom  and the site is well worth a visit, too. [14], perhaps.

1 While convergence to local happiness levels is quite rapid, it is not complete, as there is a ‘footprint’ effect based on the happiness in each source country. This effect ranges from 10% to 25%. This footprint effect, explains why immigrant happiness is less than that of the locals in the happiest countries, while being greater in the least happy countries.

2 tnstaafl is the acronym for 'There’s no such thing as a free lunch'. Early references can be found in the 1930s. See wikipedia on this topic. Read by me in Heinlein, both 'Stranger in a strange land’ and ‘The moon is a harsh mistress’, 1966. Which means it was pretty new when I read it, all credit to the library service of the time.  Also spelled tinstaaflf (there is…) and tanstaafl (There ain’t…).   Economists (Philip Chen comes to mind here) will likely blame Martin Friedman for the word, when he was discussing opportunity cost.  I found the ‘see also’ list quite fun.

3  Classic example from Grease (1978), where Kenicke’s condom is discovered broken, simply because, for all the bravado, he’s kept the condom in hope of use since 8th grade. I saw this joke coming from the moment the scene started and lost myself in giggles, loud enough for the little girl in the row in front to turn to her father and ask why I was laughing so hard. Dad had just time to say “I don’t know” before he realised why I was in giggles. His attempt to not laugh made me laugh even harder. The little girl’s repeated question just made it all worse. 

4 I wonder whether, if among those who enjoy placing bets, then if you are depressed at your team losing its last match, whether you should have bet that they would lose? So if they win then you feel happy that you had ‘a good game’ and don’t mind the loss ‘at the bookies’, and if they lose you have the compensation of the financial gain. Thus balancing the emotion with the cash and in turn putting a value on that happiness. Whether that value is a cost or a price is, I think, a separate argument. Postcard answers, please.

[1] http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2018/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness_economics
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Layard,_Baron_Layard
[4] https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/danielgilbert/files/if-money-doesnt-make-you-happy.nov-12-20101.pdf    Well worth reading; the lengthy explanations may change your initial rejection of one of the eight recommended actions.
[7] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~tdw/dunn.location.pspb.2003.pdf  The authors replicated the impact bias in a real-life context in which undergraduates were randomly assigned to dormitories (or “houses”). Participants appeared to focus on the wrong factors when imagining their future happiness in the houses. They placed far greater weight on highly variable physical features than on less variable social features in predicting their future happiness in each house, despite accurately recognising that social features were more important than physical features when asked explicitly about the determinants of happiness. [….] This discrepancy emerged in part because participants exhibited an isolation effect, focusing too much on factors that distinguished between houses and not enough on factors that varied only slightly, such as social features. 
[8] https://www.pathwaytohappiness.com/create_happiness.htm     Much too wet and emotional for me
http://www.actionforhappiness.org/about-us  much better than [8]. This is a gateway to loads of stuff about how to go about generating happiness.

Googling ‘generating happiness’, different from ‘creating happiness’.. Sources [10] onwards might be better labelled as further reading, since I did not use them in writing the piece above.

[10] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12605/6-ways-to-create-your-own-happiness.html   too much me-me-me.
[11]  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-travis-bradberry/10-powerful-ways-to-creat_b_13978980.html   also aimed at self-help.
[12] http://www.actionforhappiness.org   There’s a lot here in bite-sized chunks.
[13] https://blogs.wsj.com/source/2012/11/25/five-ways-to-be-happy-and-productive-at-work/   …… a gateway site tot he Wall St Journal
[14] https://steemit.com/freedom/@adamkokesh/happiness-causes-freedom    suggests that happiness is a state of mind you can choose to have. Simply decide to be happy. Now there’s an idea. The greatest weapon against tyranny is a mind that refuses to submit to manipulation. If we want to be warriors for truth, soldiers for justice, and champions of freedom, we must first attain the discipline of happiness and a great capacity for living in love. Be the master of your own mind. Choose your demeanour at all times. Never meet a fellow person with force or coercion. Strive to live by reason. Smile because you're alive. Remember, HAPPINESS is the ultimate act of defiance.

Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2018