What makes you happy?

His Holiness The Dalai Lama and American Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler wrote “The Art of Happiness” in 1998. Cutler wrote about the central message of The Dalai Lama’s teachings about happiness that, “happiness is possible—in fact, we can train in happiness in much the same way that we train in any other skill”. That makes happiness a choice.

Another central theme of this piece of writing is that compassion leads to happiness.  In the words of Cutler, “There is an inextricable link between one’s personal happiness and kindness, compassion, and caring for others. And this is a two-way street: increased happiness leads to greater compassion, and increased compassion leads to greater happiness.”

Money, spending and happiness

Many of us who toil away our days — noses on our computer screens and leaving barely enough for sleep — tend to think that money will take away our miseries. In many ways it will because more income means being able to buy more things that make life convenient, including better healthcare coverage.  However, in the long run, happiness plateaus even with money literally piling up on your desk.

According to two studies headed by Elizabeth Dunn, how you spend your money, and not how much you have, ultimately determines how happy you will be.

In one study, Dunn and her team sampled Americans and asked how each were spending on four categories: bills and expenses, gifts for themselves, gifts for others, and charitable donations.  Those who spent more on the latter two, which were used to measure “prosocial spending”, were found to be happier. There was no relationship observed between happiness and the first two spending categories.

In an extensive review of literature available on these subjects, Dunn and her team advised that consumers must:

(1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods

(2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves

(3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones

(4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance

(5) delay consumption

(6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives

(7) beware of comparison shopping

(8) pay close attention to the happiness of others

Happiness and aging

Robert Waldinger of the Harvard University reported on a study on health and aging that took 75 years to complete.  The study included 237 college students and 332 youth from the inner city Boston area. He and his team followed their lives until most have died, measuring factors pertaining to physical and mental health, financial standing, psychological wellness, life satisfaction, and social relationships. These factors were repeatedly measured over the years. Their partners were also included in the study.

Below, are two major study findings:

1. Those who were more sociable and were able to build intimate, close-knit personal relationships with family, friends and people in their communities lived longer and happier compared to those who were introverted.

2. Those who had fulfilling intimate relationships, most especially pertaining to happy marriages, were happier and healthier throughout their lives.

Are you happy?

It sounds like it’s as simple as taking a few minutes of personal reflection for you to be able to answer, doesn’t it?  However, it can be complicated for many who live complicated lives.  Perhaps, that’s where happiness takes a beating, and perhaps that’s where you can start.  How can you simplify your life? It’s good to think about your future but, how about thinking about your “now”?


BSTAN-ʼDZIN-RGYA-MTSHO, & Cutler, H. C. (1998). The art of happiness: a handbook for living. New York, Riverhead Books.

Dunn, Elizabeth, et.al. “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” Link: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/danielgilbert/files/if-money-doesnt-make-you-happy.nov-12-20101.pdf Accessed on: 20 Mar 2017

Dunn, Elizabeth, et.al. (2008). “Spending money on others promotes happiness.” Link: http://ggsc-web02.ist.berkeley.edu/images/application_uploads/norton-spendingmoney.pdf  Accessed on: 20 Mar 2017

Waldinger, Robert (2015).  “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” Study was first published in the Journal of American Psychiatry Association. Link:  https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness  Accessed on: 20 Mar 2017



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