Spark Joy Meets The Science of Happiness – Part 3

This is the 3rd session of the 6-week happiness class I’ve been taking through Coursera.com taught by Yale University professor Laurie Santos. (To read the first article from week 1 click here, and here for week 2) The focus of the 3rd lecture is about the annoying things our brain does that make us mispredict what makes us happy.  This is an important lesson for those who have accumulated a lot of clutter because they often connect the habit of shopping and owning as something that would make them feel happier. When in reality, the positive feelings are brief, and in the long run, causes them more harm emotionally.

Researchers have found that our minds are built to think in “reference points”, which messes up our judgments. For example, in my work as an organizing consultant, many clients are influenced by images of the perfect closet systems and beautifully labeled containers they see in magazines as their reference point. They become victims of social comparison, which results in them feeling inadequate to get organized and think of themselves as a messy or lazy person.  Another example is if someone you know buys a new top and you use that as a reference point for your own wardrobe, you may start to feel you also need to shop for a new top. This causes you to unnecessarily spend money, and add more things to your closet that you may not otherwise purchase. Unfortunately, our minds are also built to get used to things. So pretty soon that new top you were excited about, and bought for the wrong reason, becomes less attractive over time, and the cycle repeats itself.

We are also affected by something called Impact Bias, which means that we overestimate how much happiness something will bring us, causing us to spend more money than we should. Or when it comes to decluttering, you may think getting rid of something will feel a lot worse than it really does. This ends up making us hold on to things to avoid any uncomfortable feelings of fears or guilt if we let it go. But on the positive, because our brain is built to get used to things you will eventually get over it. And if you switched your reference point and imagine someone else enjoying the item that you donated, then you’ll feel good about the choice to part with it.

For this week’s “rewirement” exercise, we are asked to increase our social connections and do more random acts of kindness. Both of these activities have shown to increase our level of happiness. So I helped a good friend with organizing her closet. We got to spend time together, took a break and had a nice lunch, and she really appreciated my help. Happiness level going up!

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“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

-Mark Twain

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