Want to Be Happier? Science Says Think Bigger.
We all want to be happier — but it’s a tall order. Most of us tackle it by focusing on the little things — I’d be happy if I just felt more rested, we tell ourselves. If life was just a bit more exiting, I’d be happy. But according to new research, we’re doing happiness all wrong. Working toward these little goals might indeed bring joy, but focusing on them might make us miss out on other emotions and experiences that contribute to greater, long-lasting happiness.
“If people watch a movie with a specific goal like feeling excitement, then they may be less likely to remember the funny or meaningful elements of the movie,” says study author Rohini Ahluwalia, a professor of marketing at University of Minnesota. “We predicted that people with general goals would engage a broader range of emotions and experience more happiness over time.”
Previous studies have shown that setting specific, achievable goals can increase our sense of well-being and happiness, as opposed to more generalized goals, which are more difficult to quantify and, thus, to attain. However, Ahluwalia’s new study found thinking bigger about happiness leaves us open to experiencing a wider variety of positive emotions — and thus makes our happiness last longer.
In one of the experiments carried out, a group of people described aimed at making feeling happier in general. Two other groups described purchases with more specific goals in mind – to increase excitement, or to increase relaxation and peace of mind.
While all three groups reported equal amounts of happiness at the time of purchase, the happiness levels of the latter two groups waned quickly. People in the first group, however, whose goal was general happiness, still felt joy from their purchase six weeks later.
“Our findings suggest that people can change the amount of happiness they get out of an experience,” says Ahluwalia. “A general happiness goal can leave a longer-lasting positive emotional imprint.”
Another experiment showed that participants keeping broader happiness goals in mind experienced more positive emotions when listening to a new song, compared to participants looking to feel a specific feeling, such as energy or excitement, when listening to the song.
“Although more studies are needed to confirm our findings, these initial results show that we can make small changes in our thinking patterns to help us experience more joy,” says Ahluwalia.
And there it is: The secret to long-lasting happiness is recognizing it’s the sum of many parts — and appreciating them all.