Times are tough. The recession may be over on Wall Street, but no one has told Main Street. Budgets are still being trimmed, layoffs continue, and jobs are hard to come by. Many of us have been forced to downsize and are still struggling to meet our monthly expenses. All of this anxiety and stress can take its toll on our emotional well-being and physical health. Stress puts us at higher risk for harmful behaviors such as substance abuse or overeating. These days it can be easy to forget about what’s important in life.
Many of us hold onto the belief that more money would make us happy. Research shows that there is a correlation between money and happiness up to a certain level of income. Poverty, with all of its profound stressors, is clearly a cause for unhappiness. However, there is no significant correlation between money and happiness above a household income of $75,000 per year. Now $75,000 per year is nothing to sneeze at, especially in this economy; but it’s still hard for many of us to swallow that an extra million dollars wouldn’t bring some happiness. But this just isn’t the case.
The significant economic gains experienced by Americans in the past few decades have Not been accompanied by a rise in happiness, and in fact, these economic gains have been associated with increases in depression.
After an initial period of giddiness, even lottery winners are not significantly happier. One study showed that they report experiencing LESS pleasure in ordinary activities than accident victims. In some cases, winning the lottery has been shown to lead to severe depression. While most people cling to the idea that their problems would be solved if they only had more money, this is simply not true. We feel poor only when we are comparing ourselves to those around us, and people who are focused on material gains at the expense of personal relationships are some of the most miserable people around (you know who you are).
So if more money won’t do it, what does make us happy? Here are 5 research-based tips to loving life in tough times:
1. Make relationships a priority. We are social creatures and much of our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships. As such, it is important to invest time and energy in your relationships. Resist the temptation to isolate in times of stress. Take some time for yourself, but don’t spend all of your free time alone. Isolation can lead to loneliness and depression.
2. Get in the “flow” of life. Take a break from ruminating about your past and worrying about your future. Make an effort to spend time living in the moment. Become immersed in whatever you are doing right now. When you get into the flow of life, you forget yourself and bring your focus, energy, and talents to bear to achieve your goals.
3. Limit your time spent in “passive” activities. Research shows that unhappy people watch more TV than happier people. They are also more prone to gain weight and have relationship problems. Get outside and get active. Regular rigorous exercise can often be just as effective in treating depression as antidepressant medication.
4. Make an effort to help someone else. Acts of generosity and altruism, such as volunteering your time for a worthy cause or engaging in community service makes people happier.
5. Count your blessings. Make a list. People who take time to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives report feeling happier. People who focus on the negative report less life satisfaction.