behavior · brain · emotion · happiness · mental health

How being grateful for the little things makes a big difference

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...
Being thankful for the little everyday things, like just being able to eat, is better for you psychologically over the long haul. Image via Wikipedia

I received this newsletter post from financial advice blog LearnVest. It provided some interesting insight into another reason why practicing how to be grateful in itty-bitty ways (see my earlier post) is actually better for you in the long run.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratefulness and what really makes us happy. This has been a truly happy year for me personally—the LearnVest audience has grown 310%, our company is celebrating its two-year anniversary, our team has tripled in size, and, to top it all off, I got engaged last month to the best guy I know.

All of this has reminded me of the “happiness lab” I worked at back in college, where I witnessed one psych study that changed my life:

When given the hypothetical choice between lots of big wins in a short amount of time (like all of your dreams coming true in a week) and one consistent thing they already liked, guaranteed forever (like a warm cup of coffee every morning), most people chose the big wins: a bigger house, a fancy car, a promotion, winning the lottery.

But the lab’s researchers found that the coffee-every-day-forever approach really makes people happier when push comes to shove. Why?

We say we want a bigger house, but then we have to maintain it. We say we want a promotion, but it comes with more stress and longer hours. Meanwhile, one reliable, comforting constant in our lives—like a soothing cup of coffee every day—can make us feel great. In general, the big things we strive for don’t necessarily make us happier.

This study proves scientifically what many of us have always known: Money can’t buy happiness.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to think about what really makes you happy. Is it writing? Taking pictures? Giving back to the community? I have a feeling you’ll find that many of the best things in your life don’t cost a thing, or are well within your reach right now.

I hope you can find the laughter and the joy in every situation. May this year and every year bring you a lot to be thankful for.

Toward a richer life,

Follow @alexavontobel

behavior · happiness · mental health

How Optimism Affects the Economy | LearnVest

find your happy place
Image by emilychang via Flickr

Seattle is known for its gray skies, and perhaps stand-offish attitude to new comers, but I’d argue we are a surprisingly optimistic metropolis. In fact, we’re number four on a Gallup poll’s list of happy major cities. It turns out this is also a good thing for our local economy.

According to new research… the happier you are, the quicker the area you call home is likely to recover. In other words, it’s not just the economy that affects ours moods—it might actually work the other way around, too.

A recent study by the University of Miami School of Business Administration has shown that in in states where people are more optimistic, an economic recession is weaker, expansion is stronger and recovery faster.

Alok Kumar, one of the study’s researchers and a finance professor at the University of Miami School of Business, measured optimism levels across different U.S. states by looking at three key factors: weather, sports optimism and political optimism. In other words,  warm, sunny weather encourages the release of serotonin in the brain, which makes people alert and cheerful. Additionally, we’re happier when the political party we like is in power and our sports teams are performing well.

After creating an index to measure economic well-being in those same places, the researchers crunched the numbers to reveal the correlation between mood and economic activity. Overall, they found that happier places had higher retail sales, which improves the economic climate and helps lessen the effects of a recession. The results of the study showed that other non-economic factors—like warm weather and good sports teams, which improve happiness and optimism—also helped improve local economy, meaning that your mood (and the mood of your town’s fellow residents) can directly impact your area’s economic outlook.

read more about the study via Find Your Happy Place: How Optimism Affects the Economy | Living Frugally | Psychology Of Money | LearnVest – Where life gets richer, and check out their recommendations for happiest large, medium, and small cities.