Money or happiness?

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Interruptions are only annoying if you can’t tolerate them.  Photo by Tom Butler on Unsplash

You have a choice. You can pursue financial wealth, or you can pursue happiness.

This is a short article to help you decide.

WHAT MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY

To an extent, research has confirmed that money influences people’s happiness. The general trend of research findings is that, up to a point, money does indeed make people happier; but the relationship is far from linear, and above a certain amount, extra money has little or no effect.

So it would be unwise to assume that you can’t make people happier by giving them money, or make yourself happier by acquiring it. The message seems to be that having enough (to be reasonably safe and comfortable) is a welcome thing.

WHAT MAKES PEOPLE HAPPIER

However, there are a number of other things that, research seems to show, provide greater happiness. These are quite socially altruistic things, such as gratitude, giving, feeling that one is useful, and feeling part of a social group.

Given that these things are cheaper to acquire, it may be wiser to rely on them for your happiness. For a start, they cannot be taken away as easily as money. And secondly, since they are largely a matter of attitude, you can provide happiness for yourself simply by altering your attitude and behaviour.

TOLERANCE: THE SECRET INGREDIENT

Think of the things that irritate you. What characterises them? Often, you will find that unhappiness is caused by things that interrupt your ability to focus, or your sense of safety, security and continuity. This response is bred into us by evolution: we have developed a preference for finding a peaceful, secure spot, and observing the world from there. It is why watching television is so appealing to many. However, it does mean that we are made unhappy when we feel that our routine or expectations are being disrupted.

If interruption makes you less happy, then you can learn to be happier by learning to tolerate interruptions. Ultimately, if you can retain your sense of gratitude, your giving nature, and your warmth towards others, despite interruptions, then you are far more likely to be happy.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, look out for the interruptions, and try welcoming them instead of reacting against them.

Sources of interruptions can include:

  1. Unwelcome phone calls
  2. Traffic jams
  3. People demanding your attention
  4. Things breaking
  5. Ill-health
  6. Your own sudden distress
  7. Other people’s sudden need for help
  8. Loud, annoying or invasive noises
  9. Things you perceive to be ‘in your way’
  10. Suddenly remembering jobs that need to be done
These are all potential sources of unhappiness. But it depends on your response to them. If you can teach yourself to attend to each of these interruptions without losing your sense of humour, then you are far more likely to be protected against mental harm.

THE USE OF MEDITATION

Certain kinds of meditation can help to make you more skilled at accepting interruptions, and therefore can help to make you happier.

One simple technique is to choose an object of focus for ten minutes. Every time you feel an interruption (a thought, a noise, a feeling), accept the interruption, observe it, and then return gently to the object you are focusing on.

At first, you may find it almost impossible to keep your attention on one thing. But, eventually, you will learn to control your attention. Once you can control your attention, then you can go about your day deciding for yourself what you focus on. You won’t be a victim of what happens to you; instead, you will pay attention, from moment to moment, and decide what to do with interruptions. Sometimes you will accept the interruption and change course; sometimes you will choose to return to your original object of focus, and let the interruption fade. Either way, you will feel happier and more in control.

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SUMMARY

Some people chase wealth. While a certain amount of money does make you a bit happier, research seems to show that giving to others, and feeling grateful, have a far greater effect on mood.

Furthermore, you will be better protected against unhappiness if you learn to accept interruptions with good grace. Meditation can help with this, especially meditations which involve learning to control your focus of attention. It makes you more adaptable.

In short, then, pursuing wealth is a bit short-sighted. In contrast, giving to others, and learning to accept disruption, are extremely wise tactics, giving you a greater chance of being happy.

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