Happiness — an ever-elusive state of being that we unceasingly chase, even though we know it is an inevitably temporary companion.
The question of what makes us truly happy is more philosophical than practical, yet science continues to try and pinpoint the perfect formula for human euphoria.
A spate of recent investigations has led to various conclusions about happiness; the most important of which is that money and pleasure are only related inasmuch as the former can be used to create the kinds of positive life experiences that produce the latter. Translation: Instead of spending your yearly bonus on a new gadget or article of clothing, you’re better off putting those funds towards a vacation with your family, or a trip to the theater with your friends.
“Despite the allure of acquiring material possession, people should acquire experiences to enjoy greater happiness,” remark the authors of a new study examining what kinds of experiences make us most content. Conducted by experts from Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, the investigation concluded that the kinds of experiences that produce the most happiness vary, based mainly on one factor: a person’s age.
Having a shorter future impacts your perspective
Across a series of eight separate studies, researchers compared the impact of ordinary, everyday events (Cuddling on the couch with a loved one, going for a bike ride, having a conversation with a good friend) versus extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime events (going to a Bob Dylan concert, diving a blue hole in Belize, getting married) on an individual’s overall sense of happiness.
While extraordinary events were powerful mood-boosters, regardless of how old a person was, ordinary events were less likely to impress the young. It seems that the ability to recognize the beauty in everyday occurrences appears to grow as we age.
Study authors attribute their findings to the differences in how people define themselves during various stages of their lives, saying, “Self-definition drives these effects: although extraordinary experiences are self-defining throughout life, as people get older they increasingly define themselves by the ordinary experiences that comprise their daily lives.”
According to previous research, when we’re young and our lives seem to stretch out before us, we tend to thrive on new, exciting experiences. But as our time on the planet grows short, we often find greater contentment in experiences that foster calmness and peace.
What’s your take on these findings? Are you more drawn to exhilarating events, or life’s quiet moments? How has your perception of happiness changed as you’ve gotten older?
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor