Resilience Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Never keep up with the Kardashians

In 1972, the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is nestled in the mountains between India and China, invented their own Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, using psychological wellbeing as a measure of good governance.

Recently (and probably not unrelated to the economic crisis) countries including the UK have started taking a similar measurement. David Cameron led from the front pointing out there is more to success than economic growth. Though it is a somewhat convenient point for a politician to make in the middle of an economic crisis that shows no signs of abating, it is nevertheless true.

Surprising fact: The UK’s GDP has gone up by 60% in the past 50 years. However, our happiness levels have stayed flat

The UK is pretty far down on the happiness index, lying in 18th place (with Denmark in first place).

The results for Denmark appear to be a reflection of a number of factors such as better housing, work/life balance, a sense of control and security. Interestingly, the higher happiness levels are more linked to an overall sense of contentment than actual income increases.

Psychologists Barbara Fredrickson, Martin Seligman and Sonia Lyubomirsky are at the forefront of happiness research and their work has produced insights that can make us all significantly happier.

For instance, materialistic people tend to be the most unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. They also tend to be more self-centred and self-indulgent, which has a negative impact on happiness. Seligman’s research shows that those who spend more of their money on friends, family and shared experiences are significantly happier in the long term than those who simply buy treats for themselves.

However, if more money gives you a sense of freedom, security, autonomy and the opportunity to expand your view horizons through experiences and new perspectives, then money can certainly make you happier in the long term.

The trick is to keep yourself in check when it comes to indulging in sensory pleasures. Buying bigger and better might give you a quick hit of pleasure but it doesn’t last. And to make matters worse, in order for you to get a similar hit of pleasure again, you need to spend even more money and buy even bigger next time. This is worryingly similar to drug addiction – a vicious circle of need and desire!

Lasting happiness is therefore a far cry from consumerism. ‘Buy less, be happier’ should be David Cameron’s mantra to Great Britain if he is seriously interested in improving our nation’s overall psychological wellbeing. But of course George Osborne might have something to say about a push to bring down High Street spending – quite the opposite in fact. Oh dear. The politics of happiness!!

‘Too many people buy things they don’t need, with money they haven’t got to impress people they don’t like’

So for today, write down a list of five things you desire and that you are planning to buy and rate each item on the following criteria:

  1. Is this an ‘essential’ that will make my life practically easier? Y/N
  2. Can I share this with others in a way that they will enjoy it too? Y/N
  3. Will I spend more time with my friends and family as a result of this item? Y/N
  4. Is this a gift for someone else? Y/N
  5. Are you buying a new experience as opposed to an object? Y/N

You are aiming for 4 out of 5 YES responses for your purchase to have a positive impact on your happiness.

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