Harvard professor says ‘winning a $20 million lottery won’t make you happier in life’—but these 4 things will
Published Fri, May 31 2019 11:26 AM EDT
Kyle Young, Contributor
What makes us happy in life? It seems like a straightforward question,
but it’s one that we find ourselves asking every day.
There have been several possible answers as to where happiness comes
from. One of the most debated concepts is that happiness comes from
having more money. But Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, a professor of medicine at
Harvard Medical School, disagrees.
“Winning a $20 million lottery ticket won’t make you happier. Research
has shown that after one year, lottery winners go back to their
baseline. Some are even less happy, ” he said in a TED Talk earlier this year.
“A few probably spent their money on a big mansion or a fancy car. Maybe
they spent it all on gambling. But even so, at the end of three months,
it’s just a house, it’s just a nice car. You get used to it,” says Chopra, who has written a number of books about happiness. He calls this phenomenon hedonic adaptation, which is a concept that refers to
people’s general tendency to return to a set level of happiness despite life’s ups and downs.
In the talk, Chopra explains the four things that have been
scientifically linked to happiness:
1. Friends and family
Developing a close bond with people we trust and confide in is essential
to our overall well-being. “Choose your friends wisely and celebrate everything small and good with them,” Chopra says.
Many others have stressed the importance of having deep and meaningful relationships. “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness,” former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in a 2017 Harvard
Business Review article. “If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and
Deepak Chopra: This is the best way to manage stress
Researchers have also warned that “loneliness and social isolation can
be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” whereas
friendships can “reduce the risk of mortality or developing certain
diseases and can speed recovery in those who fall ill.”
“The ability to forgive frees you from the burdens of hate and other unhealthy emotions that can negatively impact your happiness quotient,”
He cites Nelson Mandela as a hero who truly mastered the art of
forgiveness. In 1990, when the legendary freedom fighter emerged from
his 27 years of prison, he was asked whether he had any resentment
toward his captors.
“I have no bitterness, I have no resentment. Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” Mandela responded.
Anyone who’s ever felt they’ve been mistreated (most likely each and
every one of us) knows that the act of forgiving can be challenging. But
Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic
at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says that “making a conscious decision to
let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not” can
lead to more than just increased happiness.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your
Studies have found that it can also lower the risk of heart attack,
improve cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure, anxiety,
depression and stress.
Chopra says that getting involved with charities and donating money to
help others is one of the most fulfilling ways to spend your time and
money. Researchers have even suggested that people who volunteer
experience greater happiness, higher self-esteem and a lower mortality rate.
A study from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University found
that giving, rather than receiving, leads to long-term happiness. In one experiment, 96 participants were given $5 every day for five days — with
the option to either spend it on themselves or on others.
“Everyone started off with similar levels of self-reported happiness,”
the researchers wrote. “Those who spent money on themselves reported a
steady decline in happiness over the five-day period. But happiness
didn’t seem to fade for those who gave their money to someone else.”
“There’s a wonderful anonymous quote that goes, ‘If you don’t know the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness,’” Chopra tells the audience.
Practicing gratitude can be as simple as saying “I’m grateful” at least once a day. In fact, one study from the American Psychological
Association found that doing so can help people savor positive
experiences, cope with stressful circumstances and strengthen relationships.
Happiness flows not from physical or external conditions, such as bodily pleasures or wealth and power, but from living a life that’s right for
your soul, your deepest good.
“Taking time to think about what you’re grateful for makes you more
aware of the positive things in your life,” says Chopra. As a result,
“it makes you less biased by the fewer negative things in your life.”
Kyle Young is a freelance creative writer and author of “Quitterproof:
The 5 Beliefs of Highly Successful People.” He has also written for Fast Company and Harvard Business Review.
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