By prioritising experiences, you create memories that you can carry with you indefinitely.
What makes someone happy? A famous study [pdf], conducted almost 40 years ago, found that lottery winners tend not to be happier than other people. Once the initial buzz of winning fades, it says, people revert to their normal happiness levels. But if hitting the jackpot doesn’t put a long-lasting smile on your face, what does?
Teachers’ morale is never far from the headlines, with almost half stating they are thinking about quitting in the next five years. So what could you be doing to be happier?
Don’t worry about being happy
An interesting study found that the more people strived to be happy, the less happy they were. Instead of enjoying whatever they were doing, they were worrying whether they could be happier while doing it (and feeling disappointed when they didn’t reach a higher level). Teaching involves a lot of looking ahead, but try to embrace the present and not obsess about the future.
Connect with people
Spending time with others and forming meaningful relationships makes people happier. This seems to be especially true for young people; a study found that they felt happiest when they were interacting with their friends (and saddest while isolated). Be sure to nurture relationships and connect with the people around you – and encourage your students to do the same.
Value your time
Evidence suggests that people who value their time over their money are happier. Which is not to say that money makes no impact. A famous study by Princeton University found that once people are paid $75,000 a year (about £60,000), increases in pay didn’t bring increases in happiness. This is – obviously – considerably higher than the average teacher salary.
But the amount you need to earn to feel happy is probably not as clear cut as that study suggests. In his recent book on happiness, Derren Brown states: “That magic number seems to vary greatly according to what study you read and depends on the cost of living wherever the study was carried out … while it remains clear that having less than you need is a source of unhappiness, having more than you need does not make you happier.” This is because that increase in pay often comes with an increase in working hours, which can leave people unhappier than before.
Be kind to others
One study [pdf] took a different approach to happiness. Instead of focusing on doing things that they thought would make them happier, participants were instructed to perform five kind acts per week for six weeks. These acts were found to increase happiness by providing novelty; reminding people that they were a force for good; eliciting positive feedback [pdf]; and promoting positive relationships. Try it in the staffroom or your department and look at the positive returns.
Invest in experiences, not possessions
The problem with prioritising material items is that things change quickly. Yesterday’s desirable becomes today’s essential which becomes tomorrow’s antique. By prioritising experiences, you create memories that you can carry with you indefinitely. It’s a fascinating area of research – you can read more studies on it here, here and here. When you’re looking at what to splash out on, consider interesting trips and holidays rather than the latest gadgets.
Embrace your bad moods
Accepting your bad moods may help to minimise the impact they have on you. A recent article from the British Psychological Study reported that negative feelings can be used in a positive way, by “recognising that anger can sometimes be empowering and that sadness can be poignant and can bring us closer to one another.”
This doesn’t mean that stoking your work stress or wallowing in grumpiness is the answer, just that we shouldn’t expect to be happy all the time. Negative feelings happen, so we should try to learn from them.
A report released earlier this year found that most UK children spend less time outside each day than prisoners. The value of nature can’t be underestimated. Those who spend more time outside and feel more connected to nature report experiencing more positive moods (such as joy, interest and alertness) and life satisfaction. It is easy to stay inside all day when you’ve got a lot of work to get through, but try and make a conscious effort to steal some time outside whenever possible. You will feel better for it.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010