We all have to make decisions about how to spend our time, energy, and money. Because of my happiness project, I now explicitly ask myself, “Will this decision make me happier?” I’m determined to get the most happiness bang for the buck.
Here are some questions I consider:
1. Is this decision likely to strengthen my relationships with other people? Strong relationships with other people are a key—the key—to happiness, so decisions that help me build or strengthen ties are likely to boost my happiness. Yes, it’s a hassle and an expense to go to my college reunion, but it’s likely to have a big happiness pay-off.
2. Will this decision provide me with novelty and challenge? Novelty and challenge make me happier—but they also make me feel insecure, intimidated, frustrated, and stupid. To get past that hurdle, I remind myself that in the end, I usually get a big shot of happiness.
3. What is the opportunity cost of this decision? (“Opportunity cost” describes that fact that doing one thing means foregoing alternatives.) Energy, time, and money are limited. Even if a decision would bring happiness, if it means that I have to give up the opportunity to do many other happiness-boosting activities, it may not be worth it. I could dedicate many hours to learning about classical music, and in the end, I might enjoy classical music more, but that activity would crowd out too many other things that I want to do more.
4. Does this decision help me obey my personal commandment to Be Gretchen? I want to shape my life to reflect my temperament, interests, and values. I ask myself: Am I making this decision to “Be Gretchen,” or because I want to impress other people, pretend that I’m different from the person I actually am, or deny a truth about myself?
5. When I consider a particular course of action, do I feel energized or drained?
6. How happy are the people who have made that particular decision? In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, he argues that the most effective way to judge whether a particular course of action will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are following that course of action right now if they’re happy, and assume that you’ll feel the same way. Going on a family trip to Disneyworld. Getting a hamster. Learning to use Instagram. Working as a paralegal. Volunteering. In evaluating the likely consequences of a decision, other people’s experiences of happiness—or lack thereof—can be very instructive for me.
7. I remind myself to “Choose the bigger life.” People make different decisions about what the “bigger life” would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.
There’s no right answer or wrong answer — only the right answer for me.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Godisable Jacob.