Money doesn’t have all that much to do with happiness, and getting paid more doesn’t always increase satisfaction. Those aren’t exactly novel insights, but they’re ones the 50 or so well-heeled professionals assembled at the Invention Hub on San Francisco Wednesday night probably weren’t expecting to hear, considering that their host for the evening was Aspiriant, a wealth management firm.
The event’s speaker, Stanford psychologist Dr. Frederic Luskin, has lately received attention for his research into forgiveness and work with the Stanford Forgiveness Project. He also teaches a class on happiness at the university.
Seated on a stool wearing an off-white polo and khaki cargo pants with a tan flannel tied around his waist, Luskin explained to members of the audience how they might be unknowingly engaging in habits that make them unhappy. He said being happy largely boils down to relaxing, counting your blessings, and, essentially, not being a jerk.
The intelligence that comes from adrenaline is different from the intelligence that comes from happiness, said Luskin. That’s not a bad thing, but the division means tasks that boost adrenaline don’t make you happy. An example of a task that boosts adrenaline is checking emails. Even anticipating checking emails gives our brains a chemical jolt.
Internet-connected devices aren’t in themselves bad things said Luskin, “but our constant attention to them makes paying attention to other things more difficult.”
He also said people who approach work in a hypercompetitive way with an emphasis on proving they are better than others don’t gain happiness from being compensated for that work. In contrast, people who do work for its inherent value get some satisfaction out of monetary remuneration for having solved a problem or otherwise using their skills.
The kind of competitiveness Luskin was talking about wasn’t the “friendly competitive spirit” kind, but the type that stems from the characteristic of hostility. Studies 20 years ago showed Type A personalities were more prone to heart disease because of hostility, he said.
Showing gratitude and “holding and deepening” sources of happiness like our feelings for loved ones are the kinds of things that do boost happiness, along with not sweating the small stuff. You’re on vacation in Hawaii and the maid forgets to bring towels to your hotel room? Getting angry isn’t going to make you feel good. Remember that you are on vacation in Hawaii, which is a pretty wonderful situation to be in.
These ideas seem obvious, acknowledged Luskin, yet people still don’t seem to realize them. “This science of happiness is so simple,” he says. What holds the hyper-driven back from achieving happiness is often an emphasis on what is missing. There comes a time when you have to tell yourself that your position in life at a given moment is good enough.
“Many of you are probably at the very top of the food chain. You’re more than good enough,” he assured attendees.
While Luskin’s talk Wednesday was aimed at the kinds of people with sufficient assets to at least consider working with a wealth management firm, he emphasized that wealth really wasn’t a factor in what he was talking about. It’s not like being poor makes you happy, he said — it’s just that having a lot of money won’t do it for you either.
“The people who are happier, it’s so ‘duh’ — they prioritize their happiness,” he said.