“If only I had a job that paid more… If only I were born with a bottomless trust fund … If only I could afford a bigger house…”
So many of us live in a perpetual state of wanting more—more money, more shiny new toys, more things. And we chase those material possessions with more gusto than we pursue what’s been empirically shown to increase happiness: more joy, more experiences, and more time.
What gives? Studies show that rich people aren’t any happier day-to-day than the rest of us. In fact, many are more stressed and spend less time doing enjoyable activities.
If you want to start learning to appreciate what you have and stop wanting more, try these scientifically-proven strategies from psychologists:
Appreciate What You Have by Practicing Gratitude
People who are grateful are more satisfied with their relationships with friends and family. They’re happier, less depressed and less stressed. They feel more in control of their lives, have higher self-esteem and cope better when things get tough. So how can you start living with more gratitude? You could write a thank-you letter to someone in your life you’ve never properly thanked, or regularly write about three things you’re grateful for in a journal. In one study, a group of people was asked to practice this gratitude exercise every day for one week. Even though the exercise lasted for only seven days, when measured a month later, participants were happier and less depressed than they’d been at baseline, and they also stayed happier and less depressed at the three- and six-month follow-ups.
Get to Know Someone Who Doesn’t Have What You Have
Think of something you own that you might take for granted—your slightly (or very) dirty 2002 Camry, the trusty laptop you carry around with you every day. Now talk to someone who doesn’t have that thing. What’s life like for them? What difficulties do they face without the thing you don’t think twice about having? Research shows that found connecting with people different from us broadens our compassion and awareness and deepens our sense of community—and we get to know people who don’t have the things we take for granted, it gives us an even deeper appreciation for what we do have.
Appreciate What You Have by Giving More
Want to get the biggest bang for your buck? Direct your dollars outward. The next time you’re about to splurge on a new item for yourself, think about spending it on a loved one—or to charity. In a University of British Columbia experiment, participants were given $5 or $20 and asked to either spend it on themselves or on someone else. The group that spent their money on someone else reported significantly higher happiness levels.