Saturday, December 8, 2012

How to be happier: three books, one answer

For those of you with short attention spans and don't want to read the whole piece, here's the best advice I have read about happiness:

Join a group

I have read a few books loosely covering a similar theme: human psychology and all offer very similar conclusions about the secret of happiness or at least one large part of it: regular social interaction with people you like:

The Social Animal by David Brooks

NT Times columnist's survey of scientific advances in the understanding of the brain and how it connects with our success and well-being.  He writes:

"According to research . . . the daily activities most associated with happiness are all social - having sex, socialising after work and having dinner with friends."  He also quotes research that estimated the increase in psychic well-being (happiness) from regularly meeting up with a club or society is equivalent to that of a  $65,000 salary increase.

The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters

Self-help book by the psychiatrist who many sports stars credit with helping them to win (it's a great book - see my post How Many Mental Problems Do You Have?).

Dr Peters doesn't specifically identify regular social interaction as the number 1 route to happiness but he has a lot to say about "troops", his description of the close circle of friends and family that we rely on throughout our life (like chimpanzees who live in troops).

For our evolutionary antecedents, failure to get on in the troop meant certain death so it's for this reason that chimps are observed spending 30% of their time socialising, primarily grooming each other.  If we don't satisfy this urge to socialise, writes Peters, we are denying our inner chimp a fundamental requirement for a happy life.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Nobel prize winner's distillation of a lifetime researching human thought and behaviour.  He says the best way to be happy is "to spend more time doing things we want to do with people we like to be with".  He writes about the research done into the effect of increases in material wealth - even winning millions on the lottery only boosts happiness for about a year he reckons.

My experience - I play football once a week (badly) with guys I have known for years and we dissect the game in the pub afterwards, mainly by taking the mick out of each other for mistakes we have made.  On reflection I suppose this is the kind of thing the experts have in mind and I think they are right: it does make me a lot happier.

Maybe I should take up something else but it would have to meet those three criteria: be enjoyable, be with people whose company I enjoy and be regular.  Suggestions on a postcard.

From our website:  UK and Spanish tax implications of a property in Spain

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