We’ve touched on the fact here a few times now that money doesn’t buy you happiness. So what does? Choice, as it turns out. The freedom to choose is key in being a happy person, discovered Dr. Ronald Fischer, a senior lecturer with the Victoria University of Wellington’s school of psychology, in a review study. In the study, the New Zealand psychologist reviewed happiness-related data from 420,599 people from 63 countries. I asked Fischer a little bit more about why choice is so important.
Q: Why does choice rank so high in achieving happiness?
A: Choice and autonomy is more directly related to happiness than having lots of money. It gives you options to pursue meaning in your life, finding activities that stimulate and excite you, keep you active and entertained. This is an important aspect of feeling happy. Yet, it can be a double edged sword. Having too many choices or autonomy can lead to doubt about what to do and after a decision has been made, regret and further doubt whether it was the right choice.
Q: So why is happiness more connected to choice over financial wealth?
A: Money often becomes an end in itself and therefore does distract from people enjoying themselves. Making meaningful choices about what to do in your life is more likely to lead to a fulfilled and happy life than getting the highest paying job or accumulating lots of money.
Q: What can our readers take from your study and apply to their own lives?
A: We can make some suggestions for happier living, such as:
Have choice, but not too much: Having more material options and choices typically leads to less satisfaction, more regret and it also takes people longer to decide on what they want. Sometimes having fewer options is better. You may not have all the options but then you also don’t need to worry about all the options that you did not take.
Let’s take shopping as an example: often we’re given so many choices about minor details that don’t really affect our enjoyment of the product or service. Yet, these options now create little dilemmas for us because we need to decide in favour of one option and against many other options that seem equally desirable in most aspects. Therefore, we can not enjoy our ultimate decision because we know that another product could have been as good or better.
Focus on personal satisfaction: Sometimes people may not need to go for the highest-paying job, but rather focus on something that fulfills them personally and gives them greater happiness and satisfaction in their life.
Don’t forget your close friends and family: Establishing a few close and meaningful relationships is also very important. These days with Facebook, Twitter, etc., it allows us to interact with lots of people at a single mouse click. It is easy to have superficial and fast interactions with many people. But don’t forget to nurture more meaningful relationships that have high quality.
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