Surprise! Your Happiness Depends on *Frequency*—Not *Intensity*
July 29, 2019
I really don't like tapas.
A dinner made of a bunch of tiny plates, with two-bite morsels on each? Eh, I'd rather stuff my face with a giant cheeseburger.
At least…that's what I always thought. But the thing is, when I actually sit down to a family-style meal of tapas, I'm like…hey, this is actually really…good?
That's because you get to taste an array of flavors and textures. Don't like the fishy one? Whatever—it'll be gone in a second. You're already on to the next.
I swear this relates to happiness.
How: Despite what you may think, your happiness level actually depends on how often you experience positive events, rather than how magically intense each event actually is.
So if you have a bunch of different experiences or moments throughout the day that are all positive in some small way, they can be more powerful than hanging all your hopes on ONE positive event to happen.
Research bears this out—happiness comes from the frequency and not the intensity of positive emotions. The reason makes a lot of sense. "When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed," writer Stephany Tlalka explains for Mindful.org.
Anyone who's ever planned on a life-changing New Year's Eve party, only to be disappointed by everything from the confetti to the choice of beverages, can understand the challenges of having high happiness expectations—and the low when things don't go as expected.
So if you want to be happier, think of it like ordering tapas—go for small, satisfying bites rather than hinging everything on one main course.
But what does this mean for your own life?
Here's how to incorporate this idea and increase your daily "joy frequency."
Create a Daisy Chain of 'Happy-Inducing' Events
The other day I was in a totally cranky mood—I was running late for work, and feeling behind on everything in life.
Then I had a really positive, unexpected chat with a friend. Boom! Instant happiness. I held on to that feeling for a few hours, then when it started to wane, I thought to myself: Let's keep this up…because it sure beats the alternative.
So I called up another friend for a long overdue catch-up call. Boom take two! Happiness squared!
I'm convinced that events like these build exponentially on each other.
It's easy to try yourself: Think of some of the small delights that bring you joy—whether it's a certain song, photo from a gathering with friends, or even a pen that writes like a dream—and try intentionally placing them throughout your day.
Creating a little chain of positive interactions can spark the happiness you're seeking.
Get Inspired By Someone Else's Joy
Say you're scrolling Instagram and see your friend lounging in a hammock. Rather than saying, 'Boy, she really has the life, doesn't she?' go on and shoot her a message and ask where she is, and how you might be able to go there.
This works for non-vacation-y things, too. One of my friends told me about her calming morning routine (reading, journaling, coffee were all involved) and I was struck with a pang of envy. Then I realized: Um, I could be happy in the mornings, too! All it takes is setting the alarm clock and sticking to it.
It can be as simple as being kind of a copycat: If someone owns a mug with a saying or image that makes you smile…ask where they got it, then buy it, too!
The key is to surround yourself with more small instigators of happiness, so you're not always searching for the Next Big Thing.
Re-Brand Your Boring Days
What if you scheduled a random Tuesday night with as much creativity and care as you put into, say, your yearly getaway?
Not only will you make that one day memorable, but you're likely to give a little boost to your entire week.
Look at the "dry" periods in your week—those days that are more likely to be stressful or make you feel overextended. Which simple joys can you incorporate? How can you up your "joy frequency" as you move through it?
Remember, life doesn't always have to have intense highs and lows. Sometimes finding a middle ground—especially when it's a happy one—is the most peaceful place of all.
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