Happiness = Good Friends + Good Experiences

whiskey and cigars
There’s nothing like cool summer nights in Beaverton for creating wonderful experiences in our own backyard. And we created some wonderful experiences this weekend!

My dear friend opted to use our outdoor space for her piano studio recital. The event was the first of its kind in 2 years, courtesy of COVID. Her students were well-rehearsed, excited, and real pros as they introduced their selections and performed them. Oh, how I love encouraging budding musicians! A group of friends stayed after to enjoy spirits, delicious food, and fellowship. I absolutely loved it!

We spent all day Saturday getting ready for an even bigger party on Sunday during which friends gathered for a visit by an out-of-town chum. To mark the occasion, we had a live band, more spirits, more food, and more wonderful fellowship. Yet again, we stayed out late talking while a gentle breeze kept us cool and relaxed on the patio. Sheer heaven!

According to Dr. Catherine A. Sanderson, PhD of Amherst College, my experience of weekend bliss accords with what researchers have learned about happiness. The quality of our relationships is the single greatest predictor of happiness. It takes a bit of effort to find the folks with whom we feel a sense of kinship. (It took me ~5 years after our move here.) Once found, it takes time, energy, and effort to nurture those cherished relationships.

Some may think: But wait a minute? What if I got that big promotion? Or won the lottery? Wouldn’t such events be bigger determinants of happiness than friends?

It turns out that we aren’t terribly impacted by big life events – even winning millions of dollars! After the initial thrill, we tend to adapt and return to our previous set point. We can, however, increase our set point through right action. In particular:

Take care of ourselves by eating properly, exercising, and getting the right quantity and quality of sleep.

Spend our money wisely by investing in experiences rather than things. As with those big life events, the thrill of a new thing wears off once we become acclimated to it. But a great experience shared with good friends bring anticipation during the planning phase, joy in the moment, and wonderful memories that can be revisited time and again.

Avoid comparisons with others. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” To that end, Dr. Sanderson tells us to be wary of social media. It can make us feel as though everyone else is living a more vibrant life than we are. We forgot that most people only post their “best of” moments, not the full range of their everyday experiences.

Give to others; volunteer. When we are generous with our time, talents, and resources, we feel better about ourselves and the difference our lives’ make in the world.

Express gratitude. As the bookend to avoiding comparisons, practicing thankfulness helps us focus on everything that is going right in our lives and will have a ripple effect on the way we feel about ourselves.

Think good thoughts. A positive attitude carries the day for sustaining happiness through the ups and down of our lives.