Fortunately, changes don't have to be big ones to tip the joy in your favor. Schkade says that if you transfer even an hour of your day from an activity you hate (commuting, scrubbing the bathroom) to one you like (reading, spending time with friends), you should see a significant improvement in your overall happiness. Taking action is key. Another recent study, at the University of Missouri, compared college students who made intentional changes (joining a club, upgrading their study habits) with others who passively experienced positive turns in their circumstances (receiving a scholarship, being relieved of a bad roommate). All the students were happier in the short term, but only the group who made deliberate changes stayed that way.
3. They avoid "if only" fantasies.
If only I get a better job...find a man...lose the weight...life will be perfect. Happy people don't buy into this kind of thinking.
The latest research shows that we're surprisingly bad at predicting what will make us happy. People also tend to misjudge their contentment when zeroing in on a single aspect of their life—it's called the focusing illusion. In one study, single subjects were asked, "How happy are you with your life in general?" and "How many dates did you have last month?" When the dating question was asked first, their romantic life weighed more heavily into how they rated their overall happiness than when the questions were reversed.
The other argument against "if only" fantasies has to do with "hedonic adaptation"—the brain's natural dimming effect, which guarantees that a new house won't generate the same pleasure a year after its purchase and the thrill of having a boyfriend will ebb as you get used to being part of a couple. Happy people are wise to this, which is why they keep their lives full of novelty, even if it's just trying a new activity (diving, yoga) or putting a new spin on an old favorite (kundalini instead of vinyasa).
We Hear You!