Happiness researcher Dan Gilbert has some advice. First, don’t be so afraid of future losses. They won’t be as bad as you think:
I have insurance. It’s prudent. But we tend to overestimate how bad a future loss will be, and so we pay too much to insure against it. For example, Derek, how much would you have to be compensated for the loss of your finger? As you’re typing, you might think: “Millions! I’m willing to give up a big part of my paycheck!” But if you examined people who’d actually lost a finger, you’d probably find that they’re doing just fine. It’s an inconvenience, but not a horror, and you shouldn’t give up half your paycheck to be compensated for that loss.
Second, consider forgoing whatever it is you want to do most:
Imagine making love to the person of your dreams. That will be a good day. But the day after will not. The good thing about peak experiences is that they make us happy while we are having them, but the bad thing is that they then serve as a standard of comparison for all the experiences that follow. When researchers looked at lottery winners, they weren’t happier than a control group, but they did take less pleasure in everyday events. The big happiness rush you get when you receive the big check is gone pretty soon, and then when good things happen you find yourself saying, “That was nice but it wasn’t like the day I won the lottery.”
Third, buy lots of fun small things, not a few big ones:
If you asked people if they’d prefer an ice cream cone every Monday for the next few weeks or a great meal at a French restaurant, most would probably take the great meal gift certificate. But it turns out that the frequency of positive events is a better predictor of happiness than intensity of those positive events. Let’s say that you had five good experiences and each had an intensity of 10 out of 10. And I had 10 good experiences each with an intensity of 5. Simple math suggests we should be equally happy. But the odds are that I will be happier than you because happiness is affected less by how good your good experience was and more by how many good experiences you had.
That’s all from Derek Thompson’s interview with Gilbert. You can read more of it here.