So You Didn't Win the Lottery…Now What?
If you're reading this blog post, the overwhelming odds are that you didn't win the recent record-breaking lottery, although the winners have still not identified themselves. Americans spent $1.5 billion in their magical thinking quest to win the jackpot, fantasizing about how they would happily spend the $656 million that was to be paid out to the winner. As it happened, there were three winning tickets so the final after-tax take home this year for each will be about $100 million. Still, nothing to sneeze at.
Are you wondering how others have fared after winning the lottery? In many cases, not well. Over 1/3 of past winners were in serious financial trouble within five years, some facing bankruptcy. Others saw their health deteriorate or addictions spiral out of control. Relationships often turned sour, with friends or family taking advantage of them. And after an initial spurt in elation, most were not any happier than they were before winning.
So now that you don't have to spend time counting your fortune or interviewing and hiring a wealth adviser, here are six approaches to think about as you seek to achieve the authentic happiness you thought a winning number would bring:
Bring your experience of gratitude into the forefront. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you become more aware of what brings you pleasure. Several times a week, count your blessings and write about three specific experiences for which you were thankful that day. They could include a dramatic sunset, warm hug from a friend, tender compliment from your partner, delicious dessert. As you focus on these and choose not to take them for granted, you'll be increasing your level of joy. Express your gratitude to others who have made a positive difference in your life - you'll feel happier and so will they.
Engage in the world around you using your personal strengths. When you're absorbed in a challenging activity that you love and are skillful at, you'll feel more alive and authentic. Your energized focus and immersion in the task at hand create flow. This peak experience is accompanied by deep feelings of fulfillment and happiness. Identifying, developing and utilizing your character strengths at work and in your leisure interests bring you flow and a sense well-being that is genuine and lasting.
Savor the pleasurable events and emotions you experience. First immerse yourself in these activities, being mindful so that your experience is rich and deep. Then set aside time later to re-live and enjoy the event and your feelings all over again. You'll find that your body becomes more relaxed, your thoughts more focused and your mood more upbeat.
Build and nurture personal relationships. Studies continue to show that positive relationships provide a buffer for the stresses we all encounter and are correlated with greater happiness, well-being, optimism, improved health, even a longer lifespan. And they work to create an upward spiral - the happier we are, the more we attract additional positive relationships.
Create a meaningful life by helping others. When you make a commitment to help others, your altruism also benefits you by increasing your levels of joy and contentment. Receiving a windfall of money - like that coming from a lottery win - doesn't actually lead to a long-term rise in degree of happiness when spent on oneself, once basic needs are met. However, spending a portion of that money on others - either as a gift or as a charitable donation - is correlated with an increase in happiness.
Set goals for yourself and work to achieve them. Striving for and accomplishing a goal leads to increased self-esteem and a sense mastery and efficacy. When you overcome challenges along the way, it creates even deeper well-being and feelings of control. And the optimism that you have about future meaningful successes can generate authentic happiness.
Is happiness really as simple as a warm puppy? Or as materialistic as a winning lottery ticket? There have been scores of philosophers and theologians over the years attempting to define it and to identify its components. President Abraham Lincoln, who went through great trials and difficulties, shared his view:
Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
How happy will you decide to be?