When it comes to happiness, science says size matters

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There’s tons of science out there supporting the theory that small, mundane things make us happier than large, unusual events. While some have tried to tease apart whether this is due to the boomerang of emotions after a “big happy” or something else, the bottom line is the same: small, happy moments do, over time, bring us more and longer-lasting joy.

A recent study by Dr. Melanie Rudd and colleagues demonstrated you’re better off thinking small. Specifically, subjects were happier when they set (and met) a goal of making someone else smile, vs. a goal of making someone else happy. But when asked beforehand which would make them happier, subjects predicted the “make someone happy” goal would bring them more satisfaction than just going for a smile.

The takeaways here are interesting. First, it’s not just about size—it’s about concreteness. Make someone smile? You’ve done it when they smile. Easy enough. Make someone happy? Well… how happy? And how would you know for sure? How do you go about it? It’s more abstract, feels harder to both achieve and measure, and ultimately doesn’t make us feel as good. Second, our intuition is often wrong when it comes to what makes us happier (and that’s a little bit mind-blowing).

So there you go; if you want to be happy, set small goals. You’re more likely to meet them, and feel more satisfaction when you do. Size matters!

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