How to Be Happier in 2010

Last Updated Jan 5, 2010 6:20 PM EST

Who would think researchers at Harvard Business School could help you live a happier life? But it turns out that a number of the School's faculty are interested in what makes people fulfilled and happy.

Several of their conclusions are worth considering as we start the new year:

Give more money away. "Research shows it really doesn't make people happy to spend money on themselves," professor Michael Norton tells Harvard magazine. "It's not how much you give, it's that you give--. If you have an extra $20, it's better to spend it on someone else than on yourself." In a range of experiments, the researchers found that those who give to others --particularly those who give regularly -- report higher levels of happiness.

Avoid regret; indulge occasionally. Yes, we should give more away, but don't ignore your own desires. People can sometimes live too much for the future, argues professor, Anat Keinan. "We all know that people can be too impulsive and yield to temptation. Our argument is that people can also be too farsighted, or hyperopic. As a result, they have wistful regrets of missing out on life's pleasures when they look back at how they spent their time." Read her interview with HBS Working Knowledge.

Go for 'just enough'. Maximization -- striving to become the richest, the brightest, the most talented, the best looking -- does not bring lasting happiness. We must also think about limits, professors Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson write in Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life.

"If life were lived in a fixed time frame, where success was measured only in the instant you hit the peak, maximized measures would work. But the only fixed time frame we know for sure is death. Everything else is subject to moving targets. If you wish to live with a continually renewing sense of success that really seems worthwhile and lasting on all your success targets, you have to give up the standards of maximization." Read a book excerpt.
I like these three principles, restated as:

Be happier by: using your resources to help others, living a life without regret, and embracing limits as a way to slow down and gauge our life's progress.

How will you be happier in 2010?

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  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.