Five steps to relieve stress, gain more time and achieve true wealth
Monday 1st July 2019
What do you consider the characteristics of being wealthy?
Well, the Oxford English Dictionary has a few definitions:
• An abundance of valuable possessions or money
• The state of being rich; material prosperity
• Plentiful supplies of a particular resource
• A plentiful supply of a particular desirable thing
Interestingly, at the bottom is this definition:
• Archaic - wellbeing.
Archaic, of course, means very old or old-fashioned - so is wellbeing only an archaic form of wealth?
By this definition, it would seem that in the modern world we now view wealth as a possession-based concept rather than the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.
The problem with this is that the highs that come with getting a new item or achieving a new milestone are short lived before returning to normality. This is called the hedonic treadmill.
The hedonic treadmill is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
If you win the lottery, before long it will become normal and the high that came with it will pass only to be replaced by the same worries and problems that you once concerned yourself with. Conversely, if you were unfortunate enough to lose a limb, you would soon adapt to this new environment, making your way through life as best you could.
Brickman and Campbell first described the hedonic treadmill in 1971 and suggested that our emotional system goes back to the level prior to the event after some time has passed. They argued that processes similar to sensory adaptation occur when people emotionally respond to different life events.
Imagine that you work hard in the hope of getting a promotion. You then achieve your goal. For a few days, maybe even a few weeks, you're living in wonderland. You are truly happy.
You believed that the extra money and standing would change your life. But then normality kicks in - work steps up a level and you get on with your new role. Before long you forget how it was to be anything other than in the position you are currently in. Then you see something new that you would like and this becomes the next target... and the treadmill keeps running.
The peaks and troughs of life will always be there. That is normal and to be expected, but the truly happy people seem to be the ones who are able to enjoy the small moments - the present moments.
Let me give you an example: I was looking after my 6-month-old son and at the same time thinking of the work commitments I had the next day. Although I was holding him, I was somewhere else, contemplating a future activity. Then I sat back and spoke to myself - "This moment you will never get back. Enjoy it and fully focus."
So I did and enjoyed the moment with him. We played and laughed, enjoying the present, because these experiences are what make you rich. They build a wealth of memories.
The people who have the capacity to enjoy the present as it happens truly appreciate life and the abundance it brings.
True wealth in life is living in the present but this can also be one of the hardest things to do. Living in the now is not easy; our attention is often diverted by our thoughts and feelings.
In 2010, Matt Killingsworth, then a doctoral student in 'happiness researcher' Daniel Gilbert's lab at Harvard University, designed an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness. They contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing, what they were thinking and what they were experiencing at that very moment.
Killingsworth and Gilbert tested their app on a few thousand subjects to find, on average, that throughout the quarter of a million responses, minds were wandering 47 per cent of the time.
Overall, people were less happy when their minds wandered. Neutral and negative thoughts seemed to make them less happy than being in the moment, and pleasant thoughts made them no happier.
"We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering," Mr Killingsworth says.
Focusing on the present moment can be difficult, but special moments don't have to be for long periods. Seconds and minutes may be enough. Finding time in your day to focus on the moment is a habit, one that take takes practice and consistency.
Try these five steps to create more time in your day and regain the feeling of control:
1. Schedule brief breaks in your diary: when you schedule your week ensure that you plan regular short breaks to take a moment for yourself. This can be as short as few minutes, but it is what you do with this time that is important. Avoid looking at your phone or thinking about work; instead, be in the present moment, take some deep breaths and view what is happening around you. You may find that you see things that you never noticed before.
2. Walk while taking in your surroundings: at any moment where you are walking on your own ensure you do not look at your phone and instead take in your surroundings, listening while observing what is going on around you.
3. Concentrate on the person you are talking to: instead of thinking of work or checking your phone, intently listen to someone and simply be present.
4. Avoid phones: when you have a moment of downtime, avoid looking at your phone; instead look around while allowing your mind to reset. Walking along and listening to birds singing; enjoying times with loved ones; watching the world go by while outside a cafe sipping a coffee; these are the times that are being lost to smartphones, leaving us poorer each time.
5. Laugh: laughter is one of the best ways to reset and relax. Whenever possible spend time with people who make you smile. Laughter is contagious; surround yourself with upbeat individuals as these are moments that you can completely absorb.
If you are in the routine of chasing the day then it will take time to change the habit. Starting your day on the right footing will increase your chances of making the rest of it run smoothly. Schedule brief periods of rest in your day so that you are prompted to do so. Over time it will become habitual, but until then you will need to plan for them.
Living in the moment is not easy but it is worth it. Archaic or not, that's what we consider true wealth.