Changing Seats

Jonathan Clements

WHAT MATTERS IS WHAT we focus on. Forget the bad that has happened. Don’t dwell on the goals that remain elusive. Instead, if we’re striving for greater happiness, we should ponder the good in our lives.

This is a great moment to do just that: Most of us are surrounded by friends and family, we have time away from work—and the abundance offered by U.S. society is, in many households, epitomized by a flabbergasting pile of presents.

As I’ve often noted, money buys limited happiness, thanks to so-called hedonic adaptation. We’re sure that the new car and the bigger house will make us endlessly happy. But instead, we quickly get used to these material improvements and may even come to regret them, as the car breaks down and the house demands constant care. Undeterred, we hang our hopes on some future material improvement, confident that we’ve finally found the ticket to greater happiness. It’s an unrelenting cycle of hope and dissatisfaction that keeps us charging forward—and charging hefty sums to our credit cards—and yet we never seem to make any progress.

Is there a way to counter adaptation and thereby squeeze more happiness out of the dollars we spend? One strategy recommended by experts: Pause occasionally and ponder the good things in our lives. Admire the car and house. Think about the recent promotion and pay raise. Recall last summer’s vacation. Appreciate the friends and family gathered around the dining room table. This act of focusing can help us recall happy times and remind us how lucky we are.

To be sure, it takes mental effort to step back from the maelstrom of everyday life and ponder our good fortune. One trick that makes it easier: Move things around. Rearrange the furniture. Swap the pictures on the walls. Move the vacation snapshots from one room to another. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself looking with fresh eyes at paintings you had stopped noticing, admiring the antique end table you had almost forgotten about, and reminiscing about last year’s family reunion.

Similarly, at dinners this holiday season, sit in a different chair. That’ll allow you to see your house from a different angle—as well as look anew at the loved ones gathered around the table. My fondest hope: You’ll feel a renewed appreciation for all you have and for all the wonderful people in your life.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook.

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