BE MORE ACTIVE & KEEP BUSY
THE FIRST FUNDAMENTAL
The first of the Fourteen Fundamentals is "Be More Active and Keep Busy," and it is based
on one of the most commonly found characteristics of happy people - their highly active
Fundamental One is also referred to as the "Kickoff Fundamental," not just because it is
the first Fundamental on the list, but also because it represents a basic cornerstone upon
which many of the subsequent Fundamentals are based.
It is also important to note at the outset that this Fundamental is not in first position due to
any special priority. The 14 Fundamentals are not ranked according to any particular
importance or potency. To the contrary, we consider each Fundamental to be relatively
equal. And although, in the many years of work that's been conducted with the
Fundamentals, some appear more helpful than others, each has its own special
contribution to make. According to our research, the value of any particular Fundamental is
largely based upon the individual in question, and upon their own personal happiness-
strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, during your reading, you will find a number of the
Fundamentals quite insightful and helpful to you. Yet, if you talk to a friend who also read
this book, their list of favorites might be completely different than yours. And so it may go,
friend after friend ...
No, if there is any significance to the ordering of the 14 Fundamentals it is mostly historic.
The Fundamentals have grown and evolved since our earliest pilot studies (999). Each
succeeding study helped us refine some of these happiness principles, while providing us
clues that enabled us to expanding others. The net result, of course, are the fourteen
happiness principles we have today -- pretty much, in the order we worked with them.
Historically then, Fundamental 1 was the first happiness principle we began to examine...
THE ACTIVE LIFE
One of the most subtle, yet intriguing, findings we initially found sustained throughout the
past research, was the impressively high activity-level reported for happy individuals.
Numerous investigations confirmed that happy people were remarkably busy, active
people. By contrast, these reports also showed unhappy people as relatively inactive --
accomplishing little -- doing little with their time.
Since that initial survey, researchers from every corner of the globe have confirmed time
and time again that one of the most universal characteristics of happy people is that they
are actively involved with living (21, 55, 129, 132, 147, 202, 230. 235, 286, 329) and that
they usually spend far more time than others in activities they enjoy (21, 27, later? 40, 130,
132, 209, 272, 286, 336).
This high activity level was so pervasive in the reported research, it occurred to us as the
basis of a pilot study to see how heightened activity would effect happiness. Thus, in one
our earliest experiments, we required participants to increase their daily activity-level to
see what effect it might have on their happiness (224). Hospital research on clinically
depressed patients, had long before suggested that increased physical activity (e.g.,
jogging, aerobics, etc.) could elevate depressed mood, but our study questioned, for the
first time, if activity increases could effect the happiness-level of normal adults. The results
were most encouraging. The majority of people participating in this activity-increasing
experiment showed significant gains in their happiness. As past research had intimated, by
being more active, a person might become happier. Our study showed this to be true.
Thus was born the first Fundamental.
We will detail for you the particular strategy used in our activity-increasing experiment later
in this chapter, but for the moment, this historical anecdote serves as an example of how
the 14 Fundamentals Program has been developed. First, a well-established trait of happy
individuals was isolated from the past research findings. Then, the trait was formulated in a
manner that an average person could understand and apply. After that, it was tested
experimentally to see if any resultant happiness might be produced. If these initial results
showed promise, the trait was incorporated in a series of follow-up studies and tested
again and again with a variety of age and background groups. After all this -- and if all
results proved positive -- the trait became a Fundamental. "Be More Active & Keep Busy,"
Fundamental 1, is a classic example of this process.
We began with the research...
Happy people are highly active people. It is well documented that they characteristically
quite busy, involved, active, and immersed in numerous pursuits. The previous Volume of
these books went into great detail regarding the specific findings in this field, but in
summary here, the collected research suggests that the happiest fill their every day with a
variety of activity, that they are much busier than most of us, they're always "on the go,"
that they pack more into each and every day, and they live life with a fullness of intensity
which appears most rare.
Simply put, happy people are always doing something!
Unhappy people, by contrast, are relatively inactive. They sit around, "kill time," waste
much of their day, wile away their time, do very little, and, in general, have little to show for
It appears to be a simple quantitative matter. According to the research: day-for-day, week-
for-week, year-for-year, happy people's activity level far exceeds that of average, and
especially that of unhappy, people.
Fundamental One, therefore, indicates that part of the secret to becoming a happier
person is simply to increase one's activity level and keep as busy as you can. And as far
as it goes, this advice is true. But it is only part of the picture...
Although being active is generally conducive to happiness (and the lack of it is strongly
associated with depression), mere bustling-about is not necessarily the answer. In our
modern, high-pressure times, most of us find ourselves busier and more harried than
we've ever been. Being more active, in this sense, may appear to be more a source of
stress than of happiness. Thus it is not just the quantity, or amount, of activity that matters,
it is the quality of that activity that counts.
The research shows that the activity-level of happy individuals has a special quality.
Psychologists who've studied happy individuals under more intimate and intensive
conditions, mention three key factors that describe the quality of their active life-style. I
have referred to these factors, previously, as the "three key words." (tapes?)
THREE KEY WORDS: INVOLVEMENT, INVESTMENT, ENERGY
The first key word is "involvement."
One of the most characteristic traits the research has isolated, is how involved happy
people tend to be with life. Happy people are remarkably involved people. They throw
themselves into life. The let life touch them; they wrapped up in it; they immerse
themselves in it with verve and intensity. They seem intent on living life to it's fullest.
Every aspect of their lives displays this involvement. Happy people are involved in their
work, their avocations, their relationships, their associations. They approach everything
with enthusiasm and complete occupation.
Unhappy persons are the opposite. Rather than involvement, unhappy people tend to
remove themselves from life. They don't life touch them. They don't allow themselves to
get wrapped-up in it. Often they're detached and removed; uninvolved in their work, their
relations with people, and most other aspects of their lives. They watch life from the
sidelines -- they are the spectators, while happy people are the participators. Unhappy
people watch the parade of life go by, never quite being a part of it.
The second key word is "investment."
Happy people are strong investors in living. They invest their time and effort -- indeed, their
whole being -- into living life fully. Happy people tend to put 100%, as the saying goes, into
everything they do. They approach life with all of the emotional, physical, and
psychological energy they can muster. They invest heavily in life and are willing to commit
themselves fully to every aspect of their life (work, hobbies, sports, relationships, etc.).
Unhappy people, by contrast, are rather skimpy investors in life. They tend to take a more
cautious approach -- playing it pretty "close to the vest." They put little into living, devoting
only a small portion of their emotions and energies into their work, their relationships, or
other aspects of their lives. They invest little into life, and apparently, they get meager
happiness returns in the exchange.
The third key word is "energy."
Research shows that happy people are remarkably energetic. They display high levels of
zest, enthusiasm, and vitality. Most every activity happy people pursue is characterized by
this high level of energy.
Happy people not only live life more fully -- they are full of life!
Unhappy people typically lack energy. They have little zest for life. Often tired and lacking
in enthusiasm, unhappy people have little energy to devote to living a full life. Rather, their
life tends to become inactive and tiresome -- their mental attitude apathetic, resigned, and
Of course, it is obvious that an active life requires as a prerequisite of energy, so, perhaps,
herein lies an answer. Maybe the reason happy people are so active as they are is
because they have so much energy? There can be little doubt. The association between
high energy and high activity is basic in all the physical sciences. Thus, most certainly,
happy people are more active because they have high energy. But the formula is not
necessarily one-way. High energy leads to high activity, yes. But high activity, on the other
hand, can lead to high energy!
There is ample evidence in the fields of medicine, sports training, and rehabilitative
therapy which indicates that increasing the body's activity, over time, will increase the
body's energy. If you are in reasonably good health and diet, there is every reason to
believe that you can develop the energy you lack by gradually increasing your activity-
level. Consult your physician first, of course, but remember there is an enormous
connection between happiness, activity, and energy. Each element feeds the other. More
energy produces more activity; more activity produces more happiness; more happiness
produces more energy; and round and round again. You can start at any point in the
APPROACH VS. AVOIDANCE: A MAJOR DIMENSION OF MENTAL HEALTH
Taken together, the three key words -- "involvement," "investment," and "energy" -- reveal
the quality, or essence, of the active life-style happy people live. It shows a picture of
happiness that goes beyond activity in a sheer quantitative sense. It's important to keep
busy and fill your life with activity, true. But it's the approach you take to this activity that's
more important. The happy life-style requires involvement, commitment, investment, zest,
and enthusiasm. A simple quotation from a past writing of mine sums it all:
"The more you put into life, the more happiness you get out of it."
This basic finding in happiness research is relatively new, but it echoes one of the most
basic principles in the fields of clinical and adjustment psychology: the approach-
There are many factors that distinguish between healthy and unhealthy individuals
according to mental health experts. But one of the more basic is that healthier individuals
tend to approach life and unhealthy individuals tend to avoid it.
On the one hand, healthy persons approach life head-on. They seek-out and master life's
challenges. They confront life -- they attack it directly. And because they are the fortunate
ones who gained the necessary skills as they developed, they have the needed social
abilities, personal security, and basic competencies that allow them to succeed in and deal
effectively with the outside world.
On the other hand, unhealthy individuals avoid life. Intimidated by life's challenges and
held back by self-doubt, they shrink from life. They avoid full involvement; back-away from
commitment; hope problems will go away. Instead of mastering life, they withdraw from it.
Due, most unfortunately, to factors in their development, unhealthy people usually lack the
needed social skills, self-confidence, and personal competencies to deal well with life.
Thus a pattern of avoidance, withdrawal, and escape predominates their life. The
individual patterns vary: some unhealthy personalities escape with drugs or alcohol; others
simply withdraw to a life of loneliness and apathy; and the most extreme, show classic
symptoms of emotional deterioration.
Sometimes it may seem that avoiding life altogether might be an answer to the problems
life affords. The counsel of our fears whispers in our ear "give up -- escape from it all --
why even try?" But the successful life requires engagement and mastery. Avoiding life
eventually fails -- not just in terms of happiness -- but, more critically, in terms of one's
Fundamental One, therefore, directs you to become more active. Fill your days and nights
with activity. Try to live the fullest life you possibly can. Following the old adage, "live each
day as if it was your last." Pack each day to its fullest! And allow yourself to get involved.
Let that active life wrap you up in it. You'll find your energy and your rewards will be
matched by the amount you invest in a more active life.
FIVE ACTIVITIES THAT PRODUCE HAPPINESS
Thus far, we've talked about the quantity of activity and the quality of activity typical of
happy people. But more than this, the most interesting findings in the research regard the
kinds of activities in which happy people spend their time.
This is where the average person can learn the most from the research on happy
individuals, for the research has not just determined that happy people are more active -- it
has determined just what activities happy people do!
The research has isolated five activities in which happy people spend much more of their
time than do other people. These five activities are very general, however. Attempts by the
researchers in terms of specific activities have come up empty handed. As we reviewed in
Part I of this volume, investigations have yet to show any distinctions between the
happiness-potential of the many specific activities studied. For example, there is no
evidence to suggest that people who play golf are happier than those who play tennis, nor
that people who like auto racing are happier than those who prefer horse racing. No
particular sport, hobby, or avocation shows a happier following. But in a general way, the
data quite clearly reveals five kinds of activities that are strongly associated with
Interestingly, these five general types of activities have been derived from two, rather
separate lines of investigation. One line has been to examine, in detail, the kinds of
activities happy individuals ordinarily involve themselves in. The other line has been to
investigate the kinds of activities that make average individuals happy. The findings are
practically the same. Logically, and not surprisingly, (as I have stated elsewhere),
"The kinds of things that make most all of us happy are the kinds of things the happiest
people do most all of the time." (tapes?)
Thus, the happiness-potency of these five activities should not be unfamiliar. Your sources
of happiness probably fall in one or more of these general categories. The difference is
that happy people do more of these things more often.
The first kind of activity that happy people spend their time in is: enjoyable activities.
One of the classic findings in the field of happiness research is that happy people spend
much more of their time in activities that are enjoyable and fun than do most people.
Indeed, as we saw in earlier chapters, happy people are doing something they enjoy most
every minute of the day. Partially this is because the love their work and family life, but
also this is because they spend so much of their free time having fun. Unhappy people,
sadly, are trapped in lives which allow little fun or pleasure. Caught in a routine filled with
daily stress, pressure, and conflict, fun is something many can only find on a weekend -- or
even less often.
It is also clear from the research that enjoyable activities are among the most potent
happiness-producers for all of us, no matter how happy or unhappy we generally tend to
be. In other words, enjoyable activities produce more happiness than non-enjoyable
Research confirms the obvious: fun activities produce more happiness than non-fun
activities. Or taken to the extreme: activities that make you happy produce more happy
than activities that don't make you happy.
A profound scientific insight? Hardly. "Ridiculous" would seem a more appropriate
description. Does all this scientific study simply tell us that happy people are happy
because they're doing more things that make them happy? As far as Fundamental 1 is
concerned, the answer is "yes!"
The idea that doing things that make you happy make you happier than doing things that
don't make you happy should be transparently obvious. But is it really?
If this simple understanding of happiness is obvious, then why do so many people live their
lives devoted to routines that allow little or no fun? Why do we get so wrapped-up in
unpleasant situations? Why do we go for weeks at a time without any real good times?
The answer for some is, sadly, that life affords nothing more. In much of the world, life is
such a basic drudgery to get on from day to day that "fun" is virtually inaccessible.
But for many more of us, our lack of "fun" is merely due to unquestioned habit. We've
simply never pondered this ridiculously obvious principle regarding happiness. In this light,
our seemingly ridiculous principle may be profound after all.
Think of it this way: your happiness is directly contingent on the number of happy activities
Or put another way: your happiness is directly proportional to the amount of time you
spend during a given day, week, or year doing things you enjoy.
The clear conclusion here is that the more time you can spend in enjoyable pursuits, the
happier you'll be.
The second general type of activity happy people spend their time in is: exciting activity.
Happy people tend to gravitate more to exciting and physically active pursuits than more
tranquil ones. Likewise, happiness research has evidence that exciting, stimulating
activities are typically more happiness-producing than are more subdued, sedate
On an individual level, you have to be the judge. The research, however, indicates that you
would probably get more happiness from playing an active sport than watching it from the
grandstand; you'd probably have a better time going to a party on a Saturday night than
watching a T.V. show; you'll more likely have a better time on the rides at an amusement
park than you will reading a good book at home; etc.
The point is minor, however. Although happy people gravitate more to the exciting as
opposed to the tranquil, the important factor is the pleasure involved. If growing roses
excites you more than a rock concert -- go for the roses. But, if the research is correct, you
might -- just as a test of this "excitement" principle -- try a rock concert for a change.
The next general type of activity happy people appear to devote themselves to is: new or
Psychologists find that in addition to spending more time in enjoyable activity, happy
people also have many more activities they enjoy than do most average people. Happy
people are found to have a remarkably wide variety of pleasurable interests, while
unhappier people are typified as having rather narrow interests and relatively few things
that they enjoy.
The "novelty principle" suggests that happiness lies in a variety of experience. The
proposition is simple: the more, new things one finds to enjoy in life, the more happiness
one can find.
Happy individuals intuitively find this. Typically, they are open to new experience. They are
willing to experiment. They welcome the novel. And in this process, they open their
horizons and expand the multitudinous interests so typical of them.
And why not? The research shows a strong connection between happiness and novel
experience. Finding a new friend, trying a new restaurant, the first time at a new sport,
moving into a new home -- these are they types of experiences most of us most
memorable, and usually, the most happy. Travel is the classic example, a vacation to a
new and exotic place is filled with novelty and is often considered among the highlights of
our lifetime. Overall, studies show that a new and novel experience produces more
happiness than any of the "old tried and true" pleasures one typically enjoys.
Fundamental One suggests trying something new. Consider involving yourself in some of
the many things that you've thought about before, but have never done. Take those flying
lessons; learn how to sculpt; try-out for a role in the local theatre; go back to college; take
up tennis; etc..
One of the most characteristic traits of animals, particularly the more highly evolved
species, is the trait of curiosity. In human beings especially, curiosity runs deeply. We have
an almost insatiable fascination with the novel, the unexplored, and the unknown. To
discover, to understand, to experience -- these are essential character- istics of human
nature. Indeed, there is ample psychological evidence that the human mind needs
stimulation and novelty to develop fully at every stage of life, from infancy through old age.
Where stimulation is limited, mental development stagnates and emotional deterioration
Naturally, therefore, it should be no surprise to find that people experience new situations
and novel activities to be far more happiness producing than more normal, everyday ones.
Meeting a new friend, visiting a new amusement, going to a new restaurant, trying out a
new sport, etc., are often more memorable and more pleasurable than are places and
activities we frequent repeatedly. Perhaps this is part of the reasons that vacations are
happiness high-lights of most people's lives -- since vacations are preponderantly a time of
novel places, people, and activities. Variety, to a large degree, does add spice to life, as
the old adage suggests. Thus, as part of "becoming more active" it might be wise to
expose yourself to new types of activities and attempt to broaden your interests.
The fourth type of activity happy people devote themselves to is social activity.
According to the research, one of the major activities happy people surround themselves
with is social activities. Happy individuals spend much more of their time in social activities
then do average people, particularly when compared to unhappy individuals who often live
relatively isolated, relatively lonely, relatively non-social lives. Indeed, among the many
findings of happiness research, one of the strongest seems to be that high levels of social
interaction and supportive social ties are among the most critical ingredients of happiness.
Happy people are remarkably social. Indeed, they love to socialize! As we saw in Volume I,
they tend to spend a great deal of their time interacting with their friends and
acquaintances informally. They seem to love social gatherings, parties, get-togethers, etc..
They also spend more time socializing on the community level (clubs, organizations, etc.).
And most especially, happy people enjoy the close interaction they have with their spouse
The research on happiness so strongly stresses the importance of one's social life, that
the Fundamentals Program deals with this powerful happiness-theme many times in this
book. The next Chapter, for example, specifically details the role of an active social life as
we introduce Fundamental Two: "Spend More Time Socializing." Later Chapters focus on
other, socially-oriented Fundamentals like "Develop an Outgoing, Social Personality"
(Fundamental 10) and "Close Relationships are the Number 1 Source of Happiness"
(Fundamental 13). But for now, we introduce this major theme as one of the most
important ways happy people spend their time, and as one of the most important ways
happy people find happiness in their day-to-day living.
There is a fifth kind of activity that happy people surround themselves with that adds a bit
more depth to the preponderantly "fun and social" view of happiness we've been outlining.
This one is: meaningful activity.
According to the research, happy people spend much of their time devoting themselves to
activity which they find meaningful, significant, and important. In addition to spending a lot
of time for fun and social activity in their lives, happy people find time to involve
themselves in meaningful activities, as well. In doing so, they add a richer form of
happiness to their daily routine: the kind of happiness and fulfillment which only comes
from truly meaningful pursuits.
Since the dawn of philosophical thought, the great thinkers have clearly taught that "the life
of meaning is critical to happiness." Without meaning, life is just a random journey --
marked with occasional joy and despair -- but signifying nothing. With meaning, life can be
a continuing enrichment.
Happiness can have the same qualities. Fun, social frivolity, pleasure-seeking can suffice
in creating a never-ending series of happy experiences. If frequent enough, such
excitements can go a long way in building a seemingly happy existence. But without
meaningful activity, there is little glue to hold this kind of "good times" happiness together.
Meaningful activity provides the "glue." It is the sustenance of the truly happy life-style. It
provides the deeper, more enriching form of happiness -- the happiness most of think of
when we use the words "fulfillment," "joy," or "self-satisfaction." It is such an important
source of personal happiness that we consider it a separate Fundamental (Fundamental
Three: "Be Productive at Meaningful Work") which we will be discussing, in much greater
depth, two Chapters from now. There we will see how happy people devote themselves, in
their careers and in their spare-time, to activities which add this important element to their
daily routine. But for our present discussion, the point is that "meaningful activities" is the
fifth, and perhaps most significant, aspect of the happy life-style.
THE HAPPY LIFE
When we tie all these research threads together, a model of the happiness life-style begins
to emerge. It is a general model; there is nothing here that suggests that you might be
happier if you switched from golf to tennis, or decided to vacation in the Caribbean rather
than visit your in-laws in the summer. But the overall picture is clear...
Happy people live a highly active life. It is not harried or stressed; rather, it is full, involving,
and engaging. It shows a commitment to life; a willingness to throw one's all into it. And
more specifically, it is a life predominated by activities that are fun, exciting, novel, social,
and, most importantly, meaningful.
That is the ideal...
The question for you is: how can you begin to approximate it?
One can't change their entire life-style overnight. So what can one do?
One of the most basic techniques I've used in my happiness workshops over the years is
called "pleasure analysis." It's one of the most elementary analyses a person can conduct
regarding happiness. All it requires is a list of one's personal pleasures in life.
If you'd like to try the analysis yourself, just grab a sheet of paper and spend the next few
minutes listing anything and everything you can think of that you just love to do. Pick
anything fun -- weekend activities, hobbies, sports, special events, social things, etc. --
anything that occurs to you that consistently makes you happy to do. Spend about five or
ten minutes, and jot down all the fun things that come to mind...
Now that you have a preliminary list, let's begin our analysis.
To begin with, glance over your list and see how it strikes you. How long is your list? Just a
few items or dozens? How were you feeling as you constructed your list? Were you able to
write almost continuously, or was it hard to think of anything? Did thinking about the fun
things in your life evoke happy feelings, or did it make you feel a bit sad because such
things are so rare in your life these days?
I find that most people feel pretty good as they work on a pleasure list. Simply thinking
about fun tends to put one in a happier frame of mind. But thinking about it isn't half as
much fun as doing it! And that's the whole point behind our analysis.
One of the most important principles underlying Fundamental One is this: your happiness
is largely determined by how much pleasure you have in life.
Happy people, as we have discussed before, have many more happy moods and
experiences than others usually do. And although happiness, as we define it in the
research, is an overriding and abiding emotional sense of contentment with life -- there is
little doubt that this global sense of well-being is based solidly upon the collection of
minute-to-minute or day-to-day moods a person experiences. Put more simply, the more
happy experiences a person has, the happier they will tend to be overall.
Going further, one of the main factors the research has found that generates happy moods
is fun and pleasurable activity. Obviously then, if one sees happiness from a perspective of
building-blocks, every additional happy activity one can add to their day, eventually builds
their happiness, overall. Indeed, it can be argued that ones happiness is directly linked to
the number of happy activities one experiences on a day-to-day basis.
As this is true, your "pleasure list" should be pretty revealing in terms of your own
The length of your list tells a lot...
Early studies in the field found that one of the best, indirect methods of measuring an
individual's happiness level was obtained simply by counting the number of activities a
person could list that gave them happiness. Given the same amount of time to write things
down: the longer the list, the happier the person.
I've repeated this procedure with every college class I've ever taught, and the results have
been the same. Given about five minutes, the length of my students' lists vary greatly.
Without fail, the happiest students come up with lists that range above 25 items. The
general average is around 10 to 15 items (you can compare your list to these numbers to
get your approximate standing).
A long list is probably quite a good sign that you are a happy person. But don't be alarmed
if your list is short. A small list of pleasures may suggest a low level of happiness, but it is
far from uncommon. Even in my research with young college students (whom one might
assume to be at a reasonably happy and active period in life), I find that almost a third
cannot think of more than 5 or 6 things they can do that make them happy.
It's disconcerting to find so many young people with such a small number of pleasures. Yet
it shows me, that even youthful collegians can fall victim to one of the most common
"unhappiness habits" of all -- that of limiting one's sources of pleasure, and becoming fixed
in a dull and repetitive routine. It is a "unhappiness habit" many of us are guilty of...
Nonetheless, assuming your list has at least ten or more items, let's continue with the
analysis. Now, for the moment look over your list and imagine that this list was the only
daily agenda you had in your life. No more job (unless that's on the list). No more school
(unless that's on the list). No more chores, no more obligations, no more responsibilities,
no more bills to pay. All you have to do is just pick from your list of pleasures as to how you
want to spend your day.
How happy would that be? Well, I don't need to guess. I suspect that you'd be very happy
indeed! What a life, aye? Well, in fact, if you want a better idea of what happy people do
with their time, the research shows that happy people spend virtually all their time doing
It sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Simply list the things you love to do and do them. Just
like happy people do, apparently...
It looks good on your paper, so what's the "catch?"
The "catch," according to most people, is that it's easier said than done. Sure it would be
great to live a life picking and choosing from a "pleasure list," but how can it be done?
It's a legitimate question, but let's reverse it: why can't it be done? In my workshops and
lectures, I've come across two things that people see as impediments to living a happier
The first is money. Most people think that happiness requires wealth and a hefty income.
Typically I've had interviewees say, "I'd have to be a millionaire to be happy." Certainly, as
we saw in the data presented in Volume I, income and wealth contribute to happiness, but
do you have to be rich to have happy experiences? Find out for yourself by looking over
your list of pleasures and put a dollar sign ($) by any item on the list that requires more
than $5.00 to do.
Now don't get bogged down here; you don't have to be absolutely precise. The $5.00
figure is just arbitrary; all you're really trying to do is separate your expensive pleasures
from your inexpensive ones. A rough split will do just fine for our analysis.
Well, how does it look? Do you have expensive tastes? Or are you a member of the
"cheap thrills" crowd?
Some individuals find their pleasures fall mostly in the expensive category, but in my years
of lecturing I find that such people are in a rather small minority (usually less than 5% of
my audiences fall into this group). These are the people with expensive tastes (whose
pleasures involve regular travel, costly entertainment, lavish parties, etc.). For people like
this, wealth is strongly tied to the pleasures they get from life. Fortunately, most of the
people who fall into this category usually come from affluent circumstances to begin with,
so money is not much of a problem. But if you're not one of these who already has money,
and you find that most of your pleasures are on the pricey side, then, for you, a high
income may be critical if you hope to live a happy life.
Most people, however, find that the majority of their pleasures are rather inexpensive --
indeed, that most are actually free! (Over 95% of the people I've polled find this to be true.)
This is a stunning revelation for many. We work so hard to get ahead, assuming that
money will buy us happiness, but when we really look at the specific activities that really
make us happy we often find they cost little or nothing at all. Apparently the old adage is
true: "The best things in Life are free."
A walk in the park, getting together with friends, working on a hobby, time spent with our
loved ones, a rewarding day at work, watching a great show on TV -- these are the kinds
of things which add happiness to our lives. In other words, the kinds of activities that make
the strongest contribution to our happiness don't require much money.
To me this is a most profound and freeing insight. For most, it would seem, great wealth
would make little difference in our happiness. If your list is a typical one, you too have
discovered that money has little to do with what really makes you happy. The sources of
happiness are already all around you -- free for the taking.
The next "catch" people mention is time. "I just can't find the time to have any fun," is a
typical comment. It's as if many people think they need a time-management specialist or a
scheduling coordinator to plan for fun in their lives. But how much planning does fun
require? Let's analyze your list...
Put a "P" (for "planning") beside the all the items on your list that require a good deal of
planning and organization to do. If it requires little advanced planning leave it unmarked.
In other words, if you've got to get the "gang" together, rent or prepare equipment, shop in
advance, or pre-schedule facilities or transportation, then it's something you need to plan.
If it's something you can do spontaneously, most anytime you feel like it -- like visiting
friends or reading a good book -- no "P" is needed. Again, only a rough appraisal is
necessary, and it depends on your particular situation. For example, if your idea of a party
is a formal affair (with engraved invitations, arranged seating, etc.) then planning is a must.
But if your idea of a party is to let the neighbors know you've got a keg of beer on ice,
planning is superfluous.
In all of the polling I've done over the years it appears that the vast majority of people
(probably around 95%) find that most of their pleasures are spontaneous. It is rare indeed
to find a person whose pleasures require a lot of advanced planning. However, if you are
one of them, then planning and organization will be an important part of your happiness
game-plan if you hope to find much fun in your life. (You, especially, will profit from the
discussion of Fundamental Four, "Get Better Organized and Plan Things Out," coming up
in the next few chapters of this Volume.)
Most of you will find, I trust, that most of the fun things on your list are relatively
spontaneous. They are pleasures available to you almost anytime you decide to do them.
Most are right there, within your immediate grasp. All you have to do is reach out.
Again, most people find this part of the analysis amazing. Certainly many of the fun
experiences we have in life necessitate advanced planning, but most people are surprised
to find how many of their pleasures are so readily and spontaneously available to them.
Together, these first two analyses show something rather profound about the nature of
happiness. For most people, the main sources of happy experience are (1) low in cost,
and (2) spontaneously available practically anytime. The question, then, naturally comes to
mind: "Why don't we do such things more often?" We'll examine this issue in greater detail
later, but for now, one obvious answer is that most people never realize these simple
principles. Happiness is often seen as something only the future or the most spectacular
events can provide. But our analysis shows that happiness resides just as much (if not
more) in the simple pleasures which surround us everyday.
The final way to analyze your list is to put an "S" by each of the pleasures that is
essentially social in nature. By that we mean something that you need to have at least one
other person along with you to enjoy the activity. For each of the activities on your list, ask
yourself if you can do it all by yourself and have just as much fun. If you can, leave it
unmarked. But if it is a pleasure that's only fun when shared, put an "S" by it.
Certainly, for example, you don't need anyone else but yourself to go for a night of bowling.
But would it be any fun all alone? Of course, you'd have the lane to yourself -- no waiting;
no interruptions. But compared to the fun the other groups of friends or families were
having around you, I doubt solo bowling would be much of a pleasure.
As you go down your list, it probably won't take long to discover the transparent point to
this analysis. It's hard to find anything that's much fun to do by yourself. Indeed, for many
of the items on your list, it's the people involved with you -- not the actual activity itself --
that makes it fun! A cookout, dining at a nice restaurant, going to a ball game, a night at
the theatre, a round of golf, a day at the amusement park -- imagine doing such things by
yourself! In this light, all of a sudden, most of your listed pleasures cease to be happy
experiences at all.
No, it doesn't take long to see how important the social factor is in happiness. The fun
experiences in life are generally the shared experiences in life. Without our friends, or our
family, or our close loved one, most of the "fun" activities we enjoy would hardly be fun at
all. For the most part, it is other people that make our good times. The actual activity
involved may be completely irrelevant. When we think about it, we have to admit that when
good friends are involved, we can be doing anything and have a great time; the specific
activity doesn't matter. People make things fun -- the activity is secondary.
There are, of course, exceptions. Some of the most enjoyable pleasures in life are solitary
-- a quiet moment for reflection, a lone walk in nature, reading a novel, working on a hobby
-- and it is important to have some enjoyable things in life that one can do alone. But in my
experience, people who have lists that are primarily filled with solitary pleasures tend to be
somewhat unhappy. It's not that solitary pursuits don't provide sources of happiness, it's
rather that solitary pursuits don't appear to have the same impact, in terms of felt
happiness, that social activities have. Typically, most people (again by what may seem a
rather lopsided majority of 95%) find their pleasure-list items are predominately social.
Again, as we see throughout the happiness research, "happiness is other people."
What's the "catch" here? It would seem that one can't have many happy times without
good friends or close family relationships. Thus, for those who have neither, the prognosis
for happiness would appear pretty poor. Fortunately, however, this needn't be the case at
all. Actually, a reverse process can occur. As we shall examine more in upcoming
chapters, on of the best ways to make friends is to start doing things that are fun by
yourself. Inevitably, as you spend time following your favorite pursuits, you'll meet others
there who share your interest! Likewise, the same thing can happen with your immediate
family -- for one of the best ways to develop happier family relationships is to do fun things
THE HAPPY ACTIVITIES PROGRAM
But, back to the business at hand. It's time to turn your list into a more specific daily
program to help you "become more active."
When we began research with the Fundamentals, one of the pilot experiments we
conducted dealt with what we named "the enjoyable activities program." Based on the
collected data, my colleagues and I recognized the strong relationship that had been
previously established between happiness and an active, fun life-style. Following this, we
attempted to devise a simple procedure that might help ordinary college students more
closely approximate the life-style of happy people.
Simply put, could we find a design that would increase the amount of time our
experimental participants spent in fun activity to see if their overall happiness with life
might be improved?
The answer was simplicity. We began with a list of pleasures, just like you've done. But,
that was just the beginning. Participants were required to continuously rework their lists for
a week previous to the actual experiment in order to fit certain guidelines we had set for
them. The basic requirement was to create a "master list" of fun items which met four
basic tests: (1), each list had to be at least twenty items long; (2), items had to be rather
specific; (3), each item on the list had to be feasible; and (4) each item had to be
something the person didn't do frequently.
These stipulations were required to make the "master lists" practical for the experiment, for
the idea was to have each participant create a "menu," so to speak, of fun activities that
they could add to their daily routine. As you, too, may wish to employ this procedure, let's
detail the specifications further...
First, we strove for relatively long lists -- a minimum of twenty items was sought. Here, we
were shooting for variety. It seemed to us that short lists might prove counterproductive to
our purposes, in that, no matter how much fun the items might be, requiring them to be
repeated day after day might lead to tedium. (After all, playing miniature golf may be fun
on occasion, but if it's the only item on your "fun list," it may loose it's appeal after a week
or two.) Thus we were striving for an extensive "menu;" a variety of "fun" things that our
participants could pick and choose from; so many, in fact, that repetition and boredom
couldn't possibly become a factor.
A long list was, therefore, is essential. In our experiments, we suggested several ways for
our participants to expand their lists. One exercise involved a written analysis of the things
they "liked" about their lives (an indirect method that often revealed additional, sometimes
unnoticed pleasures to add to their lists). Another exercise recommended a listing of "All
the things I've always wanted to try, but haven't." This particular exercise was designed to
take advantage of the Novelty Principle -- trying things you've always imagined you'd love
to do. (In our original experiment, we strongly stressed including a few new and untried
activities to the lists our participants were developing, and our post-experiment debriefings
indicated that often such new items proved to be among the most happily rated activities
our participants involved themselves in.) Delving in the past was another exercise. Here,
we asked our participants to recall the happier periods of their life in a search for activities
they once found fun, but may have long let lapse from their lives.
Whatever the method, the gist of these exercises was to lengthen the "master list" of fun
activities as much as possible.
The second requirement, augmented the first: items on the "master list" should be as
specific as possible. Many of our original participants initially had written rather general
things down; "sports" for example. Our instructions to them were to break such general
terms down to an expanded series of specifics. "Sports," in this light, should be sub- listed
to all the particular sports activities the person enjoyed. Similarly, a general statement, like
"getting together with friends," could easily be split into a number of different situations.
Activities on ones "master list" should be as specific and diversified as possible, since
each should represent an independent activity one might do on any convenient occasion.
The third requirement was that each item on the "master list" had to be feasible. This,
unfortunately, is where a lot of items had to be cut from the participants' lists. To remain on
the "master list," items had to be affordable, available, and practical for the list maker to do
most any day that they wished. Given these constraints, certain annual events (like
Christmas, birthdays, and holidays) would be stricken from every list, since they are
practically fulfilled only one day a year. Similarly, "snow skiing" for a Floridian or "deep sea
fishing" for a Nebraskan would seem impractical as a regular "fun activity" to count on.
Expensive pleasures (like "buying jewelry," "traveling abroad," and "dining at fine
restaurants") were also cut from most peoples lists (unless they could regularly afford
them). Specific pleasures would depend on their content: "playing cards with the guys"
would be fine, but "going to a Rolling Stones concert" is quite a rare event.
The requirement here is feasibility. For a list of pleasures to be usable, it must consist of
items that are practical, affordable, and available most all the time. Something you can do
almost any day of the week (or at least on a weekend).
The fourth requirement for of each item on the "master list" was infrequency. To be
valuable in helping our participants add more fun to their lives, we wanted them to develop
a list of items which were relatively infrequent for them, i.e., things they didn't do very
often; things they did in the past, but hadn't found time for recently; things they had put off;
things they had never tried; etc..
If you go down your list, you'll probably find a number of items that fit this requirement.
Indeed, practically any activity that you could do more often, and still find it just as
enjoyable, can be considered for your "master list." The idea is simple: you want a list of
pleasures that would be an addition to the life you're living now. At least that was the idea
behind our experimental strategy...
We were hoping that the list of pleasures our participants developed would represent a
real addition to their normal routine. We wanted them to go beyond -- to expand their fun
horizons! To truly add extra pleasure to their lives.
Once the "master lists" were finalized, it was time for the main part of the experiments to
begin. Armed with a list of at least twenty items (each rather specific; each being practical
and affordable; and each representing an addition to the normal routine) our participants
went forth! Each day they participated in the program they were required to pick a few
things from their list and do them. That's all there was to the program! No matter what else
they had planned for their day, they were required to take some time to do a few things
from their list. Generally, we suggested around an hour a day to be spent on these extra,
fun things; but this was not a rigorous requirement. For the most part, we left the time
spent and the number of activities accomplished somewhat flexible, as long as certain
minimums were maintained.
The results of our experiments were most successful. In all of our studies, the general
happiness level of our participants, as a group, grew significantly as the experiments
progressed, compared to "control" groups (who were not instructed in the procedure). We
tried the experiment several times, for a period as short as two-weeks to a period that
lasted several months, and the positive results were the same. Apparently, our people had
increased their overall happiness (according to a number of different assessment devices)
simply by adding a little extra fun to their normal routine!
It is important to also understand that our participants had no specific idea that happiness
was the object of the experiments. Happiness was not mentioned to them (for we did not
want to bias their reactions). All the participants knew was that they were being required to
add fun to their lives -- for a reason that was unclear. Nonetheless, their happiness grew
anyway -- experimentally confirming the strong connection between fun and happiness
shown in past research.
Pleased with our results, we spent a good deal of time debriefing our participants to
understand more fully what had taken place...
To begin with, most participants had, in fact, complied with the demands of the experiment.
They had taken their participation seriously and had successfully completed items from
their lists on a daily basis. Certainly there were those who skipped a day or two over the
experiment (and one or two who didn't keep up with the requirements at all), but the large
majority fulfilled all expectations.
How had they done this? Initially, we had worried that the demands of the experiment
might have detrimental effects on other aspects of our participants lives. There was a
concern that the extra hours of fun we were expecting might force our participants to let
down on their studies, work, or other important daily duties. Surprisingly, this was not the
case! Most of the people in the experiment were able to keep up with all their normal
responsibilities and do their "extra" fun things too. How? It appears they simply "squeezed"
this extra fun time into their basic routine.
Apparently, many of our participants had spare time on their hands in the first place that
was just going to waste. Others found, by getting a bit more organized, they could make
the time to do the experiment and get everything else done too. In essence, all of them
were doing what Fundamental One recommends: being MORE active than they had been
There were a very few people, however, who reported loosing ground in some important
areas of their life in order to keep up with the experiment. In some cases, their study time
had been curtailed somewhat (and their grades slipped a bit). In other cases, daily chores
and other responsibilities suffered. One individual indicated that "extra effort" on his job
had been diminished. Yet despite these setbacks, each reported being happier!
Herein lies an important observation regarding happiness. Sometimes the things that really
contribute to our happiness are in direct conflict with the things we think are important to
devote ourselves to. And it is here that the simple formulations provided in the Fourteen
Fundamentals can become exceedingly difficult to place into actual practice...
THE DECISION TO BE HAPPY IS NOT ALWAYS EASY
It is not easy to give up something you consider critically important in your life -- even
when you recognize that you receive little or no pleasure from the activity. Our lives often
become fettered with duties, obligations, chores, and responsibilities we hardly like at all.
Still, we remain committed to them.
Often we imagine that we are building to a happier time in the future (although we don't
really find much happiness in the things we have to do to get there). Other times we're
simply caught in obligation. We hate the activity, but we can't see any way to shirk it.
Generally, we usually have a lot of psychological investment tied to these unpleasant
activities, and it's hard to break such strong bond. Yet, when we allow ourselves to
examine it more closely, we can't help but realize how much happier we might be if we,
too, were "forced" to have a bit more fun in life.
Our experimental participants were often "forced" to make this choice -- and most were
happier for it. But in real life, the choice is left to you. And in this sense, the choice for
happiness can be quite difficult to make. Indeed, it must be argued that in some cases,
one's individual happiness must be sacrificed for the sake of some higher purpose.
No, as simple as the Fundamentals are, to follow them completely can require deep, and
often painful, changes in one's entire life.
Being happy is not always an easy matter.
Still, the happiest people seem to find a balance between obligation and fun. They have a
remarkable ability to separate the important from the unimportant in their routine. Certainly,
most of us have certain obligations to our family and work that we cannot easily dismiss for
the sake of fun. But, when examined closely, there are many, more mundane chores and
routines that fill our day that are relatively inconsequential -- and often, these are open to a
degree if elimination.
Knowing that fun is a crucial element in their happiness, the happiest people intuitively
know how to "separate the wheat from the chaff" in terms of daily chores and obligations.
They realize that the house need not be thoroughly cleaned every day. They know that
they need not accept every responsibility they're offered by their civic club. They find that
nothing really suffers when they put off clearing-out the garage for another week. They feel
free to decline an unappealing social invitation. And all this frees their time to do things
they consider more enjoyable.
To do this yourself necessitates a rather thorough analysis of your weekly routine. But it is
well worth the effort! If you look close enough, I'm sure you'll find dozens of activities that
consume your valuable time which are totally unnecessary to do. Over-routinized chores;
mindless hours in front of the TV watching "whatever's on;" unproductive busy-work;
redundant efforts; etc.. Often, it's a matter of planning (taking daily trips to the corner store,
when better planning might reduce the time to one, weekly visit to the supermarket -- or
picking the kids up every day, when a carpooling arrangement with the neighbors could cut
such pick-ups to once a week). The potential is endless -- and every minute you can shave
from irrelevant or repetitive "time wasters" is one extra minute you can re-devote to
NOW IT'S UP TO YOU
The list of pleasures you've written is just a beginning. If you wish to take full advantage of
the Fundamentals Program, revising and expanding your list should become a life-long
Initially, you should work on your list until it truly represents all the kinds of things that
currently make you happy. Certainly, in your compilation, you don't want to loose sight of
the many, everyday pleasures you regularly find. But then it is time to go on...
Remember, the items you add to your list must be things you enjoy practically every time
you do them. Also, each new entry should be as specific as possible. Keep in mind that the
longer your list eventually becomes, the better it will work for you (and the more like happy
people you will be as you develop a wide variety of interests that bring you pleasure).
Remember too to try new and novel activities (as they often tend to be more happiness-
producing). The items you add to your list should also be infrequent pleasures, since only
these will serve to be an addition to what you're doing now. And, finally, try to include as
many things on your list that are affordable and practical -- activities that might be done
almost any day of the week (watching mountain gorillas in their native habitat may be fun
and novel, but in most areas of the world it is not the kind of thing you can do every day).
A good "master list" is never completed. It should be expanded and continuously modified.
The longer your list eventually becomes, the better it can be for you ("the more the
merrier," so to speak). Our original experimental participants told us that nothing is worse
than a short list -- even fun activities get old if they are repeated day after day.
As time progresses your activities list will mature. But for the time being, your present list
should give you enough to get started on your journey to greater happiness.
"Be More Active & Keep Busy" is only the first of the fourteen Fundamentals we will
examine. Yet, already, we have seen a number of basic strategies you could employ to
become a happier person.
The operative word in "become more active" is the word "more." Our prescription suggests
you need to be MORE active than is typical of you now. Like any of the Fundamentals we'll
present, unless the behavior you try is a definite addition to the life you already live, you
can't really expect to notice any progress toward happiness.
Bear in mind, however, not all the Fundamentals will be helpful to every one of you. Some
of you, for example, may already be living highly active lives -- and you might find it
impossible to increase your activity-level further. If that is so, perhaps others of the
Fundamentals will be more important for you to consider. But for those of you who live an
inactive life, the research would predict that "becoming more active," could be the first step
in bringing a noticeable happiness increase in your life.
Fundamental One can be applied at any point of the happiness-unhappiness continuum.
At the very minimum, Fundamental One instructs you to "keep busy no matter what."
Activity appears to be one of the most basic antidotes for normal, everyday depression.
All of us, even the happiest people, experience down periods in their lives -- times when
we're blue, downcast, and normally depressed...
Most of us react to such periods by shutting down. Our energy is gone, our mood is low,
our feeling of self-esteem runs shallow -- and our desire to be active dissipates completely.
We don't want to do anything. We try to avoid social situations. We hardly want to
participate in anything enjoyable or new. We find it hard to keep up with our daily routine.
We just let everything slide. But that's exactly the wrong thing to do!
Keeping busy is the best antidote for common, ordinary depression.
When you find yourself down or depressed, that's when Fundamental One can mean the
most. Stay out there and keep busy, even though you don't feel up to it. Keeping busy,
being active, appears to have a remarkably therapeutic effect for most of the normally
depressed patients I see in my practice. It's hard, I know, to press forward when you're
feeling down about things. But giving into that depressed tendency to let everything go not
only steeps you in your depressed mood, but it actually compounds it with a heavy dose of
guilt over obligations left unattended (and that, in turn, adds to the initial depression). It can
become a spiraling circle of depression and guilt that sometimes seems insurmountable.
Keeping busy is the answer. Force yourself to keep-up with your normal routine. Go
through the motions. On the inside you'll still be hurting; but as you occupy yourself with
your expected tasks, slowly your blue mood will be absorbed by the sheer preoccupation
of activity, all by itself.
At the highest end of the continuum, Fundamental One says, "live the full life!" The
happiest people live a life full of activity. They approach life, they get wrapped-up in it,
they're involved completely, and they invest heavily in everything they do. They tend to
spend much more of their time doing fun and exciting things. They have developed a wide
variety of things they enjoy doing, and they tend to squeeze a lot more living into every day
than most of us do.
Fundamental One provides a basic model for this ultimately happy life-style. To the degree
that you can approximate it in your own life, the happier you will eventually come to be.
So at the minimum, keep busy. That is the key to combating ones normal blues. And at the
maximum, redirect your life to eventually living the full, fun life that happy people live. But
in the meantime, bear in mind that your happiness is largely contingent on the amount of
time you spend in happy activity -- thus, even a few extra minutes a day spent doing
something enjoyable adds up.
Happiness can be conquered a few minutes at a time...
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