Ordinary Happiness

March 10, 2014

As established research suggests, most of us realize we receive more lasting happiness from experiencing something than from buying something (unless we’re talking about, say, books or art supplies…or is that just me?).  But what types of experiences provide the most happiness?

I recently read about a study by some marketing professors examining this very question. Turns out, it depends in part on how old we are. The study, “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” broke experiences into two categories: extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent), like having a child or taking a special vacation, and ordinary (common and frequent), like watching a sunset or savoring a meal. They also examined the role of age in the amount of happiness these activities give us.

The study found that, “Although happiness from extraordinary experiences does not change with age, ordinary experiences elicit greater happiness as people get older and their time remaining becomes limited.” (You can read the study here.) 

I don’t think of my time remaining being “limited” (though, of course, everyone’s is), but I already embrace the idea that I don’t have to do something extraordinary to feel happier. Simple, ordinary, pastimes do indeed provide me with great pleasure. This is a good thing, because extraordinary experiences are not always available to me—they are “uncommon and infrequent” by definition. However, in the meantime, I don’t have to wait—ordinary happiness is all around me.

I’m not saying I don’t still want those extraordinary experiences—I certainly wouldn’t turn down a trip to London, for example. I’m lucky enough to have done some traveling, to have owned a business, to get married and to have a child, experiences that qualify as extraordinary, and I’m sure that plays a part in my overall feeling of contentment in my life. But until that next trip or other “big” experience comes along, I’ll be happy sitting on my lanai sipping tea, taking a walk, sketching, laughing with my friends and generally enjoying the simple pleasures and everyday adventures of life.

What simple pleasures make you happy? And what extraordinary experience would you most like to have?

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