Do you know the difference between pleasure and happiness?

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Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? Can you explain how reward differs from contentment? Robert Lustig certainly can and his latest book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains, has something powerful to say about happiness and wellbeing.

About Robert Lustig

Robert Lustig MD is perhaps best known for his bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

These are not minimalist book titles!

Lustig is a professor of paediatrics, as well as being chief science officer of EatREAL, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. His latest work argues that the corporate world has manipulated us specifically to get us to buy junk we don’t need. It’s an argument you may have come across before, but here we are offered the science behind the message.

We have been ‘manipulated’

Lustig argues that business has conflated pleasure with happiness and “with clear-cut intent” to get us to engage with behaviours that result in society feeling, “…fat, sick, stupid, broke, addicted, depressed and most decidedly unhappy.”

Recognise that rush of pleasure when you:

  • bite into something super sweet and delicious?
  • purchase something shiny and new?
  • see a notification on your smartphone?

That rush is one of dopamine, bringing fleeting reward or pleasure, but this is only ever short-lived and ends up with you wanting more. These things are genuinely addictive.

There is another way

By contrast, Lustig argues that the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin, provides longer-term contentment. He explains the difference between the dopamine effect, which creates, “That feels good. I want more.” versus the seratonin effect that brings about a sense of, “That feels good. I have enough.”

As Lustig says, it’s about understanding the difference between chasing fleeting reward and longer-lasting contentment.

How do we achieve this?

With clear scientific evidence to back up his argument, Lustig argues that real contentment is to be found through his 4 C’s, which increase serotonin in the brain to promote well-being. 

They are:

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Cope
  • Cook

I’ll use these themes as categories on future blog posts, so be sure to look out for them.

What it means in practice

Connect

Actively participate in actual social interactions. Social engagement or emotional bonding correlates with contentment, says Lustig.

Facebook (by way of an example) does not count here. Lustig explains the more people use Facebook, the less “subjective well-being” they experience. Just as a diet of processed food fails to support our well-being, so our daily “digital diet” is also doing us harm.

Contribute

By contributing to society (perhaps through work, volunteering or other activities), this (again) increases contentment through feelings of self-worth. Ever read stories of people who gave up their Christmas Day to help at a shelter for the homeless? These volunteers’ feelings of well-being can be directly attributed to the feel-good factor associated with contribution.

Cope

This is mega important. Sleep better, be more mindful, exercise more. These coping strategies are essential to our well-being.

Simply:

  • Get your 8 hours
  • Don’t multi-task
  • Be more mindful or intentional in how you approach your day-to-day activities
  • Take exercise

Cook

The JERF (Just Eat Real Food) message has been around for a while but Lustig makes a particular case for cooking for ourselves, for our friends and for our families. If we do this, we’ll not only be eating foods that can boost that happy chemical, serotonin, but we’ll also be contributing and connecting as well. And sugar is a no no. Period.

All together now

Taken together, these 4 C’s provide the essential support we need to move away from transient moments of reward (pleasure) to a more contented state (happiness).

As a minimalist, reading this book gave me an insight into why we know – instinctively – that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness. When it comes to more, it’s more of the 4 C’s we really need.

Lustig’s work is based on solid science; it’s not an easy read, but if you’ve ever battled with overcoming negative habits or been concerned that your time spent on social media isn’t adding to your subjective well-being, this book explains why.


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Consider convenience 

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Do you ever feel that you’re rushing from one thing to the next? Perhaps your children’s social lives put you in a perpetual spin? Maybe you feel obligated to go to a particular hairdresser, doctor, dog groomer, dentist (and so on) just because you remain steadfastly loyal?

Some people are perfectly happy to travel significant distances to access certain services and I don’t blame you, if you are one of them. However, for day-to-day or regular activities, an alternative approach could help you slow down, simplify your routine or make a necessary chore feel a little less onerous.

Consider convenience

Episode 137 of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast made me see how important it is to consider convenience.

In this particular episode, Rubin and her sister and co-presenter, Liz Craft, explain how using particular services that are close by can provide a significant happiness boost.

By coincidence, we’d recently made a family decision that fitted well into the category of this particular ‘happiness hack’.

The story of my morning rush

Since our daughter was very small, I’d always taken her to nursery (then school) myself. This was our routine and we enjoyed this time together.

During her primary school years, the journey to school was on the way to my workplace, so this worked well. Once the secondary school years arrived, we continued the drive to school, as my place of work had changed and was now just a few miles further on from my daughter’s senior school.

In the early part of those secondary school years, we could leave as late as 07:50, drop the dog off (if he was going to doggie day care) and I could still be at my desk for 08:45.

Then I changed jobs again.

All change

At first, in my new role, I could still play ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and manage to be at my desk by around 08:30. But then the traffic started to get busier. And busier…. Plus, changes to parking arrangements at work meant that we needed to start leaving the house even earlier to arrive on time and find somewhere to park.

By the end of this busy phase, we were leaving home at 07:10 and I was arriving at work already feeling worn out and somewhat frazzled. Plus, our teen probably wasn’t getting as much sleep as she needed. And teenagers need a lot of sleep.

Enter the school bus

In the early days, the school bus was a potential option, but it was terribly inconvenient.

Its route involved various pick-ups, including a detour into the city centre, before it finally journeyed to its destination. This wasn’t ideal and the cost seemed prohibitively high in view of the drawbacks.

Then, the service changed, so our small town became the penultimate stop before the onward bus journey to school. Even better, the service now departed at 08:00 from our local stop, so this looked like a much more attractive option altogether.

Try this at home

At the start of the new term, my lovely husband suggested we try the bus. It would enable me to spend a lot less time in the car (as well as less time in traffic), plus the cost of the termly bus pass would be counterbalanced by the saving in fuel.

He was right.

I cannot tell you how much less stressed and more happy I feel as a result of this change. I am now able to drop our daughter at the bus stop and be at my desk within about 20 minutes. The previous round-trip could take as much as an hour.

I’m sure that our teenager would much prefer to be driven (who wouldn’t?). But this arrangement is a common-sense, practical solution to a problem that did need to be solved. And, now that our teenager is heading towards her 16th birthday, I also remind myself of an old mantra:

Independence is not neglect.

It is clear to me that choices that were once convenient don’t always remain so. And that’s worth thinking about.

What change can you make through considering convenience?

Convenience can make a big impact if you want to simplify your life.

As Rubin suggests in the podcast episode, “Making something more convenient will make it more likely that you’ll follow through.”

So consider this:

  • Is there a gym close to your place of work or home? You’ll be more likely to go, if you choose this option.
  • Can you walk or cycle to your workplace to combine exercise and transport?
  • Could you switch to a service provider that offers a late opening or a more local service, thus saving you precious time and resources?

Just try it!

Perhaps, like me, you’ll find a surprising amount of value (even beyond what you might have hoped for) through considering convenience in your daily choices.

And if you’ve made a convenient choice that has created more space in your life, please do share by replying below.


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10 reasons to act now in the season of letting go

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I love autumn, not least because it’s my birthday month, but also because in colour-analysis terms, I am also an ‘Autumn‘. Win win!

To me, Fall is the perfect season for letting go.

If we’ve been pre-occupied with summer or holiday pursuits until now, there’s a chance that, as the nights draw in, we can resume our goals. After all, September is considered to be the new January and the start of the academic year is well and truly here.

Your goals

Maybe you really want to get your family room decluttered? Or perhaps you’ve been putting off that paperwork? The kids are well and truly back at school, so now’s the time to get stuck in.

Or perhaps you’re keen to slough off some mental baggage or unhealthy habits that you know aren’t serving you?

Do this now, before the ‘silly season’ is upon us.

Here are 10 reasons to act now

  1. Christmas – the season of acquisition – is just around the corner. There, I’ve said it. Unclutter your space before you start to add to it (either with holiday decorations or new purchases).
  2. There is only now. Consider what you can declutter in the next 10 minutes. Find 10 things in just 10 minutes and put these in your ‘goods out’ location. Go!
  3. A little progress can make a big difference, so try just tackling one drawer, one shelf or one cupboard. Small wins will spur you on.
  4. There are lots of useful tricks and techniques to help you. Check out my Unclutter2017 series for inspiration or join my Minimalism and Simple Living Group via Betterapp.us to get some accountability for your goals.
  5. Worry and busyness can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. We end up living in a constant state of anxiety when we’re continually focussing on the next thing. Let go of your ‘to do’ list (especially at weekends) to enjoy the day unfold.
  6. It’s OK to let go of others’ expectations and to start saying no. Maybe you need to put yourself first.
  7. Holding on can prevent you from moving forward. “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell
  8. Social media channels are not only time-sucking phenomena; they can also impact negatively on how we (and our kids) feel. Use just the one (or two) that bring you the most enjoyment. Dare to delete an app or even the entire account. I promise you won’t miss it; you might even feel a sense of relief.
  9. Let go of late nights. Shorter sleep equals shorter life, as this recent article in The Guardian explains. Autumn is the perfect time to go to bed early and make sure you get your full 8 hours.
  10. Letting go might just enable you to add value to someone else’s life through a book you pass on, a piece of clothing you donate or time devoted just talking with someone else.

So, what’s holding you back? And what will you let go of this autumn?


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An update on sticking to your budget – week by week

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Earlier in September, I wrote a post on Sticking to your budget – week by week. I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on how it went. What went well? What didn’t go so well?

As you might recall, I break our spending down into categories and track each one really carefully week by week. You can read about how I do this by clicking on the link to the post, above.

What went well

Our spending categories for September were as follows:

  • Food/groceries
  • Fuel/transport
  • Dog-related expenditure (gotta feed the hound!)
  • Mobile phones
  • Teen allowance
  • Sports
  • Miscellaneous

We don’t worry about regular expenses such utility bills because those are taken care of from our second account with regular standing orders and direct debits. What we’re dealing with here is discretionary spending.

Food and groceries

The ‘food and groceries’ part of the budget went really well. Because I’d analysed our spending over the previous few months, I knew how much to budget for our weekly food and groceries shopping.

As the month progressed, I tracked what we’d spent so I knew that I’d allocated the right amount of money to this particular pot when ‘actual’ amounts were pretty much what I had anticipated.

Other pots – dog-related stuff, eating out, phone bills etc. were also on budget.

What didn’t go so well

I knew instinctively that my ‘miscellaneous’ category might be where the greatest ‘sticking-to-the budget’ challenge lay. This opaque and potentially confusing category was where I’d record things such as clothes (we don’t buy many), books, haircuts, cash withdrawals for general use and so on. At the beginning of the month, I was clear what we could spend per week under this heading.

The Miscellaneous category

This opaque and potentially confusing category was where I’d record things such as clothes (we don’t buy many), books, haircuts, cash withdrawals for general use and so on. At the beginning of the month, I was clear what we could spend per week under this heading.

I also knew myself: most of this spending happens at the weekend, so I have to be more vigilant on Saturdays (in particular) to guard against a modest splurge! However, at the beginning of the month, I was clear on what there was to spend per week under this heading.

Emergency fund required!

Then, we had a leak under the sink.

£124 later, the leak was repaired and a new part fitted, but that blew the budget for the week and significantly impacted on the following week.

This is where having an emergency fund is essential Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover advocate a series of 7 baby steps, the first of which is to save $1000 to start an emergency fund (in our case, that’s 1000 GBP!). That means no spending on anything that isn’t absolutely essential and doing everything possible to build that fund before tackling all other baby steps (the next of which is to pay off any debts via Ramsay’s ‘snowball’ method).

Happily, our emergency fund is in place, but this shows that the ‘miscellaneous’ category really needs to cover only those spends that are considered or well-thought-through, rather than unplanned ‘surprises’. And you do need to control those spending urges, otherwise it’s easy to overspend mindlessly.

What about you?

How do you manage your monthly budget? Have you tried my dual account budget approach, or do you use another system? Maybe you use a particular app that works really well for you. Do share by replying below!

 


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