7 Tips for Making Happy Decisions about How to Spend Your Time, Energy, and Money

Good morning, Highlanders! Many of us make numerous decisions on a daily, if not hourly basis. I think we all want to be happy with the decisions that we make. This article addresses some strategies that we can use whenever we have a decision to make, even if it’s not a work or career related decision. This was originally posted in September 2016 by Gretchen Rubin. Let us know what questions you ask yourself when you’re making a decision. We would love to hear from you all!

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We all have to make decisions about how to spend our time, energy, and money. Because of my happiness project, I now explicitly ask myself, “Will this decision make me happier?” I’m determined to get the most happiness bang for the buck.

Here are some questions I consider:

1. Is this decision likely to strengthen my relationships with other people?Strong relationships with other people are a key—the key—to happiness, so decisions that help me build or strengthen ties are likely to boost my happiness. Yes, it’s a hassle and an expense to go to my college reunion, but it’s likely to have a big happiness pay-off. *I feel like, as a grown-up, it’s exponentially harder to make friends and break in to friend groups. Many people already have friends from college, high school or family who are close in age that they hang out with. Then suddenly, your friends start getting married and having babies making it that much more difficult to make time for one another. Throw in being an introvert and this can seem like a disaster, but like everything in life, we make choices to be a certain way. If you want to spend time with someone, you will make an effort to find ways to spend time with that person regardless of life circumstances. These efforts can be as small as writing someone on LinkedIn or another social media outlet with a few kind words of encouragement. You never know how far telling someone you believe in them will go! 

2. Will this decision provide me with novelty and challenge? Novelty and challenge make me happier—but they also make me feel insecure, intimidated, frustrated, and stupid. To get past that hurdle, I remind myself that in the end, I usually get a big shot of happiness. When I considered adding video to my blog, I reminded myself that the process of mastering the process would likely make me happier. And it has. *While learning something new can seem scary to some people it also might be exactly what you need at this point in your life. Challenges and changes are exciting and usually make people happier in the long run. It’s also a sense of accomplishment that you tried something new and it worked out in your favor. Even if something doesn’t work out the way you thought it was going to, you still learned something in the process, even if its that you don’t like that “thing.”

3. What is the opportunity cost of this decision? (“Opportunity cost” describes that fact that doing one thing means foregoing alternatives.) Energy, time, and money are limited. Even if a decision would bring happiness, if it means that I have to give up the opportunity to do many other happiness-boosting activities, it may not be worth it. I could dedicate many hours to learning about classical music, and in the end, I might enjoy classical music more, but that activity would crowd out too many other things that I want to do more. *Making sure that this hobby or activity is bringing value to your life in more ways than one. You want to make sure you’re not just wasting your time trying to learn something new for the sake of learning something new. Rather than spending time on classical music (unless you’re super passionate about this subject) it might be a better use of time to learn another language, especially if that would help you to excel at your job.

4. Does this decision help me obey my personal commandment to Be Gretchen? I want to shape my life to reflect my temperament, interests, and values. I ask myself: Am I making this decision to “Be Gretchen,” or because I want to impress other people, pretend that I’m different from the person I actually am, or deny a truth about myself? *Being true and authentic to who you are as a person is the most important question to ask if you’re confused about a decision that you have to make. Is the answer to this question inherently you? Do your values feel validated by the outcome of this decision? There are many ways to get in touch with your inner voice, meditation, chatting with a close friend and confidant, talking with a counselor, writing in a journal or some other form of getting all your thoughts out there to sort them all out and figure out what the best path is for you at that moment. Sometimes these talks or inner discussions will bring up other questions for yourself, but you should end up with more clarity and validation for your self worth. 

5. When I consider a particular course of action, do I feel energized or drained? *How do you get energized? Is it from hanging out around people all day everyday or do you like to recharge at home snuggling your puppy and binge watching your favorite shows on Netflix? Our inherent extrovertedness and introvertedness will allow us to answer this question. It doesn’t mean that one is social and the other is anti-social, it just means that some people need to recharge by themselves while other people need other people to feel energized with where everyone is having fun. Introverts do this too, just maybe not as much as their extroverted counterparts. Try to understand where you fall within this spectrum and understand your tendencies. Listen to what your inner voice is telling you when you’re faced with a big life or career decision as well as minor decisions in life. 

6. How happy are the people who have made that particular decision? In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, he argues that the most effective way to judge whether a particular course of action will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are following that course of action right now if they’re happy, and assume that you’ll feel the same way. Going on a family trip to Disneyworld. Getting a hamster. Learning to use Instagram. Working as a paralegal. Volunteering. In evaluating the likely consequences of a decision, other people’s experiences of happiness—or lack thereof—can be very instructive for me. *While this is really important, any time you can conduct an informational interview, career related or not, is a good learning experience. Make sure that you trust the person you’re asking. If the person you’re asking is negative 80% of the time, while you’re a positive person most of the time, and that person tells you not to do something because they hated it, would you necessarily listen to them? Probably not. Make sure they are kind of like you within the subject or activity that you’re asking their opinion.

7. I remind myself to “Choose the bigger life.” People make different decisions about what the “bigger life” would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

This list might help answer questions such as:

  • Should I join Facebook?
  • Should I buy a tent?
  • Should I throw a Labor Day party?
  • Should I buy a new kitchen table?
  • Should I sign up for Spanish lessons?

There’s no right answer or wrong answer — only the right answer for me.

How about you? Have you developed questions for yourself, or other strategies, to help make wise decisions?


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Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than BeforeThe Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. She writes about happiness and habit-formation atgretchenrubin.com. Follow her here by clicking the yellow FOLLOW button, on Twitter, @gretchenrubin, on Facebook, facebook.com/GretchenRubin. Or listen to her popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Photo: flickr

1 Comment

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