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by Allison Aboud Holzer

It seems obvious: a Freshman in college is trying to decide between majoring in Econ or Biology and asks current seniors in both majors for their perspectives, right? A couple is cover-mid_tradedeciding between purchasing a home in two different neighborhoods and asks current neighbors in both about how they like the area, right? A career switcher is interested in the biotech and pharma industries and interviews people working in both before deciding which to pursue, right? These are definitely the right ideas, but, unfortunately, few people actually practice them when faced with challenging decisions.

Harvard Psychology Professor, Daniel Gilbert, discusses this dilemma in his book called Stumbling on Happiness, and recently published new research on the topic. Two new studies found that we are much more accurate predicting future happiness about a college major, neighborhood, or job industry, if we simply seek out neighborly advice. Unfortunately, however, few believe this to be true; therefore, few actually do this. Instead, we have a tendency to make decisions based on what we think will make us happy (called “mental simulations” or “forecasting”). The result is frequent inaccuracy about future happiness.

Gilbert’s article quotes the 17th century writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld, who suggested that “Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it.” His research supports this hypothesis, which seems like common sense. So, why don’t we do this?

The simple answer is that we humans like to believe that we are unique. We believe so strongly in individual differences that we discount others’ experiences and expect ours to be different. Gilbert suggests two reasons why others’ experiences are not so different than our own: 1) emotional reactions are instinctual even when specific beliefs and opinions differ (both pro-life and pro-choice people will feel angry when their beliefs are threatened by the passing of a new law), and 2) the people in our social networks tend to share similar values and personality traits. Nevertheless, “when we want to know our emotional futures, it is difficult to believe that a neighbor’s experience can provide greater insight than our own best guess.”

But since seeking neighborly advice is the best way to make a decision, this Bliss Tip asks you to take a leap of faith this year when making big decisions by asking others about their experiences. Not willing to act on faith alone? Try it out with smaller decisions first, like where you’d like to try dinner tonight!

  • Gilbert, D.T., Killingsworth, M.A., Eyre, R.N. & Wilson, T.D. (2009). The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice. Science (323), 5921.
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by Allison Aboud Holzer

For several years I taught a workshop called “Create Your Own Vision Board” to high school students, advanced adult Fine Art students, and elderly residents at a nursing home.While I approached the workshop from different angles depending on the audience, the overall message was the same: visually representing your goals helps you achieve them.

I’m not talking woo-woo “law of attraction” here. There really is something logical to this. Psychologist Laura King studies the impact of writing about your goals and (what she calls) your “future best self” on well-being. She has found that writing down your goals not only improves the likelihood that you achieve them but also makes you feel happier! To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a study on creating a vision board of your goals using collage, but I suspect that it would benefit you similarly. Why?

<!–[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]–><!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>Whether you are writing about your goals or figuring out the best image to depict them, you untitled-1-copyhave to reflect on them in a detailed and intentional sort of way. This requires you to organize your thoughts about your goals, sparking your sense of commitment to them. A man who attended my workshop at the nursing home loved traveling. While he glued images of old European maps to his vision board, he shared stories with his friends about his travel experiences. Vision boards also give us an opportunity to share with others what we care about most.

Making a vision board does not require any prerequisite artistic skill. Here’s how:

  1. Write down about 1 – 5 goals you will represent on your board.
  2. For two weeks, look for images that inspire you or remind you of these goals. Cut them out of magazines or print from the web. Keep them together in a shoe box.
  3. Materials you need: An ~8”x 10” cardboard piece (cut from a box), glue, your images you collected, and optional colored paper, fabrics or beads.
  4. Create your board on your own or with friends! Spread everything out on a table and create a collage representing your goals with visual images (not words). Have fun!

When you have finished, put your vision board up in your home so you are reminded daily of why these goals are important to you, keeping them close to your mind and heart.

* King, L. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology 27, 798 – 807.

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POH is an organization committed to the pursuit of happiness through education. This blog offers a forum to discuss happiness, positive psychology, fulfillment, and other related topics. While POH has created this forum for community learning and discussion, please note that blog entries reflect the opinions of the individual bloggers and not the POH organization. I invite you to peruse the site and respond with your feedback and insights!

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