18 Agosto 2017 08:05
Engrave it into your brain in golden lettering
Some say that in order to maximise happiness you should smile a lot. Others believe happiness to be synonymous with having lots of great experiences. Sporty types sweat endorphins to be happy; those in love with wealth sweat dollars and cents. We all have an idea about what it means to be happy. But it turns out that we're all a little bit wrong.
According to neuroscientist Moran Cerf, the most direct path to happiness has nothing to do with experiences, material goods or positive psychology. The secret is to choose very carefully who we share our time with.
According to Cerf – a specialist in decision making – there are two premises that invite us to conclude that our choice of friendships is the most important factor for long-term satisfaction.
The first is that decision making is exhausting. A number of studies have shown that human beings have a limited amount of mental energy to use in deciding what clothes to wear, where and what to eat, what music to listen to, how to keep ourselves entertained, and so on.
The second premise is that we falsely believe we control our happiness because we feel as if we have free choice. Cerf thinks this is a misperception. He says that our decisions are heavily influenced by emotional biases which cloud our judgement and encourage us to take actions that we would never contemplate if we were thinking rationally.
His research in the field of neuroscience has revealed that when two people are together their brainwaves become synchronised to the point of looking nearly indentical.
'The more we study engagement, we see time and again that just being next to certain people actually aligns your brain with them,' based on their mannerisms, the smell of the room, the noise level, and many other factors, Cerf says. 'This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become alike.'
As a result of these two premises, Cerf concludes that in order to maximise happiness and minimise stress we should surround ourselves with people who embody the traits we prefer. People who take the decisions that we would take. In this way we can save the energy wasted on taxing, low-level decisions and employ it instead in higher-stakes decisions.
Cerf even provides us with a clear example: when going out to eat, the most important decision is who to eat with. By picking a person he trusts, the neuroscientist knows that the person will choose a place he will enjoy too, thus saving Cerf the effort of picking a restaurant himself. The first larger decision – who to eat with – is worth two in the long run.