Happiness advice: Mind your peaks and ends

By: Dr. Richard Osbaldiston, EKU associate professor of psychology

Most of us seek to be happier; it seems almost human nature to strive to do things that bring us happiness.  Happiness does not happen by accident; rather, you have to work at being happy.

There is lots of good advice out there about how to be happier.  But here is one piece of advice you might not have heard of: Mind your peaks and ends.

By “peaks,” I mean the peak experiences that you have.  Strive to have the peakiest-peaks that you can have, this will bring you more happiness.  But what does this mean?

Imagine that you are planning to go on vacation, and you are choosing between two beach destinations.  One of them is pretty good, but the other destination is really fabulous.  You can afford to go to the pretty good beach for 7 days, but you can only afford to go the fabulous beach for 4 days.  Both trips cost the same.  Which should you choose?

New research is showing that the more intense your experiences are, the more they help create a sense of a happy life.  Even though it is a shorter experience, the fabulous beach trip is more likely to be remembered as a better vacation and more likely to contribute to your overall happiness in the future as you remember it. 

The advice from happiness researchers like Tom Gilovich is that you should try to create peak experiences that are really intense.  When you go for it, go all the way!

What about the “ends”?  Keeping with a vacation analogy, how an experience ends is quite important to how much it influences our happiness.  When you go on that fabulous vacation, be sure to plan a really great day for the last day of your vacation.  Don’t let it get drained away with errands and packing.  Doing something great on the last day of your vacation creates more positive memories than doing the same thing earlier in the vacation.

This is why fireworks displays end with massive, showy finales.  If the end is awesome, you are more likely to remember the whole experience as awesome.

Work at creating a happy life by minding your peaks and ends!

Published on May 28, 2019