Opinion: studies show expectations of buying stuff, long-term relationships, and dieting are misconceptions

Karen Madej

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You know all that stuff you buy? A twenty-year study by Nickerson et al. (2003) showed that a materialistic lifestyle does not make you happy. Consumerism harms your mental health.

When your mind is flushed with dopamine produced when you anticipate buying something, it's the same neurotransmitter involved in any addiction. You feel amazing. You'll probably feel excited waiting for your purchase to arrive and then opening it and using it. Give it a few days, and you'll be looking for your next hit of dopamine.

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You'd think that love, being in love, would make you happier. The Lucas et al. (2003) study discovered that the honeymoon period is indeed true, as experienced by married German women, but, as we know, that intoxicating pheromonal desire doesn't last. Their life satisfaction returned to pre-marriage levels after one to two years.

I think I understand, now, why pursuing new relationships every six years (that seven-year itch may be a six-year one in my case) happens to so many people. Married life becomes blah, and we look for the next pairing to resuscitate ardor.

Diets and depression

Over the years, I've been on two well-known diets: Atkins and Natur House. I lost substantial amounts of weight on both.

I found with the Atkins diet that while I loved all the sausages, eggs, and bacon, I craved crusty white bread. I lasted a year without surrendering, though.

My experience with Natur House worked for a few years because it effectively (up to a point) reprogrammed my eating habits. I went to bed hungry most nights and couldn't fall asleep. It took several years, but I eventually returned to my previous eating habits.

A study by Jackson et al. (2014) followed nearly 2000 people, who wanted to lose weight, for four years to determine how many lost, gained, or stayed the same weight.

After four years, the people who'd lost weight were three times more depressed than when they started their weight loss journey. The people whose weight stayed the same were depressed by nearly double, and the ones that gained weight were around a third more depressed.

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Balancing food and exercise

It took most of my adult life to first care about what I put into my body and then figure out how much I could get away with.

I freely admit to being a food, coffee, and wine snob. I don't buy biscuits, chocolate, crisps or cakes very often. If I crave something sweet, I either have to walk a few miles to a shop to buy it or make it myself.

I'm not an angel. I adore crusty white bread, cheese toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches), and too much wine on a day off. The next day will involve a long and sweaty power walk.

The 10,000 steps a day challenge works for me. But it isn't just getting those steps in. According to this study: Inactivity induces resistance to the metabolic benefits following acute exercise; it's about not sitting for 13.5 hours per day and then doing an hour on the treadmill.

The study found that you won't get the full benefits of the workout if you do little to no activity for the rest of the day. So regular movement is key to benefitting from metabolic improvements after exercise.

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. Dr. James Levine

You're likely in for a long life of misconceptions and decisions that make your time on earth more difficult for yourself if you keep buying stuff, believing long-term relationships and diets will make you happy.

By stopping routines or habits that caused me anxiety or stress and trying out new things, I found lasting joy. Now I do them as often as possible.

Savor and appreciate what gives you pleasure; mouthfuls of your most loved foods, swigs of locally roasted coffee, and rolling sips of your favorite tipple across your tongue and waiting for the tastebud explosion.

Practice snapping photographs of nature and views or whatever floats your boat.

Regular powerwalks, bouncing on a trampoline for five minutes every hour or jogging on the spot while watching Netflix also work for me.

The fleeting pleasure of exchanging money for another bargain or a luxury designer item, I promise, will not last. Neither will love nor weight loss.

This article was brought to life by a free Coursera course called The Science of Well-Being. I've adapted the main ideas and studies from the course and compared them to my life experiences in my own words. I hope you enjoy this or another course.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.

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