I have read quite a few posts about happyness recently, as another blogger Alex Shalman has a Happiness project going on. Its taken me a while to answer his questions, which are at the end of this post.
I have read many times that if you’re aim and energies are directed to finding happiness itself, you will never find it. That to try and seek happiness directly is doomed to failure. I would very much subscribe to that view. But whilst recognizing that this is important, it doesn’t take away from the fact that as individuals and society we can do many things that will make us happier.
Some argue that Governments should do more, and focus less on economic growth and more on policies that will help the people they serve find happiness. Some Governments, such as Bhutan, have even started to do that! The fact remains that despite having greater wealth, better standards of living and possessions galore to improve our happiness, in most Western countries happiness levels have declined over the past 50 years.
So if greater wealth doesn’t bring happyness what does? One simple idea is to remind ourselves what we have, rather than what we don’t have. We are now constantly bombarded with images and messages telling us how much better our lives would be if we had this new car – which you can lock by pressing a button rather than having to insert and turn a key! Or tasted this amazing meal – that needs no preparation and cooks itself! How can we find happiness if our phone doesn’t take photographs?
One of my favorite quotes is
“I cried because I had no shoes, ’till I met a man who had no feet”
Getting in the habit of reminding ourselves what we do have, what is good about our lives – and that shouldn’t be just a list of possessions. Everyone has things in their life for which they can feel grateful. If you reflect on these, rather than problems or what you don’t have, then happiness is more achievable.
One manual I promote from this site is “The Ultimate Guide to Health and Happiness” by Jennifer Saunders. Although I have never described myself as unhappy, I bought this manual myself a few years ago to see if it could make me happier!
I’ll review the manual in a future post, but it basically offers a combination of over 60 principles and exercises that will allow you more insight into what you are feeling, why that is and what you can do to change it. Some exercises I have found very useful and have used in my therapy and coaching work. Its hard to measure if I’m happier, but I feel its another “piece in the jigsaw”. And if it hadn’t been useful to me, I certainly wouldn’t promote it.
I must also mention a BBC television project from 2005. They took 50 volunteers from Slough, a boring English town that was the setting for the comedy series “The Office”. A group of 6 “happiness experts” set out over 3 months to make these volunteers happier. And basically they succeeded. They concluded there were ten steps to happiness:-
Plant something and nurture it
Count your blessings – at least five – at the end of each day
Take time to talk – have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
Have a good laugh at least once a day
Get physical – exercise for half an hour three times a week
Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
Cut your TV viewing by half
Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day
Nothing remarkable or difficult in that list. The hardest bit is to start changing your current habits and try something new. Now, onto Alex’s questions:-
1. How do you define happiness?
Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning says:-
“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a courses greater than oneself.”
I think the more you try to define or pin down happiness, the further away you get from actually having it.
“Its by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”
Mihlay Csikszentmihalyi in Flow
2. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness now, versus when you were a child?
I have such limited memory of being a child, I cannot compare.
3. What do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness? (and how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout your day)
I do the exercise above – I reflect and remind myself each day on what is good about my life. But I don’t reflect on whether I am happy or not!
Negative thinking. Like everyone else, I can allow negative thoughts to creep in. I have posted quite often about positive thinking and techniques for challenging negative thoughts. I do practice what I preach, but like everyone I have a lifetime of habits to contend with.
5. What do you plan on doing in the future that will bring you even more happiness?
When I finish writing this I’m about to go for a walk along the beach with my wife, and tonight we’re going to a charity quiz night with friends. I will also phone my sister, as it was her “12th” birthday yesterday, I’m also going to phone my friend Mandy. Tomorrow its Mothers day in the UK and we’re having both of our mothers over for a meal. I plan to finish off some painting in the kitchen first.
Along the way I will do lots of other little things that I’m sure will make me happy – if I don’t think about it!
Top photo by Michael(mx5tx)