What’s the problem with happiness?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-happiness-concept-image25376084Seriously, I wonder sometimes, what the problem with happiness is.

If you were stopped in the street and asked what you wanted most out of life for yourself and those you love, it’s very likely you would choose health and happiness. It’s possible you might include wealth or success, but most of us know intrinsically that the vital things for us as human beings are those two fundamental things which boil down to physical and emotional well being. If we have those two things that the rest is icing on the cake.

I totally agree. And so does the UN as in 2102 they introduced the UN International Day of Happiness on March 20th. This acknowledges that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, something which everyone deserves to be able to aspire to, and the importance of which governments should recognise through public policy.

Brilliant. It’s vital that the importance of happiness is recognised at government level. It is, in my opinion, even more important that it is also recognised by individuals.

It seems to me that there is a distinct reluctance to talk about happiness, to learn and understand more about it, and to take positive steps to develop it. I get the impression from talking to people about happiness, which I do a lot as it’s my job, that it can be seen as self indulgent, like some kind of luxury. Although we all know we want it, we feel inhibited from focussing on it.

We also fall into the trap of thinking we know what makes us happy, but often we are barking up the wrong tree. We can spend a lot of time chasing status, possessions, or partners, with the expectations that acquiring these will bring that elusive happiness.

In reality, it’s much more about the way we are as human beings which makes the difference. Practicing certain ways of being, habits or behaviours can contribute much more to our sense of well-being that relying on external factors. A major benefit of these ways of being, habits and behaviours is that they don’t require any training, you can start immediately, they don’t have to cost money, and more often than not they create a ripple effect. It can be something as simple as a smile. Producing one for someone, usually creates another one. Smiling is infectious, so chances are the one you have inspired may be passed on to another, and then another and so on.

Likewise with kindness, it’s also infectious. We were discussing this yesterday at my Happiness Workshop and people felt that the more they showed kindness, the more they felt they received it. Kindness benefits the receiver of course, but it also benefits the giver. We feel more connected to other people when we show kindness. It can enhance our self perception and improve our self esteem by helping us to think better of ourselves. It can also, interestingly, lead us to think more positively of others.

To celebrate UN International Day of Happiness this week, I’d like you to understand that you have the power to enhance your happiness. My question to you is, what’s the problem with doing that? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then I encourage you to learn more about it, and to start practicing those ways of being, habits and behaviours which will make a positive difference.

If you’re fortunate to live near Bedford then you can also join The Happiness Workshop, a 6 month group programme which will get you into happiness action.

Take your happiness seriously, and get into happiness action today.

 

UN International Day of Happiness

On 12th July 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 20th March the International Day of Happiness. By doing so, it recognises the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

In celebration, Happiness Matters is running three events in Bedford.

Happy the Movie

The Bedford Happiness Experience

Happiness Matters Ceilidh

The Bedford Happiness Experience

Saturday 22nd March 2014 – FREE ADMISSION

Life is too short not to be happy, and yet many of us don’t give our happiness the attention it deserves.

The Bedford Happiness Experience brings together a wide range of happiness inducing activities for you to enjoy – music, poetry, mindfulness, games, laughter yoga, acts of kindness, gratitude, and even DIY!

For adults and children of all ages – come along to the Harpur Suite from 11am to 3pm and get into happiness action. No tickets required.

Step into someone else’s shoes

Photo courtesy of Christophe Villedieu – Dreamstime Stock Photos

My post ‘The Golden Rule’ talked about compassion and treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. This is an excellent basis for compassion and kindness, and will no doubt lead to more tolerance and understanding. On a personal level though, I prefer the following: Treat others as they would like to be treated. I confess that I can’t remember when and from who I heard this, which is a shame as it has stayed with me and I quite often consciously apply it.

This came to mind this morning as I was thinking about someone I know who is really unwell at the moment and we are keen to visit him, try to cheer him up and give him our support in person. However, he is resisting our offers and says that he would rather be on his own. The temptation in this kind of situation is to think about what you would want from others if you were in his situation, and then push to deliver that, even if that person is saying they don’t want it.

What might work better for people you want to support, is to think about them and the kind of person they are and to ask more open questions about how they would like to be supported. This way, you are showing your understanding of them as a person and also giving them the chance to tell you what they might need, which might not be something you would have thought of yourself.

I know myself that I really don’t like people telling me what to do. It pushes my stubborn button and I find myself immediately resisting whatever it is they are suggesting, even if I rationally know that it is a good idea. I guess that is why I like coaching so much, as the answers always come from the client and not the coach! Anyway, if someone was to apply the ‘treat others as they want to be treated’ idea and knew me well then they would ask me what I wanted to do about a particular problem before giving me any suggestions of their own.

Sometimes we might do something for someone which we think is really kind or thoughtful, and not get the reaction that we might have wanted or expected. This could be because we have treated someone as we would want to be treated and not as they would like to be treated. On a simple level this can happen with gifts – we sometimes buy people things which we like rather than things they might like.

A example of this could be tidying up when staying with a family member. One person might like to be really organised and tidy and therefore think that they were doing someone a favour by tidying up and cleaning while staying with them. In their world, that is a kindness and would be much appreciated by them. However, the other person might live like that for a reason. If they wanted it to be tidy then they would in all likelihood have tidied it themselves by now. The tidier will no doubt feel pleased with themselves for being so kind and will expect the recipient of the kindness to be grateful and the reaction may instead be of irritation or annoyance rather than gratitude. That is not the way they would want to be treated, so the good intention is lost.

Next time the opportunity arises to help someone, ask yourself how you think they would like to be treated in that situation rather than how you would like to be treated, or even ask them and see what changes.

 

Pay It Forward Day

Today is Pay It Forward Day in the UK. The movement was inspired by a book of that name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The book is about a boy who was challenged along with his classmates by a teacher to come up with an idea to change the world. The book was made into a film starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Hayley Joel Osment.

The boy’s idea was that he would do something good, kind and generous on a large scale for three other people and that they in turn would do the same for three more people, and so on. What would follow would be a tidal wave of selfless and generous acts of kindness.

In celebration of the day and the idea, how about giving it a try and doing 3 things you would not otherwise have done today? Here are a few ideas if you need some inspiration:

  • Write a letter of appreciation to someone who plays an important part in your life
  • Smile at some people you don’t know and say good evening
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Tell someone how much they mean to you and why if you haven’t done that in a while
  • Appreciate someone at work for a task well done or for having a really good attitude
  • Buy treats for the office (sorry this a bit late in the day – you could delay till Monday!)
  • Buy a stranger a drink if they are waiting at the bar with you
  • Stop and have a chat with a Big Issue seller as well as buying a magazine from them.
  • Help someone with their shopping, with a pram or with their luggage 
  • Thank someone for good customer service
  • Write an email to a company or club which you feel do a great job
  • Pay It Forward at a cafe or pub – leave some extra money with the staff and ask them to use it to buy a drink for someone who looks like they need cheering up that day
  • At a restaurant, ask for the bill of another table from the waiting staff and pay it for them, and write on the bill that it’s a pay it forward gift
  • Make a donation to charity or sponsor someone

Not only will this make someone else’s day, it will also contribute to your happiness so it’s a win-win concept. What have you got to lose?

Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.  ~ Author Unknown

The Golden Rule

On April 18th I am going to hear Karen Armstrong speak at an Action for Happiness event. I was not aware of who she was before I was sent the details of the talk. What a fascinating woman and what a mission she is on. I watched a video of her speaking and it really resonated with some of the things I had been mulling over myself for a while.

She is a former nun who believes that religion has been hijacked and at the same time that the central tenet of the main religions has great relevance for society. According to her, that message is compassion.

She talks about Christianity, Judaism and Islam and describes how each of them has a similar core principle of compassion which boils down to ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ or on the flip side ‘ don’t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want done to you’.

She also points out that each of the religions specifically mentions that this golden rule of compassion should not be restricted to your own group, whatever that might be, but that strangers should be honoured.

She points out at one stage that believing is easy but consistently practising compassion is difficult, and that sometimes very religious people prefer to be right than compassionate. I guess the same might be said of very anti-religious people – as soon as there is entrenchment it becomes more about winning that being kind, open minded, or generous.

She is on a mission to reclaim religion and to make it a source of peace in the world, and to move people from toleration to appreciation. I thought this was a very good point. The first is passive and the latter active and therefore takes more effort but will have a greater impact on peace.

In order to achieve this mission, she has set up the Charter for Compassion. The project used a unique web-based decision making platform, thousands of people from over 100 countries added their voice to the writing of the Charter. In a six-week period, thousands of submissions were entered which were then read and commented upon by over 150,000 visitors. These contributions were then reviewed by the Council of Conscience, a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders, and incorporated into the final document.

You can read it and also sign up to here:

Charter of Compassion

If you’d like to hear her speak you can get a ticket for the event on April 18th in London here:

Action for Happiness Talk – 18th April 2013

 

Collecting my Pay It Forward Surprise

Back in January this year my friend Haydn posted this message on his Facebook wall:

2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward: The first 5 people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in this calendar year, a gift–perhaps a book, baked goods, music–a surprise! There will likely be no warning, and it will happen whenever the mood strikes me. The catch? Those 5 people must make the same offer in their Facebook status. Pay it forward!

I was already a fan of the concept of paying if forward – if you don’t know the concept or the film then do check both out. The idea is that instead of waiting for someone to do something kind for you and then paying them back, you pay a kindness forward, either to someone you know or to a stranger. Just Google it and you’ll find the movie which stars Kevin Spacey and Holly Hunter and a lot of sites promoting the idea including http://www.payitforwarduk.net/

So I added my name to his wall and posted it on my wall. My friends Rosalie, Arian, Kim, and Naomi signed up on my wall, and reposted on their walls. And so the idea spreads.

Anyway, back to the collection of my gift. Haydn contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked what I was doing on 28th March. I asked why, and he said that he wanted to take me out in Brighton. It turned out as we haven’t seen each other in a while, that he presumed I had done what I had told him I was thinking of doing and moved to Lewes, near Brighton. I haven’t! Anyway I have a dear friend in Lewes and this gave me a fine excuse to spend a couple of days with her as well.

So my Pay It Forward treat was dinner and a concert. He didn’t immediately tell me what concert it was, so I decided not to ask and just be surprised as part of the fun. I asked about dress code, and he said flamenco. I was pretty excited about that and was all set to get involved. Those of you who know me will not be shocked to hear that. Then he told me he was joking #alittledisappointed #joking.

I took the train on Thursday from Bedford and he got on the train in London and we began the mammoth task of catching up on the past 10 months – that would be a challenge normally but it had been quite a time for both of us – he had bought his first home with his partner John, had proposed to John in New York at New Year, and has changed jobs. I had moved twice, set up a business and am training for my first marathon. There was a lot to cover. He thankfully had the foresight to bring beer for the journey.

He took me to Pho in Black Lion Street in Brighton. I had never been to one before (it’s a chain) and loved it. Wonderful flavours and super fresh. Delicious and speedy which we needed as we had to be at Concorde 2 at 8.15. We jumped in a taxi got to the venue just as La Roux was starting her set. I have to be honest, I hadn’t heard of her. However, her style is very 80s and therefore pretty familiar.

I had a great evening firstly as I got to spend time with Haydn (pictured below with delicious Pho food) after a long time, secondly as he treated me so generously and kindly, and thirdly as I experienced some new stuff – Pho and La Roux. So thank you Haydn for initiating the idea and for creating such a lovely Pay It Forward gift for me.

Nice idea isn’t it? So how about posting the message on your Facebook page and seeing how you can Pay It Forward?

Warmly,

Caroline

Ten Key Ways to Happier Living

How much of our happiness is within our control?

When asked what they want most in life, people across the world put happiness at the top of their list. Happiness is one of the most vital, momentous things we can do for ourselves and others. And yet, how many of us spend any time thinking, talking, planning or taking action on our happiness?

So what do you think makes you happier?

  • Losing weight, looking good, looking younger?
  • A nice car, big house, fashionable clothes?
  • Getting married, having a child?
  • Getting a promotion or a salary increase?

Interestingly culture, society, education mostly tell us that these types of things are our access to happiness. In fact, research shows that none of these will make us substantially happier for any length of time. The things we believe will make a huge difference in our lives make only a small difference, while we overlook the things which really will affect our happiness.

Research has established that:

50% of our happiness is genetic

We each have a unique natural set point for our happiness. When good or bad things happen in our lives, the level will either increase or decrease, and after time it will revert to its natural set point.

10% of our happiness is affected by our personal circumstances

A surprisingly low figure influenced by things like your home, car, appearance, job, income, marital status, even health.

40% of our happiness is affected by how we behave and think

The great news is that we have the power to control this 40% of our level of happiness.

What can we do to increase our levels of happiness?

Research has shown that there are there are a number of ways of thinking and behaving which indisputably affect our happiness. The wonderful thing about these is that they are generally free, easy to do, and not necessarily time consuming.

My ten key ways to happier living are:

  • Connect with people
  • Be kind to others
  • Be curious and keep learning
  • Take time to regularly appreciate the world around you and your life
  • Be part of something bigger – get involved with your community in a way that makes you happy
  • Take care of your body
  • Set yourself goals to look forward to and achieve
  • Find ways to help you bounce back
  • Practice using positive language and having a positive attitude
  • Give yourself a break – get in control of that inner critic and acknowledge yourself for the good stuff

Nothing is Wrong

In the words of William Shakespeare – ‘Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Well said Mr S. How much time do we spend making ourselves and others wrong for all kinds of thoughts, words and actions? How much better could it be if we remembered these words and realised that they are just thoughts, words and actions. They only become ‘good’ or ‘bad’ once we choose to give that meaning to them.

I have those words, along with the title of today’s blog,  ‘Nothing is Wrong’, stuck up on my window frame, in front of my desk, so that I am sitting looking out of the window my eyes will glance regularly at that message.

I am setting up my own coaching business, and currently most of my days are filled with learning how to do new things, or learning new stuff. That means that quite often I have no idea what to do, never mind how to do it. 

This is a dangerous space within which lies a lot of potential blame and wrong waiting to be attributed. It is manna from heaven for that voice in my head, my inner critic. ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’ ‘How come you don’t know how to do that?’ ‘I can’t believe it’s taken you so long to complete that piece of work?’ ‘Other people are so much more creative than you.’ 

And then I am reminded of the message that nothing is wrong. Today is what it is, and if I need some space to think more slowly and indirectly about the many things that I am dealing with at the moment, then so be it. That is what I need and that is fine. 

Making myself wrong will in the end make me less productive. If I ruin my day by struggling through something and at the same time blaming myself for not being good enough to do it quicker, better, or more creatively, then I will be more demotivated to start again tomorrow.

So I divert myself to doing something else, something which in my current mood I will find easier or more interesting. I do that and I enjoy it and do it well. It restores my faith in my own ability and returns my equilibrium.

Learning to be as kind to yourself as you would be to others is a key step to happiness, especially when you are your own boss and manager. Remember – nothing is wrong.