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.

‘HAPPY’ – the Movie 

Thursday 20th March – 7pm – FREE ADMISSION

In collaboration with The Bedford Film Festival, we are showing this inspiring feature length documentary which leads viewers on a journey across 5 continents in search of the keys to happiness. The film addresses many 
of the fundamental issues we face in today’s society: how do we balance the allure of money, fame and social status with our needs for strong relationships, health and personal fulfilment? Through remarkable human stories and cutting edge science, ‘HAPPY’ leads us towards a deeper understanding of what and how we can pursue more fulfilling, healthier and happier lives. 

Come and enjoy this inspiring film with us while enjoying tea, coffee and delicious cakes in the lovely surroundings of Coffee with Art, 82 High Street, Bedford.

Due to limited capacity, tickets are required and are available free from  http://happythemoviebedford.eventbrite.co.uk

Be a Leaf on a Tree

Photo courtesy of Brandon Holmes – Dreamstime Stock Photos

I recently went to see Gyles Brandreth doing his show ‘Looking for Happiness’ in Edinburgh. Being a happiness coach and enthusiast, it was an obvious choice, and I enjoy his wry humour, often at his own expense. We trusted him to be kind and polite, so we chose to risk sitting on the front row, generally a dangerous choice if you go and see a comedian as you often get picked on, sometimes with humiliating consequences!

One of us lived to regret that, as she was invited on stage to lead the audience in the Hoky Koky. Not too challenging you might think, but Amanda has never once stepped foot on a dance floor in all the years I have known her. She confessed afterwards that she had no idea how to do the Hoky Koky, and the video I took of her reveals that pretty clearly.

Apart from the hilarity we enjoyed at Amanda’s expense, the show was entertaining and thought provoking. As someone who has read a fair amount about the science of happiness, I was intriguing to hear what he had to say on the subject.

My favourite tip from his show is the title of this article – Be a leaf on a tree. It is a lyrical and evocative way of summing up the benefits of community.

Being individual and existing in the world as a unique entity with the freedom to go your own way through life is important for us. At the same time it is well established from research into happiness that connection to other people is central to our emotional health and well-being.  That connection could be accessed through any number of relationships or communities – with our families, friends, colleagues, clubs, sport teams, or religious groups.

If we liken those connections to the trunk, branches and twigs of a tree, we can see how the leaf can exist individually whilst being dependent on other parts of the tree for the necessary strength, support, and security and nurturing to flourish in the world. Without being part of something bigger it will quite quickly wither and die.

Happiness is affected by our connections with others, and our happiness affects our connections to others – it is a circular process. People who have the most social connections are generally happiest and those who have the fewest are the least happy. And the happier a person is, the more likely they are to have a large circle of friends, a romantic partner, be satisfied with their family life and social activities and receive emotional and tangible support from friends and colleagues.

Why not take stock of the connections in your life. Think how you can become more involved, more connected, and as a result nourish yourself, gain greater support and security, and feel happier.  And ask yourself – if not now, when?

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

Marathon Euphoria

I am a marathon runner.

I really never thought I would say that, and how wonderful it sounds. I think I may even become a serial marathon runner, which is even more unexpected. I had it in my mind that one would be more than enough, when in fact I loved every minute of it. Having said that if you asked me to run another one today, I would politely decline. There is a significant amount of grunting and groaning going on whenever sitting down, standing up or going downstairs is involved.

I got up on Marathon Sunday knowing that large part of my challenge was already in the bag. With the generous support of my friends and family I had already exceeded my £2,000 commitment for the Samaritans through sponsorship alone. That made the day all the sweeter.

Marathon 1

The day got better and better as it went on. The preparation of those long runs, sometimes in pretty harsh conditions, paid off. I paced myself well, slowing myself down initially, and ran between 7.92 to 8.68 km per hour throughout. This really helped as I had plenty left in me by the time I got to the 20 mile mark. That famous wall didn’t hit me at all.

The crowds were brilliant. There were so many people out and so much encouragement  along the way. Wearing a vest with my name on was definitely a bonus. When I felt that I needed a boost I ran closer to crowds and smiled, and immediately got a response with people calling my name and telling me how well I was doing. The only time this didn’t work was when a rhino, Andy Pandy or Super Man was running near me – I didn’t get a look in then!

Marathon 2

There was some fabulous music along the way – steel, brass, and rock bands as well as my personal favourite – the Taiko Drummers. There’s something primeval about that sound, along with the great memories it evokes of the time I spent living in Japan, that always moves me. It was the only time in the race that I felt near to tears. Emotion welled up inside me. It was a feeling of joy; of great connection with people; and gratitude – for the chance to experience such an incredible race.

People were so generous along the way with their endless clapping, cheering and smiling, as well as many who must have spent a lot on jelly babies, Haribo, Starbursts, oranges and bananas, all of which were very welcome. The volunteers on the fuelling stations were also really enthusiastic, shouting words of encouragement as they handed over the water or Lucozade.

I’m so grateful to my friends who came out to support me on the day. I didn’t manage to see all of them which is a shame although it helped my time – I stopped for a sweaty hug about half a dozen times and am blaming that for not getting in under 5 hours! It was worth the stop every time – I felt euphoric to share that moment with people dear to me. I didn’t even feel daunted by starting off again which I thought I might. I was excited to finish, which I did after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 45 seconds. I expected to cry and didn’t. I hugged the lady sobbing next to me and felt alive and invigorated.

The Samaritans had taken over the Playhouse Theatre and my friends had gathered there to see me and it was a great feeling to walk out on stage to a welcoming cheer. That first pint of lager shandy was amazing, as was the hot shower, the massage and the second pint.

I wore my medal with pride for the rest of the evening, and wore it again last night at the Bedford Harriers induction evening for new runners. And I will again this weekend when I see some other friends. It was hard earned and I value it all the more for that.

If you ever had even the smallest desire to run a marathon, I urge you to stop procrastinating, join a running club and set yourself a target. The sense of achievement is unbeatable.

£2,295 of my £2,500 target raised so far and still time to sponsor me here!


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