What control do we have over our happiness?

I did a talk last week for a local WI group in Bedfordshire. I arrived as they were beginning to sing Jerusalem. I hadn’t realised that this was still done so I sat at the back and enjoyed the nostalgia of hearing that hymn which we used to sing so regularly at school.

I really enjoy doing these talks as it allows me to get people thinking about what they don’t know about happiness. It is up there for most of us as one of the top things we want for ourselves and for those we love. And yet how much do we understand about it?

I like to compare our understanding of happiness to our understanding of healthy eating or exercise. Think about how much information we are exposed to on the subject of healthy eating through magazine and newspaper articles, TV and radio programmes, and general conversations on a daily basis. Then consider how much information you also have about exercise – the options and the benefits of it. I’d hazard a guess that you get information on both of those in one form or another on a daily basis.

Now think about the last time you had a conversation, read an article, or saw or heard a programme about the subject of happiness. I’m guessing that happiness is going to be the poor relative in this comparison. Although it is one of the things we aspire to, we don’t really know much about it.

I think a lot of us believe that our happiness is pretty reliant on our personal circumstances. Perhaps it’s about wealth, or education, or a good job, or a loving relationship. We can often think that once we have one or more of those things then we will be happy.

The research tells us something else, and that is that our personal circumstances count for about 10% of our happiness, while a more important 40% is attributed to ‘intentional activity’. This means essentially what we think, say and do.

Determines-Happiness-Pie-ChartIt’s not so much about the stuff that happens to us, which is less within our control, but more about what is generated by us and therefore very much in our control. And the kinds of things which make a difference are not things that cost money to implement, or take much time to do, or require any training.

They are ways of being which include:

  • connecting with people
  • being kind and compassionate
  • practicing gratitude and appreciating the world around us
  • using positive language and having a positive attitude
  • being curious and learning new things
  • being part of something bigger than yourself
  • having goals to look forward to and achieve
  • getting exercise

If you want to find out more and join some other like-minded people getting into action, come along to a free taster session for The Happiness Workshop.

Pay It Forward Day Update

I didn’t realise and therefore blog about Pay It Forward Day last Friday until a little late in the day, so allowed myself to include Saturday to complete my 3 acts of kindness.

I realised that Saturday morning offered 2 straight forward ones in the same place at the same time in different ways. I had a meeting on Saturday morning with some people I had not met before in a cafe in Bedford and I knew that it was the birthday of one the people attending. It turned out that I had met her once before.

Anyway I decided to go to the little florist across the road on the way and get her a little something. I chose 4 lovely orange and yellow gerberas which were really fitting to the bright sunny day and welcome spring like feel.

That cafe (Frescoes) also operates a Pay It Forward or ‘suspended’ coffee system so I bought 2 coffees when I left for future customers in need.

That planned already, I was thinking about what else I could do. I was going out that evening with the Bedford Harriers circuits group so was thinking about what I could do for whom there or on the way.

Then an email appeared in my inbox. In the subject line was one of the suggested Pay It Forward ideas from my blog post:

  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while

It was from a school friend who I have not been in touch with for about 10 years. I had lost touch with her for a while as you do from time to time. However, later on there were opportunities to make contact again which I had not taken. In fact she had contacted me previously on Facebook and I had chosen to ignore it. I am not proud of that and now cannot explain what was making me so pig headed and selfish.

What a wonderful opportunity had come my way as a result of the blog. I emailed back straight away, including an apology for my behaviour and made an arrangement to speak on Sunday when we both had time. It was great to reconnect and we have planned to meet up soon to be able to properly catch up. I’d like to thank her for reaching out to me again and for being so gracious about my previous rudeness.

What a great reminder that it’s never too late to apologise for your behaviour and to reconnect with people.