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.

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!