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.

Ten Days to Go

Ten days to what?

My first ever marathon – 26.2 long miles of running – in London.

It is the biggest physical challenge I have ever undertaken and until about 18 months ago I had always said to myself and others that I could never do it. Strangely enough, once I decided that I was going to enter then it immediately entered the realm of possibility.

I had set myself a goal. I  then went about reading up on training plans and made one for myself. In doing this, I broke down the goal into small achievable chunks. I wasn’t focussed on running 26.2 miles but on adding 2 or 3 miles onto each long run. This made it seem far more manageable and as each week passed the end goal of the marathon became more and more achievable.

Next, I thought about what else I might need in order to motivate myself to keep going with the training. One of the things I came up with was joining a running club. I had always run alone while training for previous shorter runs. As a result I had always trained for an event and then immediately after I had stopped completely – such a waste. I had the belief that all people who run in clubs are elite runners. Thankfully I decided to go anyway and find out for myself rather than make assumptions.

Sandy 10m 2012

Joining Bedford Harriers was the best decision I have made in my running career. Not only has it kept me running regularly during what has been a challenging winter for running (see photos below), it has also introduced a variety of training sessions into my routine which I didn’t previously use – intervals, tempo runs, and hills (previously consistently avoided). I have also made some good friends who are a great source of motivation and encouragement and I liked the club so much I decided to join the committee.

Lazy Gang in the Snow

So now it’s countdown to the big day. I am tapering, thinking about my nutrition and rest, and hoping that I don’t catch a cold or get a ridiculous, badly timed injury. I pick up my number next week from Excel in London and get a taster of the atmosphere and excitement of marathon day itself. I have my shirt with my name on it so others can shout for me. Many people have said that it’s this that will get me through those last few miles.

I am very excited and at the same time a little worried about what to focus on next. This has affected my life decisions for the past 4 months – not going out, not drinking, spending many whole Sundays running and travelling to races. I have a feeling I’m going to feel a bit bereft. And I am wondering if this will be my first and last marathon or whether after a few weeks to forget the pain, I will be looking to book my next one.

I am running for Samaritans and many of my friends and family have been extremely generous in contributing to the fund which is now almost at £1500, for which I am extremely grateful. Should you feel like you want to sponsor me this is the link:

Caroline Clark’s First Marathon

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I would often think about this saying – ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ – while living overseas. I took its meaning to be about people, and recognised how I thought more often, and perhaps more nostalgically, about the people I was separated from than I did when I was with them more often.

In the past year I have returned to live in Bedford, where I grew up for part of my childhood, and for the first time in my adult life I live very close to my parents. So for the past 10 months I have become used to seeing them at least once a week. This is quite a change from the past 20 years when I saw them only intermittently on visits home from or when they came to visit me. I have quickly adapted to this change in circumstance and what was new and exciting for a while is now my new normal. I confess I am already in the realm of taking their constant presence in my daily life for granted.

Recently, however, there has been a disruption in my new comfort zone. My sister now lives in Australia and my parents have gone to visit her and her family for a while. How very dare they? That wasn’t into the unspoken agreement I had written and signed in my own mind about how this would work. My sister wasn’t given access to parents anywhere in that document by the way.

I am reminded in a timely fashion, by their temporary absence, to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that I am able to choose to live close to them, that we get on so well, that they are fun to be with, and that they are a tremendous source of love and support in a plethora of ways.

As for my sister and her family so far away on a permanent basis, it’s also a reminder to make time to write the letters I promised to write, which have become a little intermittent of late; and to catch a few minutes here and there with them regularly either on email or Skype rather than waiting for the right time for a long chat. Little and often fills the heart (I slightly made that up, and I think it works).

The absence of things in life, as well as people, can lead to a new and more intense appreciation for them. Having spent long periods of time living in India, I appreciate more of the simple day to day things which I previously didn’t give any thought to. They were normal, my right, expected. When we feel that then there is little pleasure to be gained from those things. And obviously the more that we have the more we will adapt to having, and the more we will take for granted.  However, when they are taken away from us we learn how much they mean to us and how far they contribute to the comfort and ease of our lives.

So pretty much on a daily basis I am thankful for the following simple things – running hot water; bath tubs; drinking water from the tap; brown bread; hummus; trees and flowers; central heating; and fast wifi.  It’s not a definitive list; there are others. These are my regulars.

These simple things get mentioned in my gratitude diary along with my family, friends, home, nature, the weather (on occasion), hobbies, literature, movies, food, drink, things that make me laugh. It’s become a bedtime ritual now to recall the day or the week, depending on how often I write it and a great way to keep appreciating what’s around me. The intention is that there will no longer be the need to deprive myself of things in future in order to appreciate them.