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Exploring Happiness

Exploring Happiness
Explore Happiness

I know, I know; I’m either stupid or brave to even think about tackling this topic. Alright, we’ll go with stupid.

Before I start today’s chat, let me say that I know there is no ‘answer’ or consensus to this discussion. No sh*t Sherlock. I’m not stupid enough to think there might exist one universal standard or school of thought when it comes to this topic, perhaps just a bunch of different thoughts, ideas and philosophies. Like most of you, I’m still exploring it, which is why I have chosen to make it just that; a discussion, an interactive chat, a group exploration. I’ll open the door on it and you guys can come in and chat. It could get messy, so buckle up. I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on the subject because it’s an issue which is relevant to every person on the planet. It’s probably the one topic which commands universal interest.

This morning I spent some time on radio (ABC Melbourne) chatting with the principal of a very wealthy, high-profile school here in Australia which is about to start teaching ‘positive psychology’ as an integral part of it’s curriculum in 2008. It’s described by some as ‘Happiness 101’.

This ‘subject’ is now taught in numerous colleges and graduate schools around the U.S. (over 200) and has been largely driven (championed is maybe a better word) by American psychologist, Dr. Marty Seligman. I’ve read a little of what the good Doc says (it all seems reasonable) and, as I said, spoke to the school principle who is spending sixteen million dollars (that’s some school) on a ‘wellness centre’ for his students (which will incorporate the positive psychology stuff). Where I went to school we got excited when the principle spent sixteen dollars on some new sporting equipment!

The interesting discussion I had with Mr. School Principle got the cogs in my small but curious brain turning. In a recent magazine article here in Australia (Good Weekend Magazine) the science of happiness was explored (this was the catalyst for the radio interview). It seems that (according to the article anyway) despite all our stuff (resources, technology, money, education, toys) we’re no happier — in fact overall, probably less happy.

Do they have a happy-ometer? How do they know?

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Apparently, happiness is now something that we need to teach. We’re losing (or have lost) the skill. Is happiness a skill? Or a mindset? A way of being perhaps? Can it be learned?

I was amazed to read that depression is now ten times more prevalent than it was fifty years ago. Not sure about that stat, but that’s what was reported in the article. Maybe we’re just more aware now, more educated about depression perhaps. Hmm.

I have some amazing memories of spending time on a little Island in Vanuatu called Espiritu Santo a few years back, where I made some great friends who taught me all about real happiness. They weren’t trying to teach me anything, but they did. No electricity, no TV, no radio, little money, no bank accounts but lots of fun, lots of laughs, lots of love, an old guitar with four strings and lots of happiness. I wonder who taught them how to be happy? Probably did one of those positive psychology courses by correspondence or perhaps they have a copy of The Art of Happiness. Maybe they have the entire Tony Robbins CD collection.

Careful, you may trip on my sarcasm.

By the way, I’m not being critical of the program, its introduction into schools or the notion of exploring positive psychology. I guess it’s just a weird (but insightful) commentary on where we are at as a society when we have to take classes (at college level no less) on how to be happy. Maybe we should just send our kids for a semester of ‘Life 101’ on the island of Espiritu Santo with my islander brother, McKenzie (his first name).

In the magazine article, the comparison was made between ‘feeling good’ (chasing or partaking in something which makes us feel good for a while – food, drugs, sex, new clothes) and ‘doing good’ (helping others, being generous with our time, money, skills) and which might provide us with a greater level of long-term and overall happiness.

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In a way, the self-ish verses self-less debate.

But the million dollar question has to be, what is happiness? Is it different things for different people? Can it be defined? Is it a psychological state? An emotional state? A spiritual plane? A combination of the lot perhaps? A myth? None of the above? Is it teachable or is it in our DNA? Some people are just happy people right?

How do we know when we’re there? What are the symptoms? Er, signs?

What if we have all the ‘happiness ingredients’ but we’re still not happy? Is that possible? Perhaps there’s something wrong with our wiring? Or maybe the ingredients need to be different for every individual? Maybe there are no ‘set’ ingredients? Maybe we keep changing the ‘happiness rules’? Constantly raising the ‘happiness bar’? Subconsciously pushing it out of our own reach? Self-induced misery perhaps? Why do we do that? Strangely, some of us seem determined to find our way back to unhappiness. Just take a look around.

Some psychologists teach us that if we are needed, wanted, appreciated, stimulated and loved, then we should be pretty happy. But what if we have all that and we’re not happy? I’ve seen it, so have you.

Is happiness a four-year kid old squealing with delight as her dad pushes her on a swing, or is that a momentary emotional state? Temporary euphoria? Excitement? Joy perhaps? And when she starts crying once the swing stops does that mean the happiness has stopped? Or perhaps she’s just a brat? Or just a kid who wants to be swinging?

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Is true happiness something that is (for the most part) always there? Like that deep sense of contentment, inner peace, satisfaction and calm that we might guess someone like the Dalai Lama takes everywhere with him? That deep sense of knowing that we are in the right place, doing the right thing? Maybe it’s impossible to be happy all the time? Or not. Maybe happiness is a matter of interpretation and perception?

“I didn’t know how happy I was until it was all taken away from me.”

Of course every religion has an opinion on it too. If they can’t agree what hope do we have!? So often there seems to be a degree of “we’re right and they’re wrong” in their theology (psychology/philosophy). Religious arrogance always amuses me. Seems a little contradictory to me. But then again, I’m just a simple exercise scientist. Not as enlightened as some, I s’pose.

Maybe happiness is the absence of certain things? Fear, frustration, hate, illness, pain and insecurity, for example. We know different things make different people happy, so maybe happiness is an individual response to a range of varied stimuli? For one person, a pregnancy might be a source of great happiness but for another… not so much! Maybe it’s not about the situation, circumstance, environment or event, maybe it’s about the individual in it; their personal response to, or interpretation of, that experience.

And what about things which once made us happy, but not any more? Because we’ve changed. Maybe for the worse. Maybe we make ourselves miserable, focusing on what we don’t have, rather than enjoying what we do?

Perhaps we don’t really know how to appreciate what, or who we have in our life? Some people suggest that living in an environment where we have so many choices (check out the cereal selection at your supermarket) has led some of us to being perpetually dissatisfied, always wanting more, always looking over the fence. Always believing that a bigger, better or newer version (of whatever) will make us happy.

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Finding misery in an otherwise pretty cool life seems to be a common practice these days.

Perhaps we’re too analytical? Perhaps our tendency to analyze and re-analyze every single facet of our lives inside-out and upside-down has turned us into a bunch of neurotic, self-absorbed, insecure, needy Sigmund Freud-wannabees? Maybe all the self-help ain’t so helpful? Perhaps all this ‘therapy’ has made us more dysfunctional? Maybe we think and talk about it too much?Maybe I shouldn’t publish this article? Maybe I’m helping perpetuate the problem? Or not.

Maybe we should spend less time trying to make ourselves happy and more time and energy trying to make others happy, and in doing so, we’d make ourselves happy! That’d be cool.

Hey, I’m back at the selfish verses selfless debate aren’t I?

Maybe there’s something in that?

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Craig Harper

Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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