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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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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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