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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?

More by this author

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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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