What makes you happy? Happiness is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. I attended an Action for Happiness course, and we discussed being happy again during a recent retreat.
If we can understand what truly makes us happy, we tend to be more resilient, more mindful, more adaptable, and more successful in life.
I first saw a Facebook post from someone I know, asking ‘What makes you happy?’ and the John Lennon quote came to my mind:
“When I was five years old, my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy”. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.”
When I first read this quote attributed to John, it made me laugh. But it also made me stop and think. My Father always ended off conversations about the ‘ups and downs’ of life with “As long as you are happy, Kay. That’s all that matters.”.
The words are wise ones. Life passes so quickly – we’re already in February of our fresh new year, and did you stop to notice what made you happy during January?
During a recent retreat, we were asked to work in pairs and write down some of the things that make us happy. My peer started with “Well, my kids (obviously!), my partner (I think!), and…um buying shoes…maybe…”. By the end of the exercise, she’d changed her list altogether. It’s not that children, partners and friends don’t make us happy, but relationships are complex, and often other emotions are tied up in a web of history, games and stories. And shoes! Well, possessions tend not to bring us happiness.
Life has it good moments, and its bad moments – when we accept that, we can then choose to be happy in more situations. Being happy is a definite life advantage, and I am passing on three things you can do from today to attend to what is making you happy.
- Make happiness your life choice
“I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health.” Voltaire
Get up every day, and say this to yourself. Smile to yourself, use a mirror and and repeat Voltaire’s words until it becomes an action you do naturally, like brushing your teeth.
- Start a gratitude diary
Remind yourself of things we are grateful for. This forces our brains to relive positive thoughts and emotions. This then becomes our thought pattern (neurons that fire together, wire together).
In our household, we have a gratitude jar – to remind us to capture moments from each day. On down days, it’s a wonderful thing to open the jar and read about happy moments.
- Build in stop moments – Learn to Meditate
Meditation is about being present in the moment. It sounds so easy, but life is busy. Allowing yourself just one minute to stop, look at the sky and feel the warmth of the sun, or feel the harsh North wind on your face, reminds us that we are here.
When I attended a meditation course at the Global Retreat Centre (GRC) in Oxford, a bell rang for a minute each hour. Whatever we were doing – talking, eating, reading, whatever – we stopped. The exercise is a good one to check in on how you are feeling, and what thoughts are you having. I’ve built it into my office days now, and use a timer to ring at intervals so I can stop.
Are you attending to this moment? One person said to me “I have a tendency to eat my food really quickly. I sometimes eat a pudding my Wife makes me so quickly, that it’s only as I’m putting the spoon in the bowl that I realise how lovely the food tasted. And I often wish I’d eaten more slowly, as it gives me great happiness to enjoy such wonderful food.” At the GRC, we were eating when a bell went off, and it gave him time to savour the food he was eating. This gave him great insights into savouring those moments of happiness, rather than speed eat!
When we are more mindful, we start to appreciate where true happiness is. I listened to an interview with the actor Sir Anthony Hopkins once. He spoke of being successful, famous, rich, winning awards. Then he spoke of the moment in his life when he realised he was happy – sitting on a park bench in New York City, just watching the world go by.
Think about how much time we spend at work – work has become a huge part of our identity. It may bring moments of happiness – winning the new client, great client feedback, and learning new things. I often find that when I’m working with individuals and focusing on what moments of happiness their job has, they can’t name them. That may be because we are so busy doing, we forget to have a stop moment, to drink in that feeling of happiness.
Life’s happiness is in the little moments. When you start to realise that, you will stop to smell the roses, go for a walk outside to watch the sun set instead of doing another hour at work, and enjoy being. The act of breathing in and out is such a joy, it brings enormous happiness to realise that you have all you need to be happy.
Thank you to Kathy Stiff and Anjana Rajani for inspiring me to make some life changes for positive action as a result of the recent Action for Happiness course they ran in Wellingborough. I hope to follow your lead, and run a course in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, during 2018. Giving back to my community makes me happy!
Kay Buckby delivers resilience skills, and uses positive psychology, mindfulness meditation and neuroscience to enable individuals, and work teams to get more from their working lives. Contact us if you’d like a happier team.