Days come and go, one after another, in a silent single file. Left to me, I would let the disciplined procession pass quietly. Luckily, it is not left to me alone. Si is an expert at creating things to look forward to. Never before has my diary been so full of fun things to do. Even when the diary is blank, he comes up with ideas that make the day go by in the most enjoyable way.
We had no plans for today but then we needed to buy hose connections to water our tiny garden. A trip to the garden centre meant we walked around with a trolley and looked at things and found a few that would be nice for the house. Before long, we had to get a second trolley for things we hadn’t thought of before we entered the store.
Dolly Parton famously quotes, “my definition of happiness is having something to do what you love to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.”
One argument against constantly wanting something to look forward to could be that it takes our attention away from the present moment. Yet, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Simple things like half an hour of peace to meditate or write a journal, a walk with a friend, a bike ride through the park, a warm shower or a bubble bath, trying out a new restaurant, a long chat with a friend on the phone, reading a book, cooking something nice and sharing with friends, a good stretch, a massage, a dance or exercise class can be uplifting. However, ‘doing’ something all the time is no fun. Doing less may be the answer for some.
Coming from a place of gratitude and abundance, looking forward to something is fabulous!
Positive thinking and Positive Psychology are not so positive as implicit within them is a resistance to the negative. I believe that positive and negative are two sides of the same coin. As humans we place undue focus on the negatives. So, it is good to shift our attention to the positives and see what makes happy people happy.
Martin Seligman is credited as the father of Positive Psychology and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. In his book ‘Authentic Happiness’ (2002), he describes a useful equation:
Seligman’s Happiness Equation
H = Happiness
S = Sum of our genetic capacity for happiness (50%)
C = Circumstances (10%)
V = Voluntary Control (40%)
S and C are pretty much beyond our control. V is the only one we can do something about through our thoughts and actions. There are 4 ways to think about happiness:
Pleasures (sensory and immediate; we can become numbed to them. Eg. handbags)
Gratifications (absorbing; may not be pleasurable at the time but take us towards something worthwhile; create a positive memory or strengthen our social networks. Eg. a game of tennis)
Meaning (Using our strengths in service of something larger than ourselves like family, community, an institution, knowledge, justice or something spiritual. Eg. volunteering)
Flow (the sort of feeling we may get from a task that fully engages our abilities but doesn’t test them to breaking point. Eg. writing or music)
“Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” ~ Martin Seligman
Happiness. That’s what it’s all about – greetings, festivals, blessings, wishes, prayers, careers, relationships, food, fame, fortune, birthdays, weddings, everything. Directly or indirectly it is the subject of countless books and films. Most stories and encounters navigate through all odds steering their way towards happy endings. Many spiritual and religious programs promise lasting happiness. ‘Happily ever after’… is the stuff fairy tales are made of.
At this point in my story, my relationship with happiness is elusive. Intellectually it seems unfortunate because I have everything a girl could want and more, but my heart physically aches. The dagger that struck 25 months ago is still wedged in there. Every now and then it twitches and twists, radiating shooting pains. I sit with it, observe it, experience it and honour it. I look at it with love and as love. I live and breathe through it. I absorb it and carry on as ‘normal’. It is a part of me.
Could this very dagger be the route to access true happiness? Is this wishful thinking? A fantasy? Or is it really possible? If happiness arises from within and that is exactly where the pain is, there must be a relationship between the two. May be there is tonnes of happiness there, waiting for me to unlock it and ‘let go’ of the things that make me sad. May be it’s all up to me. May be it is do-able and I am just not doing it. May be it’s time.
Recently, there has been heaps and heaps of bad news from all around the world. The planet seems to be engulfed in hatred and tragedy of one sort or another. The terror attacks in Istanbul, Baghdad, Nice, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Germany and Japan, the horrific and unending war in Syria spilling over into other middle eastern countries, the military coup in Turkey, the people vs authorities violence in America and of course, the devastation for many due to the uncertainty caused by Brexit!
What happens when these events are played over and over, round the clock on radio and TV? How does that affect our psyche?
As humans we focus on the bad stuff. Threat information activates the fear system that works to shut down the rational part of our brain. In that fearful state we look out more bad news. Elaine Fox at the University of Oxford says, ”The sense of immediacy of 24-hours rolling news means the brain is saying ‘this is a real threat to me’.”
The vividness of the images can skew our sense of risk. Even if the possibility of us being involved in an incident of that nature is miniscule, it seems disproportionately large. This induces a state of stress which is constant.
The good news is that we adapt. Whatever the news, we get habituated to it.
A landmark study done in 1978 by Brickman et al showed that after 2 years, lottery winners and people paralysed in accidents showed little change in overall happiness, getting used to their new state. Other studies have shown similar results confirming that severe outcomes do not have as great an impact as might be expected.
Lots of happy and unhappy people have been wishing ‘happiness’ to other happy and unhappy people. It is the perpetual pursuit, the ultimate blessing, the prime and often illusive objective, the much misunderstood ‘emotion’, the birth right of every being.
Numerous books have been written on the subject. Many enlightened souls have claimed knowledge of the secret short-cut to this popular and seemingly distant destination.
What is this thing? What does it look like? Where should I start the search for it? How do I go about it? Even if I find it, how long do I get to keep it? Is it possible to hold on to it for as long as I like? Can someone else give it to me? Will someone take it away again? Could I be forced to give it up? Once lost, is it retrievable? Is it always the same or does it change? Is it gradable – mild, moderate, severe?
It is different things for different people I guess. For me it means being in an unruffled and unrufflable state. Being ok within myself. Being in a state of gratitude. Being in a state of abundance. Knowing that I am and will be well taken care of by Mother Nature. I am aware that when the judgemental section of my head decides to rule over my heart, I am heading towards an unhappy state. I am also aware that when I get caught up in the feelings of my near and dear ones and try to fix it for them, it is a recipe for disaster.
My happiness lies within me and is always available to me.
I just need to choose to access it more often. Every moment.
My wish for you is that you may choose to access your happiness that lies within you every moment of everyday.