This morning on my cycle to work I was listening to an interesting podcast: Thinking Allowed first broadcast BBC Radio 4, with the the topic 'Happiness Industry: Wellness Syndrome'. It is this weeks episode (May 27th) but you can listen to it here. I do really like Thinking Allowed, it is an insightful series and the topics are far-reaching and current. Laurie Taylor, the presenter, has a sense of humour that appeals to me. Anyway, the last episode focuses on how policy makers have become increasingly focused on measuring happiness and how visions of positive social change have been replaced by a focus on individual well-being (this last sentence being mostly taken straight from the episode description).
I also read an interesting blog post by Doris, over at Inspired Follies. In this post, Doris talks about her 'addiction' to the self help book genre and how she is being anxious about how to be less anxious. To help her overcome this, she has condensed what might work for her into 'five commandments'. These are guiding her through the treacherous swamps of stress and hectic that are part of daily life. I really like that and I like the five commandments, too. Personally, I am not so drawn to self help books. I have dipped in and out of a few but when it comes down to actually practice advice given, I can not be bothered. At all. Like Doris, I end up feeling anxious.
Happiness is very much a personal experience but I tend to agree with the Thinking Allowed discussion that on a societal level policy makers do rather side-step the pressing -and difficult to address issues- of social inequality, associated with poor health, unemployment and all too often poor education (to name a few). All of which are important contributors to personal happiness. It isn't just the policy makers. Some companies for example are offering mindfulness seminars to deal with work related stress and unhappiness rather than dealing with the heart of the problems causing stress in the first place.
Happiness is also very much reduced to a measurable brain function. Which of course is true to an extent but the measurements of brain function do still rely on the test individuals personal interpretation of what it means to be happy. If that makes sense.
According to the World Happiness Report released by the United Nations Sustainable Developments Solutions Network, Britain doesn't make it into the top ten happiest nations (it is in position 21). Switzerland is top of the list, followed by Scandinavian countries and Canada. People who live in the happiest countries have longer life expectancies and more social support, experience more generosity, have more freedom to make life choices, have lower perceptions of corruption and have a higher gross domestic product per capita, the report shows. A nation's happiness is not simply down to wealth, as one might be inclined to think when reading the top ten list of happiest countries. It is just one of many measures. The report makes for interesting reading (but is rather lengthy). If you want to find out more, chapter 3 is interesting because it looks beyond life evaluations and includes positive experiences such as smiling and laughter, feeling safe at night, feeling well rested and feeling interested. It also includes negative experiences such as anger, worry and stress.
Do you sometimes think you are almost expected to be happy? I do. I have an excellent standard of living, thriving children, a wonderful husband, a supportive extended family, a fun job, a big house etc. But discontent does creep into my life all the same. I get annoyed very easily and my 'today-is-a-lovely-day-but-tomorrow-it'll-probably-rain' outlook on life gets in the way of enjoying small things. Sometimes at least. I find it all too easy to ignore that happiness is rarely a strong flowing waterfall but that it comes in splashes, drops and dribbles with spells of drought in between. There are fleeting moments of intense happiness, for example this morning when I heard Mr Blackbird sing outside my bedroom window. There is also a more slow burning happiness, for example when I think of James' growing self confidence.
Writing such moments down in my blog help me remember that even if I am going to bed exhausted and grumpy, there have been good moments. Even just thinking that I might write this down! It keeps me grounded, prevents me from drifting into the discontent corner of life. It puts life into perspective. It gives me joy. I love to read your comments and you give me food for thought on your own blogs. Thank you all for moments of happiness!
Have a great weekend! xx