Thursday, 28 May 2015

thoughts on happiness


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policy makers have become increasingly focused on measuring happiness and how visions of positive social change have been replaced by a focus on individual well-being (this last sentence being mostly taken straight from the episode description).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


20 comments:

  1. What a thought-provoking post - I'll check out that programme. Thanks for the mention too. I've definitely had my fill of self-help books though there is something to be said for mindfulness and meditation. It's difficult to embrace the idea finding of personal happiness also because there are so many people who don't have the basics of food, safety and shelter. Have you any thoughts on why Switzerland came top in the Happiness survey? I wonder whether England is lower because of our natural cynicism and black humour (I'm writing this while listening to somewhat grumpy husband making fun of the contestants on Britain's Got Talent.)

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  2. You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. Reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @ipersuade.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this and thinking about what you raise here. Happiness is a strange thing - influenced as you say by certain fundamental contextual things such as basic needs for food, shelter, safety, health care etc being met but also elusively found in the shadows of unexpected places and experiences - the relief of finding something I think I've lost for example or in the purposefulness of work that superficially I'd have no hesitation in labelling tedious. And sometimes not found by those who have many of the apparent indicators for happiness in place. Perhaps because of biochemical balance which of course does affect mood and outlook so considerably. I am sure for example that SAD syndrome has a lot to answer for in this country! I read an interesting article recently - can't remember where but possibly The Guardian last Saturday - that the recent emphasis on mindfulness has brought some significantly negative effects in its wake as well as positives. Inevitably I suspect as it invites reflection and thinking more deeply about our lives and who we are and sometimes that brings unwelcome realisations that can be hard to deal with. I also think that as we have become more secular we lack the spiritual tools that previous generations had for dealing with some of these things. Organised religion often has a bad name these days but at it's best it does offer a framework in which some of the trajectories of reflection can be explored without them getting out of control or too big for their boots! I often think that text called "Desiderata" that originates I think from St Paul's church in Baltimore that begins "Go placidly ..." Is a good recipe for happiness in life. My headmistress used to read it often at assembly at school and it's good stuff! I'll email you a copy if I can locate it. Thank you for such an interesting start to my day! Wishing you a happy Friday in all sorts of ways, Christina! E x

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  4. You certainly gave us food for thought today, a very thought provoking post. I will listen to the programme when I have a little more time. Have a great weekend.

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  5. A great post Christina, I like Thinking Allowed as well, although I didn't hear that episode. I think happiness and contentment are closely allied for me. I don't necessarily need huge exciting thrilling things, I'm content with the day to day small good things. But I do struggle with anxiety and stress. I deliberately try not to think about the things that make me anxious, but it's very hard, they have a habit of circling round. CJ xx

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  6. Good morning Christina - what an interesting post and certainly lots to think about. I agree that we all live with the pressure of having to be happy, which is a ridiculous position to be in. My eldest son is always telling me off for worrying about '1st world problems' which seems to be the new buzzword, but he is right. I live in a very affluent part of the world and by comparison we are not quite as successful, and yet I fell happy because - well, I'm not sure why but I just do; that's not to say that I'm never unhappy - like you say, happiness isn't a stream or a waterfall but a series of splashes and showers and, appropriately enough (and in agreement with Mrs. T), in this country I feel my happiness is very much weather-dependent. When the sun shines it makes me shine too. One other modern buzzword that I can't bear is 'mindset' or 'mindfulness' - it's bandied about at school a lot and it makes me so annoyed because really, I think that the fastest way to unhappiness is by thinking about things too much. I like to remind myself that I come from good working-class stock, where we just get on with the things that need to be done because that's how we survive. It seems to me that wondering whether you are happy or not is a malaise that belongs to the idle rich. You may disagree with me and that's fine - the other thing that I think makes people dissatisfied is the idea that we should all think and feel generally the same. But anyhow, I will definitely listen to Laurie Taylor - he does have a great personality doesn't he? - and thanks for making me think. Hope I haven't caused any offence! Judy.

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  7. A very thought provoking post! “The freedom to make life choices” hits the nail on the head; whether that freedom is given by wealth, health, education, not being tied to the school run or a hundred other reasons. There’s a lot to be said for accepting what we have and being happy with that. I agree with much that E and Judith have written.
    Wishing you a happy weekend.

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  8. A great post Christina with much food for thought. I think it is a mistake we all can make to believe we should be happy all the time. Life just doesn't work like that and I believe it is more about learning to be content and take the highs and lows along the way... Easier said than done of course! Wishing you a happy weekend!

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  9. Such a thoughtful post, Christina. I've downloaded the podcast you recommended and plan to listen to it when I go for a walk later today.

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  10. Interesting that you chose to write about this Christina - I have been mulling over a post on happiness all week! I read a good post by Katie at Wild Spring, which I'd like to share here. http://katiespring.com/2015/05/27/creatures-of-habit/

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  11. Funnily enough I had a similar conversation with my older son recently ... the modern expectation of almost continual happiness is unsustainable, without its opposites how would we know what it was. Great post Christina :)

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  12. This is a fascinating post. I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately and trying to find it in small things. I definitely think that happiness is not about money! xx

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  13. Hey Christina,
    I can struggle with my 'happiness' expectations,although this year has been a real turning point for me. I have thrown away all those I Quit Sugar self help books. They made me feel like crap about myself. I couldn't live up to the expectations of the book. I've struggled with living up to the expectations of others all my life. I lost sight of the fact that I am actually OK as I am. Not all good. Not all bad. Just somewhere in the middle. I can be a glass half empty girl, and have been working on that too. My blog is a way to process all my contrary thoughts, and as a journal of how bloody good life is for me and those I love. This was a great post, Christina. I shall listen to the podcast.
    Leanne xx

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  14. I've been listening to Be Brilliant Everyday by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker; it's a lot about happiness and reality. We have so much, it seems silly to not take the steps to be happy. Gratitude, appreciation and positivity make a difference to our happiness. Why Britain is 21 and not in the top 10 is a moot question; perhaps because we are naturally self deprecating, rather than grateful for our situation, or because we have an inequitable society and perceive that as a big problem.....?

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  15. Brilliant post and comments. I think happiness comes from within, from being at peace with oneself, connecting with others and enjoying simple pleasures like you say. Comparing ourselves to others including other countries is not always healthy. Thanks for a great post Christina xo

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  16. Your post resonated with me in that there are expectations about happiness. I think that there are so many choices nowadays, media articles about how to be happy and live the best life you can, they don't help. I have a lovely husband, fabulous children and a nice life, why do I not feel deliriously happy all the time? I have to have a word with myself and remind myself that there are so many people in the world far, far, worse off than me. I do think it's difficult to quantify happiness and there's nothing like the benefit of hindsight to look back to times in your life and say "that was a great time" xx

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  17. This is such a good post Christina, and the comments are also so insightful and interesting. I think of happiness as the 'peaks', contentment as the 'plateau', and negative emotions or unhappiness as the 'troughs', so quite a topographical image for me. I enjoy happiness, and always notice when i feel particularly happy, and savour it. What I strive for though, and value perhaps even more than happiness, is contentment. I crave emotional stability, and am very fortunate, because I mostly have it. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is always a useful model to reflect on too, to see where happiness has room to flourish, and that is in the very topmost part of the model, within 'self actualisation', when all basic, and some slightly more advanced,needs have been met, then we can begin to relax and experience happiness. It is such a fascinating subject, thank you so much for writing about it X

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  18. I've been doing an online course about happiness (EDX) but got a bit bogged down in the meaning of happiness. and how to measure it. It's so individual and non quantifiable. unlike science...

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  19. Happiness is for me very often the small things: a poached egg, a flower, a quiet momemt outside with a cup of tea. It is also the huge things: children, grandchildren, friendship, health.

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  20. Such an interesting post Christina. I think happiness is something you can reflect upon rather than thinking about it in the moment. It's a spectrum of emotion - from total excitement and elation to brief contentment. I think it's hard to quantify, as like pain, it's so subjective. x

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Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx