How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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Would you be happier if you won the lottery?

 

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Apparently, lottery winners tend not to report themselves any happier ten years down the line.  In fact, within just three months of a significant lottery win, statistics show we return to the level of happiness we had before.

Oh dear.

Do I buy that ticket, then, or not bother?

Well, buying a ticket is our way of putting our hand up; “yes please, I’d like to be happier”.  No harm in that, aiming for happiness.  We all want to be happy.

You’re right.  But I’m sure I’d be happier if I won just a bit. Enough to pay off the mortgage, or get a deposit on a house.  That would do it.  I could relax a bit.

Sounds good, I agree.  I met a man once who did just that, and bought an extra field and a horse.  He took his horse and a cart around the village every day after that, and was very happy.  A simple life.  That’s all he wanted.

Cool.  But didn’t he want anything else?

No, he was happy enough.  He’d lived in the village all his life, with his family and friends.  That was enough for him.

There you are then.  You only need a bit.

Yes, but how much is a bit?  I met another man who had won £2,000.  “Lucky you”, I said.

“No, he complained.  It’s a kick in the teeth, £2k.  What can I do with that?  That’s only enough to keep the wife happy for a couple of weeks”.

“A kick in the teeth?”

“Too right.  I’d rather not have won anything”

“But for some people that’s life changing.  They could buy a car which could get them a job”.

“Yeah right”.

OK I get your point.  If you’re miserable by nature perhaps money can’t help.  But that was only £2,000.  The other guy obviously got more.

He did.  He won £80,000 in a syndicate win with his friends.  But I got the feeling that the first would have very happy with an extra £2,000, and the second probably wouldn’t have been any happier with the jackpot win.  It’s just the way they were.

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Is that it, then?  Just the way we are?

I think so.  It’s nice to think that a magic ticket would change our level of happiness just like that.  But imagine… say you got your gold lamborghini, did your round-the-world-trip, bought your dream house and had champagne for breakfast.  Six months later you’re sitting in your dream kitchen and your champagne breakfast is nice, granted, but it doesn’t have the same wow-factor that it did the first week. And you realise that breakfast is breakfast, wherever you are, and you are still the same you.  You might have a touch more tan and whiter teeth, but you’re still the same underneath.  The only difference might be that you’ve nothing left to dream about because, frankly, you’ve done it.  So what now?  What’s left?

Another holiday?

And then?  That’s the trouble; we keep chasing our tails.  Once we’ve got something, we want the next fix.  It’s like an addiction.  A habit we’ve got ourselves into, that we all subscribe to.  We link money with happiness without thinking.  Our whole society’s bound up in it.  Ultimately, money fails us on a personal level.

Point taken.  But I could give some to my friends, too.  That would be nice.  And some to charity.  It’s not all bad.  A few million could go a long way!

Yes, altruism is certainly a contributor to personal happiness.  Giving is good.

But lottery winners get hassled, don’t they?  Everyone asking for money.  And working out how to distribute it.  That’s a big responsibility.  Hard to do the right thing.

Sure, there’s a lot of thinking to be done.  And a lot of discernment.  Working out who’s genuinely motivated, where best to focus your money, all those things.  Not a bad problem though.  Not if you can do good with it.

A tough one, though.  You could lose a lot of friends and be left very untrusting.

Yes, it happens.  And our friends are one of our primary ingredients for happiness.  So it can be a major loss.  Being without friends can make us more unhappy than we were before, very quickly.  We’re social beings.

It’s not looking quite so attractive, winning the lottery…

Well, there’s a lot of good that can come of it.  But as superman said, with great power comes great responsibility….

Maybe it’s responsibility we should be working on, then.  You don’t need money for that.  And friendships.  Friends are free.

Not a bad idea.  We could put the money we saved on tickets towards self-help books to share with friends.  A self-help library!  Then we might not feel the need for a ticket! 🙂

Is that the answer, do you think?  Work collaboratively with our friends towards a happier society?

Funnily enough, they’ve been doing that in Bhutan since 1972.  They made ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ a priority above economic wealth.

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You’re kidding!  For real?

Yes, and they’re officially the happiest country in the world (the UK is about halfway in world ratings).

Why can’t we do that?

Why indeed…  Here’s the World Happiness Report, compiled in 2013 by Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs. Their aims are to end extreme poverty, achieve environmental sustainability, embrace social inclusion and operate under good government. Maybe you could use your lottery winnings to propel these aims?

Good idea, if I win.  But I’ll start at the source.  I’ll think more carefully about what makes me happy every day, and make sure those things feature regularly in my life.  Friends, yoga, walking, making cakes… all that stuff…. perhaps I’m happier than I thought!

 


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Why we need to say small things

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Here’s an account of a chance introductory encounter between two economists and a dentist, from Nick Powdthavee’s book ‘The Happiness Equation’.  It’s a small mind-blower:

‘So tell me, are you happy being a dentist?’

‘Happy? I’m miserable as a dentist’, replied the man.  

Chuck smiled to himself.  ‘What? If you’re so unhappy, why on earth did you choose to become a dentist in the first place?’

I didn’t choose to become a dentist.’ The man took another swig of his drink before delivering the final hammer blow. ‘Its that stupid kid eighteen years ago that chose to become a dentist. Not me.’

Here’s the thing; as children we go about growing up. Much of that process is working out who we are. We find out what we like. We search for what we’re good at, and we use that information to form our habits. And that’s where we start messing up, because we look for external indicators. We watch our mum, dad, teachers and friends to see where our talents lie (we’ve not been on this planet long, so it makes perfect sense). We listen, and form our self-view; I’m this and that. I’m not that. If I work hard I could be this…ok I’ll do that. We move from I-like-animals to she-thinks-I-like-animals to I’d-make-a-good-vet.

Job done.  I’m a vet.  Or a dentist.

All from what we perceive others can see in us. It’s all perception. And perception is as tenuous as the wind.

This week was a small mind-blower for me.  I don’t promote my blogs on facebook (I forayed.  It felt wrong).  But my friend Tony did for a recent post, and two others took up the mantle.  It blew me away.  The icing on the cake was a beautiful, generous comment a friend added, that came from nowhere and left me standing gob-smacked with my shoes half a kilometre on the road behind me.

I had no idea she ever reads my posts because, as she said, she hadn’t ever commented.

That’s the thing.  We don’t know, because we don’t say.  But the things we don’t say could have been the things that make the enormous difference; the things that take people off the path of being a dentist and on to the path of being a trapeze artist, or economist.  The small comments that can take our breath away.

Thank you so much Claire.  Thank you Charlie, Laura and Tony.  It makes all the difference.  And that’s well worth sharing 🙂


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A beautiful story about love, time, and spoons

In Africa I learnt how ancestors live on until their name is forgotten, which resonated with me.  This story is by Philippa Perry, with a similar theme.  I’ve lifted it word for word from her gorgeous book ‘How to Stay Sane’ published as part of a series by the School of Life.  It’s my kind of story, now shared 🙂 I hope you like it.

My Wooden Spoon

I sometimes look at a busy street and think: in a hundred years, we will all be dead.  On this same street a hundred years ago, perhaps another woman thought the same thing.  Perhaps, however, like me, she consoled herself with the thought that love is generative and lives on in the next generation, passed on in the habits of love we inculcate in our pupils, children and friends.  I have my late aunt’s paintings around me, my late mother’s ring on my finger and her words inside me still urging me to tell my daughter to ‘be careful’ every time she leaves the house.  My grandfather’s gruff sarcasm lives on in my father and in me, so he is not really dead.  When my daughter lays out a sewing pattern, my fondness for needlework lives on in her.

This deeply moving process, that connects human to human in a cascade of memory passing through generations, can be symbolised by particular objects that are passed down along with the knowledge of our ancestors.  I am the proud owner of a wooden spoon that is worn into an un-spoonlike stump.  In the pre-electric whisk days of the 1960s, my aunt taught me to cream the butter and sugar for a cake mixture; we always used the same spoon.  Even then the spoon was worn out.  My aunt had, in her turn, used it as a child.  I use a whisk now; but the sight of that spoon in the drawer brings tears to my eyes if it catches me unawares on an hormonal day.  My aunt will be forgotten eventually; my daughter will teach her own children to make cakes.  Along with cake recipes she will pass down the love I received first from my aunt.  Oh yes, my aunt will live on, even if her name gets mentioned less and less and her spoon is thrown away.

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A very Sunday post….

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This is so true, isn’t it? It reminds me that we really are capable of moving through our difficulties and beyond. Once we’re at that point, the former fades away. All that angst, all those tears…gone. Passed through, into the new.

That line in Desiderata by Max Ehrmann;

“Avoid loud and aggressive people, they are vexatious to the spirit”

Too true. We always have choice, and that includes the company we keep. Some are so busy appearing to help us. Those that help us, nurture us, care for our hearts and our thoughts; they’re the ones to value and hold close.

Here’s to good people. I hope you find them, and they find you.

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Sweating the small stuff

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“You’re a brave blogger” a good friend offered. “Your posts are very personal”. Well, maybe. It’s true I sometimes hesitate before pressing ‘publish’. Occasionally it takes several days to recover, which is odd really. As if it really matters.

Because although it’s out there, on the big web thingy, for anyone to see, the likelihood is that the anyone isn’t a someone who actually knows me from Adam. Most likely, you don’t know me personally.

This isn’t a journal. It could be, but it’s not. It’s an evolving vehicle for my observations. And because the observations are mine, they inevitably involve some elements of personal experience. It can’t be helped. This is my life and these are the things I see. Her comment was helpful though, causing me to ruminate on just why and how my posts appear personal. Why is that difficult, and what does that mean?

I don’t have a problem with ‘personal’. In fact looking at it, ‘personal’ is what interests me most in the world. I’m interested in individual experience.

It’s the small, everyday stuff that grabs me; the profound in the ordinary. The wise in the mundane. For me, the beginnings of understanding humanity stem from the communication of personal experience.

As a species we’re an organism. As I see it, if we don’t share we don’t grow. Sharing the small stuff, the gritty everyday, illuminates the personal. And it’s the personal that counts, because it’s dangerous to perpetuate what we assume rather than what really is.

Years ago, I was peripheral to a conversation about homeless people. The contributors were all professional, well-meaning, educated. “What I don’t understand” one of them said, “was how people can get themselves in that state. If they run out of money, why don’t they just sell some of their shares?”.

I was gobsmacked, but illumined. A fabulous lesson in the prevaillance of misconception.

Situations, values, persuasions; all these are transient, but we elect to see them as fixed. If we were less fearful of sharing our circumstances and perspectives, our perceptions and our politics would be far more embracing, conciliatory and mobile.

No, personal doesn’t scare me. For me it’s a tool for growth and understanding, and I cherish that. Whether it’s brave or not is a different story.


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Would you vote for Churchill if he ran for election today?

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The funny thing about truth is that it changes. What we consider absolute isn’t static.

My son is a history nut. Every word he speaks is a fact gleaned from a book, a casualty statistic or a rhetorical question (“if Churchill was running in the election, mum, would you vote for him?” Where do you even start on that one?).

It’s all about context. If Churchill was running now, his policies would be different to fit current circumstances (I would hope). And the society being addressed would have differing values. The version of history my son relays to me is incomparable with the one I learnt, and a few forays onto Wikipedia reveals the extent of biased information presented by virtue of information omitted, if not misrepresented. And that’s even without the complexities of new information and opinion.

If I was a Historian I’d be exhausted.

Before, I would venture an opinion. I know better now, with such shifting sands. Now when he probes I reduce my stance. All I can offer is the advice that things are always more complex than they seem, and to rein emotional bias because inevitably it will be misplaced.

Its a sad departure from my political youth, but I hope it’s the nearest to truth that I can give him.

Absolute truth is at best, elusive. But the idea is more constant. And that’s the important part. The search for truth is a fundamental and unifying aspect of humanity.

Perhaps we would be better served if we recognised and valued the considered intent in each other, not just the perceived truth in our statements.

Values, not rhetoric.

Speak your truth and develop your vision. Inspire.


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Good Friday and the call for unhappiness (and an excuse for a Robert Powell image)

53a427ab4a97924843cc4a68a7fa9242Every year the same question; “Why is it called Good Friday?”.

Why indeed, when it was so clearly a ‘bad’ Friday from all other perspectives.  Surely if any day over the period is a good one, it would be Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection.  I was brought up in a C of E school; measuring what I learnt, I’d veer towards the logic in ‘Bad Friday’ and ‘Good Sunday’ for clarity.  I think a lot of my classmates still retain confusion over the Easter story, and I don’t think the names really helped. For the key dates in a religion, there’s a certain poignancy required in a name.  Ambiguity (or irony) would perhaps be better left with lesser calendar events, where they can sit unnoticed and not cause any fuss.

Etymological searches point to ‘good’ traditionally alluding to ‘holy’ (or a recognisedly designated day for religious observation or practice).  Apparently there’s a ‘Good Wednesday’ too.  That’s helpful research. I can rest now.  It’s not a weighty addition after all, the ‘good’ part.  A sort of accident, really.

Research brought another small point – that other origins are in ‘God’s Friday’ and the Anglo Saxon ‘Long Friday’ (that makes sense).  There’s also ‘Holy Friday’ and interestingly in German liturgy ‘Karfreitag’ or ‘Sorrowful Friday’. Now that’s more indicative of content. The difference between ‘sorrowful’ and ‘good’ is a long one in today’s language.

So why not, then? Why don’t we term it ‘Bad Friday’ or ‘Sorrowful Friday’? Because it seems to me there’s a perfect opportunity here, all set out within the religious calendar; an opportunity for us to really express the duality of human nature and the human experience.

Have I missed something glaring? Or is there something in this?

Here’s a picture of Jesus with an Easter bunny (my interpretation) by Albrecht Durer. Happy Easter, everyone.

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