Is today a Happy Day?

HappinessIt depends… and it will depend even more, when you start to consider the individual and what occurrences are impacting upon their life. For me, every day is a happy day, but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I wander about with a permanent stupid grin on my face… far from it.

Many will concur, especially in difficult and sad times; ‘happiness‘ is not something that occurs naturally, they actually need to work at it, and you can… psychologically.

Happiness is defined as; “a mental or emotional state of well-being characterised by positive or pleasant emotions, ranging from contentment to intense joy” (see here). But just like all our emotional states, that are based around our personal thoughts; our feelings of happiness have different levels of intensity along a spectrum.

So happiness is when your life fulfils your needs. In other words; your happiness comes when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. It’s that feeling of contentment, that your life is as it should be. This is the exact point were things tend to go wrong, as our perceptions and aspirations appear not to match reality and/or expectations. Perfect happiness (enlightenment) comes when you have all of your needs satisfied. But who defines ‘perfect’ and are those ‘needs’ real or contrived desires?

But feeling happy and actually being happy aren’t the same thing. Happiness, like health, needs to be understood in context. Maybe you can be wrong about whether you are happy, or not?

If happiness is defined as a mood, then self-reports are all there is. Feeling happy is what we mean by being happy, so happiness is defined subjectively. In the same way, there are things that make you feel happy but may lead to a state of unhappiness. (Read more)

In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Ben C. Fletcher suggests; you can boost your happiness by your actions – “Happiness Is Not a Feeling – It Is Doing” – In order to feel happy you have to do happy. This is something I and many others agree with. But how do you learn to be happy? The problem is, finding your way past the myriad snake-oil salesmen on the internet when searching for solutions to human misery, actual or perceived.

Today the ‘guru’ is not Google, or even the many century’s of religious doctrine, the answer is now confirmed by science.

Perhaps due to the increased levels of (self-generated) anxiety and (media generated) depression, there has been a dramatic upsurge in scientific studies about Positive Psychology over recent years. Or to put things in simple terms; the science of discovering what makes happy people happy!

But what is Positive Psychology? The study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. (Read more)

Before I go any further, please don’t surmise from anything here that I’m some sort of evangelical follower of Buddhism… or some new-world hippy. I live life within a secular framework. If I was a French revolutionary I’d be shouting Vive la Laïcité.

I was born before the counterculture of the 1960s (just), but I’m not a latter day Timothy Leary. Yes, I might have some strong views, such as calling for an end to the failed war on drugs and, despite having turned on, tuned in and dropped out for a short fashionable period; I’ve never been a Flower Child or lived in a hippy commune.

Bored with your life? The hippies might have been on to something. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they made the commune a way of life, although it largely died out in the following decades. (BBC3 Health & Wellbeing)

No, sadly my foray into the hedonism of psychedelia didn’t amount to much more than owning some tie-dye tee shirts and listening to Woodstock music. I’m sure I probably would have engaged in the Summer of Love – if I’d lived in on the right continent, and been old enough at the time. That said, with all the stress, anxiety and hatred in our world today, I can fully understand why Buddhism (and similar beliefs) are becoming more popular (again).

Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be effective. (Five Minute Intro to Buddhism)

Buddhism has around 300 million followers across the world. The name of this faith comes from ‘budhi’ or ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha), was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35. An interesting age and concept, given that recent research confirms, people don’t actually become ‘adults’ until their 30s (see here).

If anything, my own views probably have their roots within humanism but even with those ethics, there are also similarities with Buddhist teachings, as there are with other religious beliefs. It’s not the religions that I have difficulty with, it’s usually the dogma and bigoted xenophobia of those that follow them, that gets me warm under the collar!

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. (The Dalai Lama)

But the values and ‘science’ of happiness can also be found in ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle said that our “happiness depends on ourselves.” Essentially, he argued that virtue is achieved by maintaining the mean, or the balance between two levels of excess.

Aristotle’s ‘mean’ is reminiscent of Buddhist Middle Path, irrespective of some differences. Aristotle’s mean was a method of achieving virtue, but Buddha’s Middle Path referred to the adoption of a peaceful way of life which negotiated the polar extremes of humanity and life issues – Asceticism, the severe self-discipline of avoiding of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. The Middle Path was a minimal requirement for a meditative life, and not the source of virtue in itself.

All said, Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama) is an interesting and charismatic chap who also talks a lot of sense. I also can’t recall ever having seen an unhappy Buddhist. I always get the impression, the less they own or possess the happier they are. That alone is one important life lessons we could all probably do with taking something from, in today’s materialistic world.

Our Search for Happiness

As I’ve already touched on, our happiness is an emotion that is both relative and subjective. But for many, it’s also something that many think can be purchased and/or delivered by someone else. For meaningful happiness and lasting contentment, that really isn’t the case.

In the Dalai Lama’s “handbook for living” – The Art of Happiness – we are reminded that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries” and without them, as important pillars of our inner happiness, “humanity cannot survive.”

The book provides a readable mix of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts and teachings, examined and explained by a Western Psychologist. It explains things in an easy format, with case studies & examples. It might be seen by some as one of those ‘life-skill’ type books however, it’s one that can probably make a difference, assuming you’re able to read it with an open mind. As one reviewer said; “it makes you realise that your happiness is about how you perceive & deal with situations.”

Given all the recent issues in our country, you might be surprised to hear; the UK ranks very highly for personal satisfaction. The UN’s most recent World Happiness Report places this nation 15th out of 156 countries surveyed.

It’s interesting that Scandinavian countries always rate well in the rankings for happiest nations. But we are happier…

Clearly the overall status of a nation can’t reflect the experiences and circumstances of specific individuals however; results are indicative of reality and, contrary to what the media would have us believe, things are rarely as bad as we believe them to be… I still might move to Finland though!

Action for Happiness (Patron The Dalai Lama), helps people to take action for a happier and more caring .. which must be a good thing. Members work towards increasing the concept of well-being in the home, in the workplace, in schools and across local communities. Their vision, as with many others (mine included), is to build a happier world. A place where fewer people suffer with mental health problems and more people feel good, function well and help others.

I might not be able to change the world but I can make a difference to those I interact with… I hope you can too. Let’s all try and perhaps then we could all be a little happier!

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