Research, readings and conversations I’ve had recently have created a “penny-drop” for me. I knew that this project would be a voyage of discovery for me I’ve started to reassess what “happiness” is and how to achieve it. And what exactly we / I might be trying to achieve.
I was perceiving that happiness is a constant state of mind. That it’s a position to achieve, a single mountain to climb and once you reach the summit that’s it. I’ve realised this is completely the wrong way of looking at it.
Happiness is a mood and it’s something that cannot be permanent. Happiness comes in small peaks, a series of hills. Once you reach the top of the mountain you can’t stay there forever. You always have to come down and find a new hill.
“Climbing hills” is perhaps not the best metaphor because these don’t have to be huge accomplishments. Let’s think of it more like a heartbeat. Small pulses of joy keeping us alive. If you flatlined to one mood with no highs and lows you would be dead.
Happiness can come to you in the smallest of doses – little and often is much more sustainable than rare but massive heights. Do you really get 20 times more happiness from eating 20 squares of chocolate compared to one or two?
One of the things I’ve been learning is how the things we think will make us happy don’t make us and happy as we imagine, partly because we get used to it. I love the occasional bacon sandwich and one of the reasons I love it is BECAUSE it’s occasional. Anything we do too regularly results in diminishing returns. That amazing new car you’ve just bought won’t take long to become the boring old car. So why rely on something as expensive as a car to make you feel fulfilled?
Indeed many of the best boosts to happiness are free. All that simple stuff that everyone is always telling you to do – the stuff we know deep down we should do. Exercise and sleep. Being kind to other people. Being sociable, both with friends and strangers. There’s a brilliant study showing how talking to a complete stranger on public transport boosts happiness of both the person who started conversation and the recipient. Social connections are vital for our mental wellbeing. I’m sure almost everyone tries to avoid such a thing but it actually cheers you up!
Wanting better outcomes from the things that don’t make us happy also boosts us. We may think having a good job = earning lots of money = eternal happiness but it doesn’t work that way. Like that old car, the big payrise soon becomes the norm and loses it’s novelty which made us so happy. Much more long term beneficial aspects of a job to focus on are whether it fulfils you. Whether it challenges you in a good way. And whether it uses our strongest character strengths in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves.
I’m sure I will write about all of these elements in a lot more depth. There are practical steps everyone can take to add some of these elements of their lives and learn to feel those little pulses of happiness on a much more regular basis. Think about one moment of happiness you’ve experienced. Now imagine you can have a tiny slice of that every single day.
How about making your New Year’s Resolution to achieve just one pulse of happiness a day?