Am I happy? Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. Rarely. What makes me happy? Depends what mood I’m in. What the weather is like. If I’m hungry. Whether I’m working. Arrrgggggggggggh I don’t know, who cares anyway?
I feel like I *should* be happy, I have a loving family, great relationships and friendships, supportive networks, I’m healthy, I have a great job that stretches me and rewards me in equal measure, I have a home, a feline companion, not as much time as I’d like but who cares about housework anyway! Some days I feel happy being happy, some days I feel at my happiest being miserable – and there in lies the rub with a happiness discussion. I’m never sure what we mean when we talk about being happy.
A conversation in the pub last week with @gerrynos and @fergusbisset got me thinking about this even more. We concluded (nothing earth shattering here folks) that happiness was a very personal construct, partly cultural and likely also to be related to upbringing and what was attributed value within that. Throughout my entire life my parents have been very focused on us kids being happy, the focus of my childhood was very much about doing your best coupled with happiness. Success in my parents eyes (I think – I might double check with them, but I’m 99% certain) is measured by being happy, it’s not about careers, exam results, fast cars, exotic holidays, having stuff, but more about how life feels. As an adult I think I live my life with similar standards, to be honest its challenging to always do your best (in fact I’m beginning to think near impossible but that’s a blog for another time) and hard to always know whether something will lead to happiness, but I try to focus on keeping a balance – I’m not happy all the time, I don’t even try to be happy all the time, but I do monitor life and know when it is out of sync. My latest theory for my own happiness is that a few basic things count. These are as follows:
1. Time spent sleeping – I can survive on 4 hours a night, I was renowned for it in college and nicknamed Maggie for the privilege. I’ve always been rather proud of not needing sleep, I’ve had an almost constant refusal to accept the fact that most humans function best on significantly more than that, until recently. I’ve come to realise that I quite simply perform better when I’ve had more sleep, I’m aiming for an average of 7hours a night, more at weekends.
2. Time spent outside – I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend outside and how happy I feel. This is unfortunate as I have a job that takes up a lot of my waking hours, and most of them are spent sat at a desk, or sat on a train, or sat in a meeting (I’ll come on to the sitting in a mo). I’m trying to get out more between meetings, walk around the building, soak up the oxygen to recharge and I’ll move to my outside office (the picnic table) as soon as the weather allows.
3. Time spent moving – this is another obvious one, I simply feel better (and I suppose happier) when I’ve exercised regularly. I’m in a constant battle with myself to overcome all the excuses I have for not running, but I simply have to do it because it works. It wont be running for everyone but it definitely helps me and I know that, so I’m going to start scheduling my runs to see if that helps.
4. Time spent singing – little left side for me this one. I’ve not really sung much since leaving school at 16, except weddings and funerals and in the car on the drive to work. I love it. I don’t (yet) love it enough to join a choir or do anything that’ll put pressure on me to perform at singing, but I have realised lately how much better I feel if I’ve had the chance to sing – so I can often be seen bopping along the A38 exercising my lungs of a morning!
5. Time spent achieving – this comes back to the do your best mantra I think. Basic human psychology and behavioural conditioning – I like rewards for doing something well. I’m a little obsessed by statistics and data and measuring progress. Few thing make me feel as content as seeing my blog hits on a good day! It’s the relativity that counts, and changes over time, not the numbers in themselves. I know my blog gets insignificant traffic by some people’s standards, but I like to compare day to day, week to week and see what has grabbed people’s attention. I got a fitbit for Christmas – best pressie *ever*. It’s an activity tracker that counts your steps, stairs climbed and calories burned – it also rewards your progress, I’ll do a post on that another time, but it’s really brought home to me how much I like little rewards.
There are other things that make me happy, such as feeling like my life has a purpose, holidays and time out, wearing hats, cold dry weather, postcards – sending and receiving, feeling connected, and perhaps most significantly relationships with friends and family but these are slightly more complicated than the five things I’ve outlined above. They are all things that I know improve my sense of happiness the more I have or do of them, my own recipe for happiness that works for me I guess.
I know that research tells me some of these things matter, but others do as well. A quick look at the Action for Happiness website tells me that yesterday was World Happy Day and they put together a Happiness Action Pack. The pack contains ten keys to happier living, as follows:
I’d love to know what makes you happy. Whether any of the things I’ve mentioned, or the research highlights, work for you. Better still I’d love to hear of alternative suggestions, however wild and wacky. Look forward to hearing from you.