What makes you happy?

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.

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12 thoughts on “What makes you happy?

  1. Not sure if last comment went through??!! Of the top of my head- understanding, main connections with Ida’s and people, helping others, laughing together, exercise (! Though I must keep forgetting that one)
    So are you up for Cardiff half this year? Would be ambitious target for me, but why not? 🙂

  2. Many things make me happy, my work and the satisfaction of training people and helping them achieving better things as a result. It’s what motivates me each working day be it a simple drive to the office or a 350 mile trek to the north east. My love of photography is one thing of happiness but it’s far exceeded by the socialising with others who share the same passion for it. In recent times i’ve photographed various wonderfull places but they are far overshadowed by the days when Ives been out with many people and we’ve sat on the roof of an old building and discussed good times, good places. I

    As someone who did not have a great time at school, the love and support of friends and family will always, ultimately, make me happy. That’s not exclusive to people I’ve met in life but those since the online social revolution.

    Fitness? Yes I need to lose the pre wedding, post 30 something, belly. 🙂

  3. I completely agree that happiness is subjective. I tend to think of happiness as a transient state where an underlying feeling of ‘contentment’ is a longer lasting and perhaps more attainable goal.
    Things that make me happy though – reading a really good book
    learning something new from any form and double happiness ‘points’ if it’s surprising!
    finishing something I’ve been working on for a while

    spending time with good people (I use ‘good’ very broadly – friends/family/colleagues/strangers who are friendly)

  4. By and large I’m a pretty content miserable sod. I like Ermintrude’s distinction between “happy” and “contentment” – I think they are different. Moment to moment I am rarely euphoric but I’m pretty happy with my place in life and the options I have.
    I’ve noticed that the less I compare myself to other people the happier I am. Something about status anxiety perhaps?

    You should definitely join a choir – singing with other people is the best feeling ever. OK, maybe the second best feeling ever. There’s no pressure if you don’t join a group with aspirations to win competitions and stuff. These guys are fun:
    http://www.bignoisechorus.co.uk/torquay.html

    Martin

  5. For me happiness is relative.

    Relative to some people I know I’m generally happy, but to others I’m positively miserable. We all have our place on the happiness ladder, and to be honest, I’m relatively happy with my rung.

    I used to think that to be happy you had to be in a happy place surrounded by happy people, not anymore. I’ve been at my happiest when I’ve been in some pretty dire circumstances, happy with who I am, happy with how I’m coping and happy with those I’m with at the time. But then when things are going well and life’s treating me good I can be the most miserable s*it to walk the earth. Either way, happiness is a mood, and moods swing, wildly and unpredictably sometimes.

    So whenever I feel unhappy I try to tell myself that a happy mood will swing by sometime soon! But what I remember above all else is how wonderfully happy I feel when I make someone else happy.

  6. Thanks for all the comments everyone, really interesting to see other people’s perspectives. I was realising this morning that the things that I cited as making me happy, were also the things that I had in abundance in my childhood! I don’t want to get all psychoanalyst on things but there must be some wisdom to plenty of sleep, a walk to school, playing outside moving (even if it was raining), school assembly complete with a sing song and mostly lots of achievements and progress. Maybe I should be working as a teacher!

  7. What makes me happy? Good question…… I am a pretty up beat happy go lucky person most of the time, although occassionally I can feel very low, it is really hard to pick myself up. I go for a walk in my local area (Forest of Dean) or take a drive out to the Brecon Beacons. I am having a love affair with mountains at the moment whether they be English, Welsh or foreign (eg Kilimanjaro, The Andes region or The Himalayas) I love everything about them, the nature and wildlife, the air, the feeling of solitude. It all started with my love of skiing and although not the highest mountains in the Alps, it was enough to spark a passion for further adventure. My dog, Stanley, a 4 year old Sprocker comes with me on UK treks and he is my other love and its all unconditional. Sharing ideas with my Mum and sister make me happy, my sister being the only person in the world who totally understands me. We were always close when we were young and now we are still close but we are moving further apart as we get older. I do not have a boyfriend, have never been married and have no kids, so my life is pretty uncomplicated. So to sum up…. mountains, adventure, my dog, my family, my independence and simplicity I feel are the key to happiness and happiness comes with being fit and healthy and being able to appreciate natural beauty in our surroundings!

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