Are you happy? If you are happy, how happy and, how do you know you are happy?
Is happiness simply an emotion or is it a ‘real’, ‘tangible’ state of being? These are some of the ideas discussed recently in a year 10 class. This discussion was prompted by the essay question, ‘Happiness is more that a state of mind’. To what extent is this true of modern society?
As we discussed the concept of happiness some interesting thoughts began to emerge. We explored the genesis of happiness and tended to agree that love, both giving and receiving, made us happy. We noted however, that while the search for love, particularly when it involved settling for ‘like’ or a synthetic derivatives, may lead to ‘pleasure’, pleasure did not necessarily provide ‘happiness’. We realised, a greater understanding of what happiness meant to us as individuals, was necessary.
As we searched for definitions of happiness, we observed how overtly happy people are often viewed with apprehension or scorn. It seemed that some people find a state of ‘happiness’ confronting and become defensive when in the company of ‘happy’ people. Perhaps, we hypothesised, some individuals are fearful, suspicious or even jealous because they suspect ‘happy’ people have more than their ‘fair share’. Maybe they are also wary of experiencing happiness themselves because they feel guilty, suspecting that their happiness ‘steals’ happiness from others. Perhaps this fear is the result of a belief that happiness is a finite, even scarce resource that must be allocated sparingly. Or possibly, some view happiness with derision because they link feelings of happiness to a ‘cult’ of happiness (or to commercialised, mass-produced hype). However we decided that these attitudes, born of fear, are limiting beliefs. As a result we noted that choosing an abundance mindset (and viewing happiness as an infinite force) was an inspiring choice since it allowed for positive relationships and minimised feelings of jealousy and resentment.
Our next step was to refer to the research being conducted into the value of happiness. Research such as that recorded on the Authentic Happiness website ( Authentic Happiness :: Using the new Positive Psychology ) offers suggestions as to how feelings of ‘well being’ may have a positive effect on not only the individual, but society. It is to this research we turned and happily noted that happiness is more than a state of mind. It is a choice and importantly, there are daily tangible actions which may be undertaken to increase our sense of happiness.
Tal Ben-Shahad, a positive psychology lecturer at Harvard University recommends 52 of these in his book Even Happier. These are simple strategies (such as exercising regularly) which promote an overall sense of wellbeing. For example Ben-Shahad explained the benefits of identifying 5 things each day that you are grateful for and recording them in a ‘gratitude journal’. He also suggested reflecting on attitudes toward work or school, identifying the enjoyable aspects and then focusing on them. As a teacher, I was interested in his suggestion to choose to become a lifelong learner. However it was perhaps his advice to “enjoy the journey” which most resonated a chord within me. I remembered how often we rush through experiences with ‘our eyes on the prize’ rather than taking the time to absorb (and enjoy) the process of achievement. So I resolved to become more actively aware of my surroundings and consciously see, feel and hear the beauty around me.
Now, I return to my earlier questions, Are you happy, how happy?