Tag Archives: resilience

What is happiness?

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jumpforjoyI’ve  been pondering this question a lot over the past few weeks.  We all wish each other a happy new year, we all wish happiness for our friends, our family and ourselves. So, what do we mean by that?

Do we want ourselves, and others, to be jumping for joy?  Is that really what we want, all the time?  Is joy a sustainable emotion? Or is it followed soon enough, for most of us, by the inevitable not-so-wonderful experiences of our lives?  If moments of pure joy are really to be fully appreciated, they need to be just that – moments.  High points of happiness, in which we are bubbling over with pleasure, excitement, exuberance.  Which are all the better for the humdrum nature of much of our lives. And which are unsustainable in the long-term.

So, what is happiness?  Is it merely the absence of sadness? Can we define it only by what is missing?

For me, happiness is a calmer emotion than joy.  There’s a bit less excitement, a bit less disruption to my equilibrium!  It can be quiet and still, calm and peaceful, brought on by the simplest things – spending time with loved ones, cooking, reading, walking by the sea or in the countryside. By laughter. By yoga and meditation.  By being alone, and by being with others. It’s less fleeting than pleasure, which is ‘only the shadow of happiness’, according to a Hindu proverb.

Happiness, it is true, can be lost.  But happiness can also be found. It can be cultivated quite deliberately. Happiness takes practice, but can become a habit. It’s a skill that can be learnt, and relearnt. Even when you think it’s gone forever, it can creep up on you and surprise you.

As Matthieu Ricard says in his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:

‘..achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill.  It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love’

So whilst some of us have a more naturally sunny disposition than others, happiness can be created, fostered, tended to. It can grow. In his book, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, Rick  Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’, really noticing and savouring the good times we experience.  If things aren’t great right now, we can recall a time we felt truly happy and bask in the memory. And don’t let the good moments pass by without noticing. Notice what being happy feels like, right in the moment. Pause for a moment, and truly experience the sensations of happiness. Truly, madly, deeply feel that moment. And at the end of the day, recall those sensations, those feelings of wellbeing before going to sleep. Write about them if you keep a journal, express gratitude for all the good in your life. Deliberately, patiently and tenderly foster good feelings.  So that when things aren’t so great, your basic sense of wellbeing, your basic ground of happiness, isn’t rocked so violently as it might otherwise have been. So that you have resilience when things – inevitably – don’t go all your own way.

There will be days when nothing goes right.  There may be weeks, months or even years that are more difficult than others.  That’s life.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, life is the:

‘…full catastrophe….the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but is also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up….life is always in flux’.

And we won’t always feel happy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. Unless we have reached enlightenment! But with mental health such a huge concern, we can work to improve our underlying happiness.  We can build our happiness muscle as if we’re working out at the gym, being grateful for all the good in our lives. We can make time for things we enjoy, we can look after ourselves emotionally as well as physically. We can make sure we get enough rest, sufficient exercise and good nutrition. We can practise being happy.

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Taking time out for ourselves

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womanstress  All the research shows us just how important it is to take time out, to look after ourselves, before we get sick. By taking care of ourselves at the very first sign of stress, we may prevent a whole range of mental, emotional and physical ailments. Yes, it can be hard to find the time, and yes, there may be others we need to take care of, but we will do that all the better for acknowledging our own needs.

If you’ve ever been less than patient with someone when you’re feeling down, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

If you’ve ever felt so tired, drained, and just plain exhausted that you have almost lost touch with that wonderful person you are on the inside, you’ll know how important taking care of yourself really is.

And if you have ever felt guilty about taking that time, you need to stop that guilt, right now.

Here’s why….

So many of our top diseases now are stress-related, and so many of us are  getting unwell, both mentally and physically, because of the way we live our lives.  Work, work and more work doesn’t make us happy.  It might (or might not!) make us rich.  But since when did money automatically make us happier?  Happiness is right here, right in this moment, not some time in the future when our bank account is a little fuller, or when we have that amazing new car, house, or tv.  It’s in the time we spend with our family and our friends, or pursuing our dreams, not only in the achievements and recognisable successes of our lives.  It’s in the whole process of life – and if it’s hard for you to find your happy side in all of this, I would encourage you to take time out and find a space in which you can get back in touch with that sense of contentment.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it might be as simple as watching your breath, having a stretch or reading a few pages of your favourite book. It might be in listening to a beautiful or uplifting piece of music, or going for a walk.  It might be in looking at the sky full of stars on a clear night, or at the dew on the grass in the morning.

So, we don’t have to spend a lot of money, and we don’t necessarily have to spend all that much time; even a few minutes in which we are mindful of our surroundings, or of what we are doing, totally and completely absorbed in our breath, or the music, or the movement….even those few minutes can help to build our sense of wellbeing, and help us to relate more happily to our world and those around us.  Our empathy, our patience and our sense of connection to others are all strengthened, and we feel amazing!  Physically, mentally and emotionally, we feel stronger, more resilient, and able to handle the demands of our lives with greater ease. Thinking and decision -making can be easier, as all the mental chit-chat starts to settle down.