We all long for happiness and yet few of us say we are happy – why?
Each year, on the occasion of International Day of Happiness (20th March), I like to share my thoughts on ‘happiness’ – a central theme to both my work with clients and my own personal development.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by how much easier we find it to focus on or notice negative things, on what’s missing or ‘wrong’ rather than the good stuff, however small.
This innate ‘negativity bias’, prevents many of us seeing and experiencing the enjoyable, beautiful and pleasurable things in life.
From an evolutionary point of view, our negativity bias was highly effective at helping us to detect and flee danger, but this bias, along with the fact that so many of us are out of sync with what really matters to us – with what makes us tick, with what makes us feel alive – stands in the way of experiencing happiness.
There’s good news
The neuroplasticity of our brains means that we can train ourselves to notice more the positive things in our lives – the smile, the kind deed, the good moments at work, the best aspects of relationships – by becoming mindfully aware of these moments and appreciating them. Life coaching is about increasing self-awareness – finding out where you are in life and looking at ways to move forward to where you want to be (See What is Life Coaching?).
What matters to you?
Finding out what really matters to us can be challenging.
Research has shown that long-term happiness, feeling contented with life, stems from feeling and being in control of as much of our life as possible. It’s not about smiling all the time nor does it stem from money or health, but a self-belief you are on the road you want to be on.
Happiness is therefore a state of being that arises from within us when we live in line with what matters to us, i.e. when we choose to spend time on the things that are most important to us.
The problem many of us face however, is that we live out of sync with what matters most to us and we find ourselves doing a lot more things we don’t like than we do like.
The things that contribute most to our happiness and that we feel most passionate about and enjoy doing slip-off our agenda.
When we take the time to find out what really matters to us in life, we may well discover that something needs to change.
And change, for so many of us is frightening, yet change is the seed to our happiness.
What does being happy mean to you?
To find out what being happy means to you, ask yourself what’s important to you in your life.
What is meaningful to you? What are some things that give you a deep sense of satisfaction and as a result, bring you happiness?
Get to know you – a self-observation exercise
Try this happiness self-observation exercise in the coming week. Find a suitable and quiet moment in your day, take 10-15 minutes – maybe before you go to bed at night or at lunch time in a green space near your work or on your commute:
Day 1: Write down 3 things that you are grateful for in your life – big or small, it doesn’t matter. Take a few moments to feel that gratitude.
Day 2: Think of some best times in your life. Pick the strongest and take a moment to re-experience that time, really imagine yourself back there again – write about it for one or two minutes.
Day 3: Think about what your future will be like if everything goes well, your dreams are realised. Allow yourself to dream and suspend any ‘yes but’ thoughts… Write about it for one or two minutes.
Day 4: Think of someone who is very important to you – imagine you have only this opportunity to tell them how much you care for them and the impact they have had on your life. Take a moment to write a few thoughts down.
Day 5: Think back over the last week and write down the things that went well for you – again big or small, it doesn’t matter.
At the end of this exercise, notice how you feel. What’s different? What are you aware of now that you hadn’t been before?
Perhaps you’ll notice some of the things that matters to you, that make you happy and that they aren’t necessarily big things. Smaller things, such as making time to pick up a hobby – painting, playing an instrument or writing, taking up a course or a local community project, spending more time outdoors or making time for your family and close friends.
We all long for happiness; wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us were able to say, ‘I’m happy’.
So let this years’ International Day of Happiness be an opportunity to appreciate just how fundamental being happy and healthy is for our mental and physical wellbeing, individually and as societies, and a catalyst to make the changes in our lives that need to happen.
If you’d like to chat more, do contact me. I offer a free 30-minute coaching taster session in Victoria Park, East London, or via phone or Skype.
Other related blogs: (When Fear Holds Us Back)