'Most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.'
I'm happy. My Email software has developed a frustrating problem, it's been raining
for days, the car has sprung a leak which will be very expensive to fix - and
I'm still happy.
How can I tell? How can anyone know when they're happy? What does happiness mean?
Predictably, the term means different things to different people at different
times in their lives. For myself, I like the definition 'An enduring feeling of
contentment and capability' - a sense that life is good on the whole, and that
you can deal with whatever happens.
do you really want?
Aristotle, many thinkers have concluded that everything we do is ultimately aimed
at achieving happiness. We save for a holiday, long for an impressive car, have
another drink, get to know popular people, strive for success - all because we
think it will make us happy.
friend once told me, while I was hoping to sign a recording contract, 'Careful
what you wish for - you may get it'. I was offered the contract, signed it and
almost immediately it became a disaster. Soon after, I was spending a lot of effort
on getting released from it.
tend to confuse what we actually want with things we think will get it for us
- and we can learn from our experience.
One sure way to increase your happiness quotient is by making sure the things
you do every day fit in with the things you find important - your values. I know
successful businessmen who neglect their families by working sixty-hour weeks.
When we discuss their careers I usually learn that all their effort is dedicated
to giving their families the very best: a private education, a lavish lifestyle.
I know wives of such men who feel lonely and unhappy and wish for a simpler, closer
way of living.
said 'Time is money' was wrong - you can lose money and make it again.
Those businessmen often find ways of creating a different balance between work
and home, often by learning to let go of things they had felt the need to control
and learning how to trust others more and share the load.
happiness is something
recently, during training for my work, I realised a vital point about happiness:
it isn't a thing or a place or something that happens to us, it's an activity.
Now I think of it in that way I feel better. I have a lot of choice in what I
do, so the chances are that I can do more happiness - hey, it works for me.
Author Andrew Matthews writes on happiness:
is like maintaining a nice home - you've got to hang on to your treasures and
throw out the garbage.'
In his book 'Finding Flow',
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how he and his team found ways of tracking just
how happy people are at different times of day. The key is 'Flow' - a combination
of high challenge and high skill. People experience flow in different ways, but
some things are common to all.
such times '
what we feel, what we wish and what we think are in harmony.
These moments are what I have called flow experiences
.. athletes refer
to it as being "in the zone"
me, flow is when I lose track of time because I'm so absorbed in what I'm doing.
tend to feel some flow when working, travelling, talking, socialising and having
sex. Our strongest experiences of flow tend to be our hobbies and sports, or when
responding to a great movie or performance (not passively watching, but on the
edge of our seats) or being swept away by music or an exciting football match.
opposite of flow would be deep in an apathetic trance, like the Royle family,
gaping at the TV. Flow goes with active, rather than passive enjoyment. It involves
stretching ourselves by operating near the limits of our skill.
do flow activities because we like doing them, rather than simply because we imagine
they will bring us some benefit. In the process we may experience frustration,
pain or expense, yet we still want to take part.
more I work with people to help them achieve what they want, the more I believe
that attention is the key. We all know the story of the optimist and the pessimist
looking at the same glass which contains water up to the halfway mark. To the
optimist, the glass is half-full, to the pessimist it's half empty. The optimist
sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.
looks for what's wrong, the other for what's right. What are they actually doing
that's different from each other?
When you concentrate on something repeatedly, nerve cells in your brain link up
to form networks that act a bit like electrical circuits, each designed to do
a particular thing. The thing each circuit does is an unconscious programme, better
known as a habit.
normally form habits through repetition. The first time you go somewhere you need
to look for street names, maybe read a map. When you're used to going there you
can do it without giving it any attention. The fact is, we spend most of our lives
doing our habits. This is fine. As long as your habits are in harmony with your
values, you tend to be pretty happy.
habits for old
your values and habits work against each other they can prevent you from growing
as a person, stop you from being able to relax or cause you to dislike yourself.
So is this just too bad, or can you really change?
it depends on how much of your attention you're prepared to commit to changing.
You see, you form habits by shining the light of your attention on doing something
until you can do it automatically. That leaves your attention free for the next
learning. When you want to change that habit, you need to give your attention,
first to unlearning, then to replacing it. (In my experience this is most effectively
and quickly done in trance.)
of my work is helping people to be in charge of the part of the brain that is
the switchbox for their attention so that they can focus on things that bring
The formula is very simple: whatever you put your attention on fills your life.
fact goes way beyond the subject of happiness. Top athletes use techniques of
mental rehearsal to prepare themselves for success. It's no accident that the
term Vision is so prominent in current thinking. When top performers are studied
closely, to find out what the vital difference is, they always create vivid images
in their minds of what they want.
seems that the more detailed and desirable the images are the more powerful the
effect. Naturally, they still have to do all the preparation and hard work but
those factors alone don't guarantee success, it's the combination of all the elements
that makes an outstanding performer.
it comes to happiness, high achievement may not be as important as the way we
choose to focus on certain aspects of our lives. Some people run a commentary
in their mind's ear. Whatever they do, they criticise themselves.
there you go again
typical! Whatever you do it goes wrong
Some people act as if they could read minds. They usually don't like what they
guess people are thinking about them.
did you see the way she looked at you? You know what that means don't
you? She thinks you're stupid
' or 'I wish I hadn't come
at me because I'm not as successful
little voices are auditory habits that were originally intended to help you, but
have now become unhelpful. You can probably stop doing them by ignoring the words
and turning the sound of the voice into something absurd - like Donald Duck, or
whoever makes you laugh.
I have worked with have used the voices of Eddie Izzard, Harry Hill, Frankie Howerd,
Victoria Wood and many others. Have a go and see what happens to how you feel.
worry - be happy
speaking, anxiety is imagining what you don't want and then responding in your
body as if it were happening in the present. Feeling down might involve focusing
on past unhappiness and feeling as if it was still happening or only hearing criticism,
are simplifications, but they reveal the kinds of processes that underly these
unhappy conditions. In each case, the individual is following habits of mind,
often learnt early in life when we are inexperienced and impressionable. The good
news is that these are only habits and habits can be changed.
many cases all you need to do is remember to do the behaviour you want for a new
habit every day for three weeks continuously and it will become automatic. Some
habits are easier to change than others. For losing the more persistent bad habits
there are specialist techniques to help you succeed.
don't mean to give the impression that everyone needs to go around smiling constantly.
Tragedies and disappointments happen and it's important to let yourself feel what
you feel at the time. Covering up your emotions can lead to bigger problems later
I mean is, just as you expect a cut to stop bleeding and heal after a while, it's
reasonable to expect to move on after grieving or hurting. Nobody needs to put
up with persistent unhappiness these days.
have learned more about how our minds work in the last thirty years than in the
whole of history and the news is encouraging.
your own power
have known a great many people who have changed their minds about who they are
and what they can reasonably expect from life.
woman I know decided that she could do more than work at menial tasks for low
wages by accepting that she could learn new things. When she told her boss why
she was leaving, the boss said 'You'll never amount to anything'. She signed up
for a training course and found she was right - she could learn. She enjoyed it
so much that she learned how to train others.
she earns well over double her previous income organising courses and trainers
and encouraging other people to believe in themselves. She altered the way she
saw herself - from 'I won't expect much so I won't be disappointed' to
'I have the right to choose how I live my life and how I respond to the world'.
isn't pretending, rather she has accepted her own power and chosen to wake up
to the possibilities life offers.
As Henry Ford said: 'Whether you think you can or you think you can't -
written by Graham Smith