Is your happiness adding up?
How happy are you and what does it take to be genuinely happy in life? Livability’s resident wellbeing expert Andy Parnham shares the ingredients to a happy life.
I wonder how many articles you’ve read about happiness? They seem to come at us so often that it’s easy to regard them as trivial or trite – “Seven ways to become instantly happy” is frankly a bit of a turn-off!
But there has been a lot of serious research into the subject over the past twenty years, uncovering significant ways in which we can grow and develop our wellbeing. It turns out that genuinely happy people live healthier lives than others, with greater resilience, richer relationships and even stronger immune systems. But that begs lots of questions, like “How do I become happier?” Well, a lot depends on what we mean by happiness.
The three categories of Happiness
One leading psychologist, Martin Seligman, gives us three main categories of happiness:
- Pleasure – mostly derived from material things, from ice cream to smart phones, cars and clothes.
- Engagement – rather than simply consuming pleasures, we participate in activities that demand more from us, e.g. jobs, hobbies or relationships.
- Meaning – attachment to something or someone lying beyond me and mine, with the emphasis not on me at all.
Finding the right focus
To achieve a balance we need to engage with all three. However, for most of us, one is far easier than the others. Pleasure focuses on ourselves and our desires, but engagement and meaning demand much more from us. For example, how much effort does it take to maintain a flourishing relationship over forty years? We live in a society that overdoses on pleasure and can often struggle with maintaining the focus that engagement requires. Exploring meaning can present huge challenges to many of us, too.
Engaging with the big questions
Many of us are in need of time to explore these topics. We live busy lives, struggling with urgent demands and issues. Livability’s four-week Happiness Course – which is designed to support churches in having meaningful conversations about happiness and wellbeing with their community – offers the space to reassess priorities and make change. As course participants set aside time to reflect on the importance of relationships, forgiveness, meaning and purpose, they begin to experience those “aha” moments that bring insight and understanding for their lives.
The Happiness Course
Livability’s Happiness Course has trained many people to run the course themselves in their locality. Their feedback is inspiring. Here are some examples from both leaders and participants:
- ‘The Happiness Course was a significant part of this person’s testimony. The course was the stepping stone to them considering how active faith makes a difference to life and happiness.’
- ‘Many people came with a number of long term struggles, including depression. Some of them hadn’t been out of their home in many months. Over the 4 weeks the group really bonded and shared deeply.’
- ‘It’s totally changed my idea of success. Before, I thought success was a business and a big house, but now I know success can be being a good mother, having a successful marriage.’
Biblical Principles at heart
Underpinning the course, biblical principles are at work. The Bible focuses on the importance of giving thanks at all times, and research also confirms the benefits of gratitude. People who live grateful and appreciative lives experience benefits at all levels, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Whilst it may seem that those who experience on-going difficulties might be justified in venting frustration- practicing gratitude as a regular part of one’s routine can reap greater benefits. Research findings on gratitude practice resonate strikingly with that list of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’
Small changes can make a big difference
The chance to reassess priorities can bring about significant change, such as offered in the Happiness Course. For some of us, these larger changes require more than we are able give. The good news is that often small shifts in our routine can enhance our wellbeing. Some changes may be basic, concentrating on our physical health, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating a balanced diet. Sharing your intent with trusted people and spending time planning how you will do this will reap rewards.
Changing your environment and relationship with technology is a way to make a change: taking a walk in a natural habitat; connect with the real world and not just the one inside your head. Switch off your smart phone and engage with the world and people as they really are. Set yourself limits on when you use your technology and replace the time with a practice that offers relaxation, more than stimulation.
Nurturing relationships is crucial to wellbeing. Is there someone you’ve drifted away from, perhaps through unresolved conflict? Initiating contact again may just bring hope into that relationship again. Practising acts of kindness towards others, spending money on them, visiting them in their homes – the list goes on and on.
Reflective Practices: In our busy lives, taking time to just be; spending fifteen minutes a day to practise gratitude; another fifteen to enjoy reading a passage of the Bible and entering into the lives portrayed there.
The conclusion? If you want to have a satisfied and fulfilled life, there are two crucial ingredients you really can’t do without. Number one: nurture and develop healthy relationships; and number two: discover meaning and pursue purpose throughout your life.
Want to know more about The Happiness Course?
Livability runs regular one-day training events in a variety of locations designed to give you everything you need to run the Happiness Course in your community. The next one is on November 15th in London. Find out more on our events page here.