Clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Kenner hosts a radio show in America called The Rational Basis of Happiness where she has talked about the enigma of happiness. She says that ‘There are many people who we think should be happy but are not’ and that ‘There are many people who we think should be miserable but are not…. Some people who seem to have nothing are very happy. Some people who seem to have everything are not. Yet some jet-setters seem happy while some moral crusaders have become miserable grouches.’ Happiness can indeed seem very unpredictable, inconsistent and impossible to measure.
We know that money can’t buy it, but on the other hand we have a sneaky suspicion that a hefty salary rise would definitely raise our spirits; well Richard Branson always seems to have a smile on his face (in spite of all his cash!). We also like retail therapy because it gives us a great buzz but we also know deep down that a new lipstick, a new bag and even some very fancy La Perla undies can only bring us a temporary blast of the feelgood factor.
Would more money, sex, status and power do it for you? Do you think that if you had more of these things in your life that your happiness levels would increase? It has been suggested that our culture is fixated on how to get more of these four items. And yes, you will no doubt agree that these things certainly sound pretty attractive. However all the scientific research data points to a rather different conclusion.
In 2004 the New Economics Foundation published a well-being manifesto for government and policy makers. The think tank stated that : ‘…..despite unprecedented economic prosperity we do not necessarily feel better individually or as communities. For example data shows that whilst economic output in the UK has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, happiness levels have remained flat.’ The report shows that while genes and upbringing influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (income and environment) only affect about 10%. After basic needs are met extra material wealth has little or no effect on life satisfaction or happiness. The remaining 40% is accounted for by our outlook and activities: our relationships, friendships and jobs, our engagement in the community, and our involvement in sport and hobbies. These findings have great implications for us and for our future happiness because they mean that we really can take control of our wellbeing by simply altering our outlook and behaviour: the ball is in our court; we only need to make the right moves.
As you might imagine, the Dalai Lama’s recipe for happiness does not include a trip to the shops and makes absolutely no mention of sex, status or power. He says that: ‘The purpose of our life needs to be positive…. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities – warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful, and more peaceful – happier.’ As we contemplate these words of wisdom we can begin to see happiness in a slightly different way. Yes, we are part of the material world and of course we can enjoy the goods on offer but we need to remember that happiness is an inner state; we can never find it outside of ourselves in any shape or form. Your happiness is a feeling within you; it is a state of mind and is a response to what is happening around you. The great news is that you can learn to feel this response whenever you wish, just by changing your way of thinking and acting with more positive awareness.
Copyright © Lynda Field 2015
From Lynda Field Life Coaching at http://www.lyndafield.com
Adapted from my book, Fast Track to Happiness.