Some cautionary remarks
Friday, April 4, 2014
A Quite Different Happiness Checklist
After a recent presentation of my developing ideas on Happiness, a colleague asked me, “have I thought of creating a happiness checklist?” It seemed such a good idea. But then, there are many neat little “Sunday Newspaper”, “coffee table” guides and “ten points to happiness” checklists out there, which you read one day and forget the next. For sure you may find some valuable little nuggets of advice in them, but I want to offer something more. After all, I have studied Happiness for many tens of thousands of hours, over some fifteen years. In fact, my PhD dissertation is on a new understanding and model of happiness, the Physics of Happiness, and so feel I have something new to say.
How to put all that work into a simple checklist without losing its meaning, or diluting it to the trivial? Maybe it’s not possible. However, I have made a tentative start.
Let’s begin by asking “What is happiness?” Keeping to basics, I’m going to define it as a positive feeling. Now ask yourself, is there a difference between happy times and a happy life? Some might answer that a happy life has more happy moments, and by and large that appears to be true. Social psychologists use the terms “positive affect”, or happy feeling, and “life satisfaction,” which incorporates some mental self-assessment or judgement. Because there is no objective “happiness meter” they use questionnaires to measure either or both of these as a “subjective well-being” rating, or SWB.
Ok, what is my simplified recipe for improving and developing happiness over time, or SWB? Well, if you really want me to cut to the bottom line, without all the details, explanations and exceptions, here are my headline points:
• Be honest; are you really willing to commit to happiness? If not, then this advice is not for you. You’d be better off with the nice simple stuff that they trot out in the Sunday newspaper supplements.
• Take your happiness pulse; gather some data. For one week, keep an hourly “journal” of what you are doing and how happy (or not) you feel doing it, on a simple 0 to 10 scale.
• Review your results; is this good enough for you?
• What kind of things do you like/dislike? How can you arrange to do more of the kind of things that you do like, and less of the kind of things you don’t?
• Consequences check; before doing anything, ask “what will the consequences of this be?” Make this a habit.
• Momentary pleasure vs. happiness check; ask “will this give me momentary pleasure or happiness?” (Look back from after the event, in terms of the consequences.)
• Don’t get full of yourself; When you have a happy feeling about something – explore what went well and learn.
• Mistakes are lessons; negative emotions – explore what you need to learn from this or to do differently.
• Get over yourself; accept that you are not like others - and they are not like you!
• Check your feelings, not your head; life is not a rational experience. Happiness is not the goal or point of life, it is a pointer in life – an inner guide indicating which way to go next. This might either lead to self-learning or to improving your circumstances, and the journey may get bumpy.
• Don’t pursue happiness; even though you will benefit and grow from experience. It’s rather like trying to step on your shadow – it will always elude you. The ultimate end point of cultivating sustainable happiness, which you may never attain, is to arrive at the point where you fully know by experience that your happiness is not influenced by circumstances, It is a way of being and doing, in total harmony with all parts of yourself.
Some cautionary remarks
Momentary happiness Don’t assume that instant gratification - momentary happiness - will necessarily lead to long term happiness…no matter how much of it. Because your momentary actions have consequence, and these consequences will be your next meal, if you follow my drift. So you would do well to work back from possible consequences, if you want to set up more future happiness, and a happy life.
Don’t trust your brain If only it were straightforward to assess future consequences, and how these will influence our happiness. Happiness author Daniel Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness) made a very good case for how we just can’t rely on our brains to get it right; to even remotely well imagine the future, or evaluate how happy it will have us feel.This sets a real challenge, doesn’t it? I have been pondering this, drawing on my experience of working with clients in my one to one personal change and therapy work, and on my research for my PhD dissertation on happiness, and I think I have some answers. Obviously it will take a lot more pace and time to get down to that level of practical detail, but I am just about ready to share it. The best way I can think of sharing this is in the form of teaching and coaching steps, available to access immediately on-line. Watch this space for the announcement of my all-new Happiness Training. Certainly get my latest happiness Blog posts by signing up for email updates at the top of the right hand column of this Blog.