Finding happiness in seven days

a photo of me talking with a colleague. I am laughing out loud.How happy are you? I didn’t really have a clue, so I decided to dedicate all my #DoDiffDaily’s this week to finding out more. My first new activity was to undertake some online happiness tests – just how happy am i?

I took three – one from the BBC, which gave me a score of ‘Satisfied’:

People who score in this range like their lives and feel that things are going well. Of course your life is not perfect, but you feel that things are mostly good.  Furthermore, just because you are satisfied does not mean you are complacent. In fact, growth and challenge might be part of the reason you are satisfied. For most people in this high-scoring range, life is enjoyable, and the major domains of life are going well – work or school, family, friends, leisure, and personal development. You can draw motivation from those areas of your life that you are dissatisfied with.

Then the Oprah test, which reported that I am ‘getting there’. It said: This is a healthy score. To take your happiness to the next level, you need to recognize the difference between chasing after happiness and choosing happiness.  Ok, I get that.

And the happiness test on Psychology Today, which score me as an ‘optimistic person’ as my outlook on life, my results say, is very hopeful, I feel loved and supported by my social network, I possess good coping skill and I am not a cynical individual.

It was interesting to see what they questions were about, obviously focusing on key factors in happiness determination. The same features occur again and again:

  • Give real time to social relationships
  • Have an important role such as work, homemaker or grandparent (happiness linked to this being meaningful and important, not linked to financial gain)
  • Have a secure religious or spiritual life, focus on learning and growth, and productive leisure pursuits
  • Be clear what your values are, and live them
  • Have a temperament which is optimistic
I still felt I didn’t know enough, so I decided to do some ‘happiness research’. For something that is supposed to be the main aim in life – being happy – I’ve realised I know very little about it. I’ve never actually taken the time to research happiness before.

Where to go for research? I chose the TED talks – they usually help.

I started with Dan Gilbert and The surprising science of happiness. He reckons happiness is not about good or bad things happening to us as we tend to react the same overall anyway – it’s a concept he calls impact bias, our tendency to over estimate the hedonic impact of future events. Something happens and we reckon it will make a big difference. Two months on and we end up feeling just the same. And we can synthesize happiness too – people who are happy by nature then kind of ‘fit the facts’ around them to evidence that. Basically his talk is a call to just get on with life, and enjoy living it, regardless of the circumstances that get thrown your way.

Next up was Matthieu Richard: On the Habits of Happiness. First he differentiates between happiness and pleasure, seeing the former as well being, a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, an underlying emotion that allows others to layer on top. And how to achieve it? Practice, meditation, mind training, mindfulness. He’s a very happy monk!

Then Michael Norton: How to buy happiness. Basically spend money on other people.  It doesn’t matter how much or how worthy the cause. Its been scientifically proven that you feel good when you give.

a lake, with clouds aboveYou can tell I had time on my hands on this day. I also looked at Nancy Etcoff: On Happiness and Why we want it. She reminded me that we need five positive interactions to counter one negative. She also put a word to a notion that I really find true for me – the restorative power of being in nature – apparently it’s called biophilia, and is all a bit Avatar. Suits me.

Stefan Sagmeister: 7 rules for making more happiness showed that age, health, location, money, colour – none of it impacts on happiness. According to Stefan, relationships matter – friends, partners. And doing stuff you love in the way you like to do it. Makes sense to me.

And my final piece of research was Matt Killingsworth and Want to be Happier, Stay in the moment which was quite self explanatory – people are less happy when they are ‘mind-wandering’, or not being in the present moment. He even has a site to gather evidence on this. So hope you are not thinking about anything else right now. Focus! Apparently it’s the way to be happy!

So how could I tap into increased happiness? On day three, I decided to dedicate some time to finding words that make me happy. I love language but have never before sat down and tried to work out which words really resonated with me in a ‘happy’ kind of way. I was looking for ‘trigger’ words – ones that I could call upon when feeling momentarily down to perk me back up again.

My contenders were cake, shiraz, Columbo, holiday, bargin and ‘nanny Jo Jo’s house’ (said in the sweet tiny voice of my granddaughter)… I’d also like to add bath, bubbles and winning to the mix. Sound-wise I like giggle and puppy too.

I also downloaded the instant peptalk app but it made me more annoyed than happy over the week – although as I write this, it is reminding me: ‘Be careful not to do something permanently stupid because you are temporarily angry, stressed, scared, tired or hungry’. Not a bad thing to bear in mind.

the edge of my eye with wrinkled skinI wondered, can we ‘fake’ happiness? Does the whole ‘when you feel down just try smiling’ thing work? Apparently so, it’s not so much about smiling, its about crinkling of the outer corner of the eye (the orbicularis oculi). I spent day four deliberately cricking to see if it made me feel happier. I think it just made me feel a tad more self conscious to be honest.

On day five I did a good deed. Not that I’ve never done anything deliberately good before, but I’ve never sat down specifically to give away money. I wanted to find a project to support that was new to me, and not connected to any of my friends or associates. Like many people, my social media feeds are full of options to donate to Fund-it and Kickstarter to support my mates, and I’m happy to do what I can there. But this was different, I wanted to find something to support that was entirely new, simply to see if it would make me feel good.

screen shot of the photography bookI enjoyed the search, and ultimately decided on the Brilliant and Resilient photography book. It’s a global project to collect powerful portraits and personal stories from 50 disabled women activists from 41 countries. It ticks many of my boxes – disability, arts, empowerment and seems achievable. I’ve since found out someone I know is to be featured in it – small world after all!

Did I feel happier? Yes. It gives me a buzz to give. I feel good at the thought of contributing to something other than myself. I don’t really need another dress, meal out, pair of shoes. This takes the money that might have been frittered away, and ensures it is used purposefully.

a collection of small bottles of essential oilsOn day six I decided to try and create the scent of Happiness so I mixed up those essences most often mentioned in relation to feeling good – a blend of Bergamot, Ylang yang, Grapefruit, Geranium, Frankincense, Orange, Sandlewood, Rose and Neroli. I bathed in it, spritzed it and even put some tissues with some drops on into my packing so I can take it with me when at work.

Not sure whether it’s the smells themselves or if they trigger by association but it does seem to make a difference. I spent the day catching notes as I moved around, and each time it reminded me of my happiness quest! I’ve created a little bottle of my blend to take with me – instant happiness!

My final day to Be Happy – and oddly I felt slightly down and deflated. I had load of things planned – things to eat, to do, to try but quite frankly couldn’t be arsed. It was as thought the pressure to Be Happy was just too much and my body gave up. So instead, I went upstairs and had a lay down. Very rarely do I just remove myself from my family and announce ‘I’m going for a break’ without making some excuse – off to have a bath or something. But in this case, this was the thing that was different.

And boy did it work. 20 minutes of being on my own, with Kenny Rogers playing Glastonbury. A little space and time to just be and not do, just what I needed. Came back to the fray feeling happier than ever!

So did I find happiness in my seven days of doing different things? Well, I know from my test scores that I’m quite happy already so I suppose the question should be did I increase my happiness? Actually I think yes. The research bit has really stuck with me. Happiness isn’t the same as pleasure, and its not about getting or having things, achieving this or doing that. It’s about a state of mind, a way of approaching life.

For me, happiness is about being open to people – and what they have to offer. Check out these two video clips sent me during the week – each pushed me up a few notches on the happiness scale, in themselves and in the thought shown by their senders – C2C’s Happy and The Time You Have (In JellyBeans).

I do think there are ways we can put ourselves in the best place to be happy and so at the end of my seven day exploration, these are my five top tips:

  • Look after yourself – stop eating rubbish, drinking too much and get plenty of sleep.
  • Spend quality time with others – you have to nurture relationships to get the best out of them.
  • Spend quality time with yourself, meditate if you can, or at least spend some time each day by yourself just quietly reflecting and checking in with yourself.
  • Go outside as much as possible, connect to the weather, the seasons and your surroundings, whatever they might be.
  • And of course, do something different everyday!

All my own photos apart from the one at the top which was taken by the amazing Geoff Wilson and if you want to follow the blog along, do sign up at the bottom right of the screen (and if you want to find out more about me, check out my other site www.joverrent.com)

One thought on “Finding happiness in seven days

  1. Pingback: Five tips to building personal resilience for those in the creative sector | Jo Verrent

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