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Happiness Is (Part 2)

Helping Your Life Work

Volume 7, Issue 7

June, 2012

Dear Reader,

This newsletter first appeared in August 2006. I thought you might be interested to hear some more ideas on the subject of happiness.

Click here for Happiness Is (Part 1)

Last month, I asked the question, “What makes us happy?’ and found one interpretation through the book “Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman. This month, I read about a study done by social psychologist Adrian White, at the University of Leicester, in which 178 countries were compared to determine their levels of “happiness.” Dr. White suggested, in contrast to Dr. Seligman’s beliefs, that health (based on life expectancy), wealth (based on GDP per capita) and (access to) education did influence our levels of happiness. I thought the topic interesting and important enough to explore it a little further this month. I leave it to you, dear reader, to come to your own conclusions.

Many great thinkers and writers have given their view of what constitutes happiness. Albert Schweitzer found it in his work: Buddha in service to others; Sophocles in wisdom; Aristotle in self-sufficiency; Roosevelt in achieving; Emerson in productivity; the Dalai Lama in compassion; Susan B. Anthony in independence; George Sand in love; and Albert Camus in a life lived. One can see from this list, that happiness is a very individualized response. It can be as varied as the people who experience it.

Therapist and author Barry Neil Kaufman has made a career out of living a happy life and teaching others to do the same at his Option Institute in Massachusetts. He believes that “Happiness is a Choice” that can be achieved by following six basic principles:

  1. Making happiness a priority
  2. Being authentic
  3. Letting go of judgments
  4. Being present
  5. Being grateful
  6. Deciding to be happy

Others have found happiness through “voluntary simplicity,” that is, by reducing the number of “things” in their lives and adopting a simpler lifestyle. According to a recent article in USA Today (March 23, 2006), after a group of friends decided to adopt the simple life for 6 months, buying nothing but food, toiletries and medicine, media attention to their decision prompted 700 others to join the group. Journalist Judith Levine wrote a book about her experience in “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping,” in which the author gives up shopping and discovers the best year of her life.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, “Finding Flow,” the author suggests that happiness is attached to living in the here and now and becoming completely engaged in what we do. He believes that many of us alternate between living a life of obligation or passivity. To get the most out of life, he contends that we need to have dreams, set goals, take risks, challenge ourselves, and commit to living a full and active life.

Often, when I meet clients who are feeling unhappy with their job or a life situation, I ask them to write a list of 20 things that they used to enjoy doing, but haven’t done in a long time. Then they are asked to choose one to do that week, with the option of adding others as the weeks progress. They often report that in doing so, they begin to feel better and gain some perspective on the issue at hand. Is there anything that you haven’t done in a long time that would give you pleasure? How about trying it out this week? Has your definition of happiness expanded after reading this? Have you found any new ideas that you would like to add to your repertoire?

Here’s to your happiness.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”

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