Happiness Is. (continued)
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
- Making happiness a priority.
- Being authentic
- Letting go of judgments.
- Being present
- Being grateful.
- 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 immediately
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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