I've read a great many books on the topic of happiness and gratitude in recent years. It's wonderful that there appears to be a definite shift in people's perceptions or expectations of what defines happy-ness*. No longer do we assume that happiness is limited to those with bucket-loads of money, or those who live in a state of constant hysterical laughter. We have grown enough as a people to understand that different people express and feel happiness in different ways.
'Anthony Robbins'-type motivators, amazing stories of survival broadcasted daily on the evening news, inspiring publications like "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert and hundreds of websites and blogs dedicated to teaching us how to be happy have contributed to this 'happiness movement'. I think all this information is great, but some of it should come with a warning. Happiness doesn't necessarily look like XYZ on everyone. It's like a 'one size fits all' dress...really? You can't necessarily tick off a list of criteria to determine how 'happy' you are. Seriously, if it was that easy to be happy, we'd all be happy. Simple as that. If it was that easy to change your life and your attitude, there wouldn't be thousands of books on the topic; and Amazon would go broke.
Before you suggest I take a happy pill and have a lie down, or force me to read The Dalai Lama's "The Art of Happiness", I'm not saying it's impossible to be happy, just that more awareness could be made to make those of us genetically pre-disposed to feeling a little under-happy - a little more normal (is there such a thing anyway?).
There was a study published recently in the Journal of Human Genetics where researchers from the London School of Economics discovered the "happiness gene". Basically you CAN blame your parents for your shitty disposition! Add to that some interesting childhood programming and you get to finally understand that at 40-something years of age, plastering a goofy smile on your face 24/7 does not a happy person make.
Like most things in life, happiness comes in a wide array of shades and disguises. There are varying degrees of cheerfulness based on oh so many variables. Some people are just naturally pre-disposed to thinking the glass is half full. I wish I was one of them, but I tend to get thirsty and find myself with a glass less than half empty. In all fairness, it is impossible to be happy 100% of the time...unless your name is Barbie. But I do find it an interesting display into the human psyche that two people experienceing similar circumstances can have completely different reactions. Paul de Galder, for example has lost a hand and half a leg to a shark attack in Sydney Harbour whilst doing his job as a Navy diver. Where you would assume he would take a harsh line against all sharks and all future diving experiences, he rehabilited in record time, became a stronger individual in mind and body, and is ready to tackle the ocean again. He takes the opportunity to go on the motivational speaking circuit and is admired my a nation. Inspiring, yes. The norm, I'm not so sure.
I think it's a breath of fresh air that the 'happiness movement' is spreading around the world like a good flu virus. We need a little something to take our minds off civil wars, global financial crisis', third world poverty and natural disasters. I think it is important to help people achieve a sense of comfort and satisfaction with their own life - exactly where it is. It's not always necessary to change or want more. I think it puts unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure of people to fit a text-book definition of happy.
It doesn't take a genius to know that money can't buy happiness. If it could, I would've taken out a bank loan to buy it (instead of that ridiculously expensive - but oh so beautiful - mid life crisis Lexus). I wasn't lucky enough to catch the Dalai Lama on one of his previous visits to Australia, but this is a man who is intrinsiquely happy and only has 13 possessions to his name. 13! I have 13 half-empty (notice I didn't automatically state they were half full, lol) bottles of shampoo and conditioner in my bathroom.
Mindfulness is a lovely practice. It is an easy to do, soft place to fall, kind of medium. It involves nothing more than stopping and being. Stopping all the sadness, sorry, fears and anxieties. Ceasing the thoughts of what tomorrow nights dinner will be. Ending the thoughts of how we could have handled a situation better yesterday. And just being. In the moment. If you are painting your nails, rather than belittling yourself for picking out the wrong colour, or doing a less than polished job (excuse the pun); admire the pigments in that nail varnish, wonder at the way it makes you feel girly and pretty, and just sit back and relax as it dries.
Obviously being mindful can get a little tricky if you're in the midst of toilet training a toddler, or mourning the loss of a loved one, or in the middle of a divorce; but there is something to be said about just feeling what it is you feel in the moment and experiencing that (both good and bad) and not bringing in extra baggage to an already difficult situation. Mindfulness is good for soothing the soul.
Being grateful for the things we already have in our lives is yet another easy habit to establish. We can elevate our happiness levels with acknowledgement of the good that is right under our noses. The Law of Attraction states you get more of what it is you think about most. Therefore, focussing on the lack just highlights the negative like bad fluorescent lighting does in a changeroom. Periodically I keep a gratitude journal. Writing down a minimum of three things I am happy for each day. During the early days, i'm embarassed to say I struggled to find three. Now, I have to stop myself at a dozen or so.
Being grateful does help to put one in a place of positiveness, but it is not a cure for depression. Like any or all of the above sugestions, we mustn't allow ourselves to feel inadequate or ashamed if we aren't all pep and cheer every minute of every day. Perception is a craaaazy game. The sun doesn't have to be shining for you to feel warmth radiating from your skin, but it sure as hell helps. I have flown enough times through storm clouds (both figuratively and literally) to know that there is ALWAYS blue sky above them...but when you have a sad core, it is difficult to feel the heat on an overcast day.
I recently came across The Happiness Project over at Seven Cherubs . Naomi suggested a lovely challenge to help us all be mindful of the goodness in our lives. To keep a one-sentence-per-day journal of all the things we are personally grateful for, for a period of one month. Unfortunately I missed the boat on that particular challenge. (I'm a perpetual late-comer to jump on any bandwagon...I am by nature an observer first, before diving on in...Twitter? Facebook? What's that??) I only discovered this post a few days ago.
However, it did inspire me to write this post and I hope you will allow me to include a few gratitudes of my own from the past wee while.
• The sounds of my house when my kidlets are home (not unlike the smells, they're not always great, lol) but I'll take the attempts at heavy metal singing, farting & whinging about homework (often simultaneously!) any day.
• Having said that...knowing the offspring are safe and well with their Dad and Step Mum, enjoying the peace & serenity that can only truly be enjoyed after experiencing the first point above!
• The way the light dances across the water at the lake near my house where I spend every available minute reading, writing or just plain being.
• The way the heat on your skin from pure, joyous sunshine can make any mood instantly brighter.
• Having a hug and a kiss from my teens without even having to ask. Who still does that at their age? And yes...even in public!
• The way an already beautiful but clear plain crystal can reflect light and magically come to life and create rainbows of colour, just divine!
• The refreshing shock of exquisite relief from the quick spray of your garden hose on a hot summers day; you know, when you point the nozzle straight up in to the sky and wait for the droplets to fall on you.
• The therapeutic sound, smell and feel of an ocean wave crashing on the shore. Salty, fresh, heavenly even; lets you know your alive.
• Even though I dislike spiders with a passion, the magical strong webs they build which are a feat of engineering, especially when glistening with morning dew.
• A glass of ice-cold, thirst quenching water on a ridiculously stinking hot day; and reverse a delicious mug of steaming hot chocolate on a freezing cold morning.
• There was nothing sweeter than patting the soft velvety fur behind the ears of my beloved 15-year old Rowdy dog - rest in peace little buddy.
I could honestly go on for days. I've filled quite a few gratitude journals in recent times. And it really is amazing the power a remembered gratitude can yield. Right then, I'm off to hug my kids and call my Mum. Hugs to you all xxx
*Happy-ness. Spelt this way it seems to scream Happy sunbeams. Like feeling happy is a way of being, a 'ness' rather than a verb. And this makes me happy!