So…along with the solar eclipse which many of us couldn't see because of the cloud cover, today is also International Day of Happiness.
Are we happy yet? Are we supposed to spend a whole day being happy? Is that possible!!
It's quite an erratic thing, happiness. And what makes me happy, won't necessarily make you happy. And is it something we can 'control'?
A lot of the premise of today's International Day of Happiness is about connecting with other people. Here's something from the International Day of Happiness website:
Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking; and the epidemic of loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity. We could change this in a day if we all reached out and made at least one positive connection. For the International Day of Happiness, that's exactly what we're going to do.
Positive connection being the operative phrase.
Ah! The sun has just come out - way too late to see the eclipse, and yet sunshine makes me happy; watching the birds at the seed table makes me happy as does having a good conversation with a client, a good conversation with a friend, curling up with The New Yorker, cheering when my team wins, taking a walk without a purpose other than to walk, looking at beautiful pictures and listening to opera.
My happiness list would fill hundreds of pages and yours probably would too and we might have only a few similar things on our lists.
Happiness is ephemeral and yet I believe very strongly that we can indeed control happiness. We have the choice not in what happens to us or around us but in how we react to what happens to and around us.
I do agree that positive connection is vital and a great way to feel happy and create happiness in others. I also know that circumstances can come along and bump us off track, send us spiralling down into unhappiness and depression and then the world can seem quite bleak.
Here's the tricky part….how can we 'control' our feelings when something comes along and trips us up, when someone comes along and gives us a hard time or upsets us?
Well, we can't actually control our feelings - it's the next step that's crucial in the happiness stakes: what are we going to then do about it? This is classic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy stuff: something happens, we have a feeling about it and at that juncture we can feed the feeling with negative, unhelpful thoughts or we can begin to starve the feeling with helpful thoughts and maybe even produce a different feeling.
I know someone who is really critical and judgemental - there isn't a conversation that happens where she isn't down on someone or something and it colours what happens around her. It does seem as though she attracts really negative stuff disproportionally because of her attitude. Her life seems to be one big negative spiral and because of that I don't enjoy being around her even though underneath all that pessimism is an interesting, intelligent, even funny person.
There are definitely things that make us unhappy, that genuinely cause us distress and I for one, try to avoid happiness junkies - there's even a term for it - the tyranny of positivity. I'm not going to be happy all the time, so there!
However, I'd rather be happy most of the time and that lies within my power to make that happen.
So, today, let's indeed connect with others, find small things to be happy about and see if we can hold on to those feelings just a bit longer than normal. Let's see if we can turn around some of those negative feelings not by ignoring them, but by choosing a different way to respond to them.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory