In my last blog, I talked about happiness and a life worth living. So coming back to positive emotion and inevitably happiness. Positive emotion is “any emotion which leads to growth”. So for me, this brings happiness into question because like any emotion it can lead to procrastination, languishing, stagnation or to flourishing (growth). My belief is if we allow the rhetoric of “Don’t worry, be happy” or always be happy, we miss the ability to grow through the positive emotion of depression. If we are forever holding onto happiness, the plastic face we cease to operate as whole human beings, with the depth and breadth and indeed height of love and care. For if I am happy all the time, my bereaved friends will not want me around. So is happiness important, the answer is “yes” but it is not the master, so much as a base.
Laugh your way to happiness
I always remember reading Lesley Lyle’s book “Laugh your way to happiness” and being profoundly moved and struck by a new therapy she called Elliotology. She was being visited by a friend and her young son, who was called Elliot. He played in the garden and was just having fun. I was reminded of a time of recovering from my first wife’s death, I was stayng with her family for a while. One day her niece, Katie, made me build lego bricks. She would smile and laugh as she knocked the latest version down, then she would shout “build it bigger”. I would build it bigger, down it would come, laugh and smile. I was immensely proud of the tower that went from floor to ceiling, totally expecting for it to be smashed (and it was), but not this time before we took a picture. But for me this changed me, because as she laughed I laughed, my emotions moved on from depression to a smile and reminded me to of childhood and other happiness. So I think I discovered the truth behind the myth of happiness, happiness should be the building block on which other emotions and concepts should be built.
I was one of the lucky ones as a child I was offered many happy events and experiences to build upon and to return to in times when I need this different perspective. So by being authentic accepting my different emotional states I live a fuller life of wholeness; this being the corner stones, which allows me to face (or at times attempt to face) life’s challenges. So happiness for me is personal, but it also recognises and working with others to ultimately see happiness in myself and in others.
A journey to happiness?
This seems like a rambling post, but nonetheless it is important because ultimately we are all on a journey; the journey could be to happiness, but for me this would be an error, my journey I hope is towards wholeness and that is yet another question.
But some people do not have the base to be happy. An insight is to begin to build one, what is it that makes you smile? Slap stick comedy and giving yourself permission to feel and to watch the movie. A beautiful flow, making the decision to mindfully look at that rose. A thinking experience – do it! A feeling experience – store it and of course live it! My simple advice is aim to be whole and happiness will follow soon.
Promoting happiness in your life
How can you promote happiness in your life? There are many ideas, some as simple as remember to smile and if you are struggling with smiling, hold a pencil across your lips and lightly bite this. It makes the same muscles as you would be using to smile work, releasing endorphins. Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests gathering memories in a box, a happiness chest. Start looking through childhood pictures and gather those that makes you happy, for me there are pictures swimming in the sea, outside Grandmas and many more. As an adult, I have less pictures, but student graduations and pictures in restaurants as students complete their course, pictures of children and pets. Then you can add other things, for example a few lego bricks. Seligman suggests something similar, but different, in saying make this a computer file, it is easier to carry around. Finally, you could try writing a happiness journal, when were you happy, who was there and what was happening – why were you happy. Don’t spend long, and I would suggest adopting Pennebaker’s principle when writing, do not worry about grammar, spelling, etc. just write. He further suggests writing about the same event three times (1) Thinking, (2) Feeling and (3) Thinking and Feeling.
David Rawcliffe MAPP