Last night my co-leader Andy and I hosted week one of the Action for Happiness course Exploring What Matters. An eight week course designed to bring communities together to explore the things that really matter for a happy and meaningful life. The course involves watching videos, carrying out positive psychology interventions (things proven to make us happier!) along with lots of group discussion and sharing.
Backed by the Dalai Lama it aims to spread happiness and joy, starting with individuals within our communities, who commit to doing as much as they can to help others and reduce misery.
Each session has a theme based on big questions and last night along with our 20 attendees, we explored What really matters in life? Is it money or success? A thriving family home full of love and support? Or simply safety, warmth and food on the table? One of the first surprising facts we learnt is less than 1% of our happiness is affected by our income (our group guessed 10-25%). This is measured by government polls. So even though the US economy has experienced decades of strong economic growth, there has been no increase in the average levels of happiness over the past 50 years. Pretty shocking don’t you think? Clearly our current culture which values success and wealth over all else, is fundamentally flawed. Why aren’t we prioritising the stuff that actually does impact our happiness?
As a group we imagined ourselves towards the very end of our lives, looking back on all the things we’ve done with our time on earth – the things we were most proud of and grateful for. Then we asked what advice our future selves would give us now about what really matters in life and made some notes. (What advice would your future self give you about what really matters? Any surprises?) This powerful exercise reminded me of a great article by Susie Steiner in the Guardian a few years back titled Top five regrets of the dying.
Richard Layard, co-founder of Action for Happiness and Head of the Wellbeing Programme at London School of Economics, believes happiness is the ultimate good and caring about the happiness of others is the starting point for a better society. We watched his thought-provoking Tedtalk found here and then shared our own opinions and ideas about what really matters and what actions we can take to be a bit happier! Our group, a warm and open bunch from all walks of life, was full of creative and interesting ideas some of which I would love to share with you –
- Reduce our desires, lower our expectations and therefore, simplify our lives
- Be kind – it goes a long way!
- Accept sadness and negative emotions – i.e. accepting that negative emotions are a natural part of being human and everyone experiences them so they shouldn’t be avoided or pushed aside
- Stop trying so hard and cultivate contentment
- Trust others
- Increase the focus on emotional intelligence in both our culture and education system
- Realise the negative impact of social media and how much we compare ourselves to others
What might you add to this list? What’s one small action you’ll take this week?
Next week’s topic is What actually makes us happy? More information can be found here.