Happiness. At this time of year, more than ever, we seem to be bombarded with ideas of happiness and told where we need to go and what we need to buy to be happy. As we strive for that elusive happy there are lots of people ready to tell us what’s missing in our lives – the things that will provide that extra bit of happiness we’ve been missing.
The Christmas ads roll out, full of smiling families all laughing merrily over their glasses of champagne and beautifully lit Christmas dinners. Is this what we need to do to be happy? Add some posh candles to the table and – hey presto! – the happiness factor is ramped up by at least ten points, supposedly.
And then there are the adverts for kids’ toys. Every one promises to make that child’s day “extra special”. Our children are told they need all this stuff to be happy. The latest Frozen toy will complete their life. All kids need an iPad or an Elsa costume to be properly fulfilled. You’re a bad parent if you can’t provide this for your kids. Shame on you – don’t you want your child to be happy?
I know as you’re reading this right now you’re probably shaking your head and thinking, “Of COURSE I know money doesn’t buy happiness”. And yes, I know you’re not stupid. But, tell me, when was the last time you saw a picture on Instagram and felt a stab of life envy? Or, if not Instagram, then Facebook, Twitter or your favourite blog or magazine? We’ve all been there. Wanting something we don’t have – whether it’s the holiday, the perfectly co-ordinated toddler outfit, the new shoes or the swanky night out in a trendy bar.
I’m no psychologist, but I watched a documentary last night that really hit home. It basically rubber stamped everything I’ve been thinking recently to do with happiness. Happy is a documentary about the science of being happy. It found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that some of the happiest people in the world are not the ones with the most money or the most stuff. Instead, they’re people who are part of thriving communities, are healthy, giving and have a vibrant network of friends and family.
The happy people in the documentary weren’t stressing about how much money they had or didn’t have. Each happy person interviewed had a different “happiness ingredient” – maybe it was being active and outdoors, or living in a communal environment, or volunteering for charity. In each and every case though, they were genuinely happy – not just putting on a happy face for the sake of a Facebook photo.
When you think about it, this is all pretty obvious stuff I guess. But, for me, it’s something I think I’d kind of lost sight of until recently. Babies can be a great reminder of the important things in life. I’ve been so caught up in looking after my little family and cuddling my new daughter I haven’t had time to fret over the inconsequential stuff.
Not being online as much has meant I’ve not been drawn into the daily blog dash over stats, or followers or work commissions. I know that it feels good to get a new commercial opportunity via my blog, or get commissioned for a new piece of work, but is it the key to happiness? No – not mine, at any rate.
Over the last week, these are the things that have made me happy:
- Seeing my baby smile for the first time.
- Walking my daughter to school on Super Hero day and seeing how pleased she was with her distinctly home-made, average costume.
- Playing a family game of Pooh Sticks over a bridge on a muddy woodland walk. (I’ve just realised this photo makes it look like the baby is about to throw a stick – that’s actually her sister’s hand!)
- Spying my husband having a special moment cuddling and chatting to our 5 week old baby.
- Chatting to my best friend on the phone for an hour while I have a bath (she knew I was in the bath – it’s OK.)
Nothing on that list has anything to do with money, social status or winning at the internet. It’s all pretty mundane, average stuff. But it’s the stuff I will remember in years to come.
And that, for me, is the recipe for happiness. Remind me of that next time I’m getting bogged down in the inconsequential stuff.
Tell me – what makes you happy?