I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. Partly because I would like to feel happier than I do. It’s not that I have a lot to be unhappy about, it’s more like what Gretchen Rubin describes in the opening to her inspiring memoir, The Happiness Project:
I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis, but I was suffering from a midlife malaise – a recurrent sense of discontent and almost a feeling of disbelief. “Can this be me?” I’d wonder as I picked up the morning newspapers or sat down to read my e-mail. “Can this be me?”…”Is this really it?” I found myself wondering, and answering, “Yep, this is it.”
Like Gretchen Ruben, I too have realised that I am not as happy as I could be or would like to be and things aren’t going to change unless I make them change. Easier said than done!
I remembered watching a BBC documentary series about happiness some years ago called Making Slough Happy. In the three-month social experiment, six specialists from a variety of disciplines worked with 50 volunteers from Slough. The aim was to plant the seeds of happiness in this core group and from there to improve the happiness levels of Slough through a ripple effect.
The team came up with a 10-point plan for happiness based on positive psychology techniques.
The 10 Steps to Happiness
- Plant something and nurture it
- Count your blessings – at least five – at the end of each day
- Take time to talk – have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
- Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
- Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
- Have a good laugh at least once a day
- Get physical – exercise for half an hour three times a week
- Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
- Cut your TV viewing by half
- Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day
At the close of the social experiment Slough residents reported feeling 33% happier. I have no idea if they are still happy and have been unable to find any follow-up studies.
Looking at the the 10 Steps they look like good old-fashioned common-sense. The kind of thing our grandparents’ generation probably did without thinking. They’re all things I do from time to time, but not all of them every day.
I think I’m going to give them a try. Starting with a treat!