I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently. It has been on my mind for a while and combined with the wedding of a friend of mine on Friday, Valentine’s Day on Saturday and an excellent weekend all round, I want to be able to recreate this recipe whenever I want it. So, what are it’s ingredients? How can I give all of my readers, friends and family the prescription?
Considering that happiness is one of those things that a lot of people quest after for most of their lives, there is surprisingly small amounts of scientific data about what happiness actually is. Generally it is considered a warm fuzzy sort of feeling and when you experience it, then you know it. That is not very helpful if we want to repeat the feeling. From my research though the area of psychology and philosophy are fruitful sources of definitions. I could go through each and every one I have ever read about, but to be honest, I am just going to take you through the theory of happiness that I like best. Hey, it’s my blog. I can do what I want!
Attitude of mind is essential when it comes to being happy. If you are in a negative thought pattern, or indeed have a negative outlook on life, you are not going to be happy. Take it from me. I used to be that negative person. Life is tough when you are convinced that the light at the end of the tunnel is the train that will eventually squish you on the tracks. Or worse, you are sure that at any moment the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off!
But being positive, changing the way you think about things can revolutionise how you feel. When I began to change my thought patterns I began to notice the little things. The flowers springing from the dormant winter ground, the blackbirds chattering in the trees, a bullfinch coming to roost on the hedge in the back garden and using a roosting pocket I had put out there last year, a robin sitting on the holly tree and telling me off for being in his territory, the dog and the cat getting on famously together, the recipe that I tried which came together with absolute ease and tasted fabulous. These things made me smile. Smiling can actually have huge impact on your own physical and mental health. It boosts your mood, it boosts your immune system, the act of smiling actually relieves stress, smiles are contagious and they need to be passed on to people, and smiling is actually an instinct we are born with. So smile, dammit. Smile!!
Psychologist Martin Seligman thinks that happiness is not just about momentary external pleasures. He uses the acronym PERMA to provide a list of things which he thinks creates happiness.
P stands for Pleasure. Things that give you pleasure will make you happy. Makes sense. I like to throw the ball for my dog and she loves to chase it. Watching her frolic in the garden and act like a puppy makes me happy. E stands for Engagement. Seligman thinks that you need to be engaged with someone or something else to be truly happy. I can see his point; with the above example, I would be engaging with the dog… but what about those of us who are true introverts? Sometimes the total lack of engagement with anyone else is what is the best thing! R is for relationships. Seligman reckons you need them, and okay, yes, I can see his point. I like being married and I like having friends and being adored by the dog and tolerated by the cats, but I am still in the corner rooting for introverts though. M stands for meaning. If you are doing something and that something has a reason for being done, that can be very satisfying. I can testify to the satisfaction of reconciling a financial account right to the penny. (I am a recovering accountant… sometimes it still sneaks out there occasionally!) And then the A in PERMA is for Accomplishment. I can completely testify to that… and it is more than half of the reason I am a listaholic!!
So, looking back on my weekend, did it stack up to the PERMA test? Yes, it did actually. My husband and I tackled a few jobs in the garden together. We really made a start in changing things around and making the space work for us. We spent 3 or 4 hours together in the garden, helping each other weed, dig things up, replant stuff. We are putting the hard and heavy work in at this end of the year so that we can appreciate it during the summer. We managed to achieve all of the jobs we set out to complete as well. Yup. All the areas of PERMA ticked off.
I am still going to keep to my positive mental attitude and smiling often as well though. Happiness is as contagious as smiles are.