This year my mother treated me to an ‘alternative’ birthday present. Those who know her, will know that this could mean anything! However, the gift turned out to be particularly inspirational and also rather beneficial in influencing this week’s small change. The gift was tickets for her and I to watch a screening of Happy: the movie. I expected to be greeted by a crowd of hippies and subjected to an hour and half of cheesy cinema that would likely induce even more cynicism in me than usual. Not so. Fellow cinema-goers were surprisingly normal and the film itself was highly informative and engaging. At the risk of this post resembling a film-review, I will merely summarise the aspects of the film that I found most relevant. By looking at things such as the Gross National Happiness index of Bhutan or the life expectancy of citizens of Okinawa, researchers believe that it is possible to measure happiness and therefore pinpoint those things that are likely to induce overall satisfaction in individuals. As suspected, research into happiness has revealed that the acquisition of more money, status, awards and material possessions does not make us happier in the long-run. Rather, it is close community and relationships, being grateful for what we do have and acts of compassion that promote true and lasting happiness.
At the end of the film I turned to my mother, tears streaked down my face, complaining that I was not supposed to cry in the Happy movie! Yet, watching people detail those things that make a difference to their lives and the lives of others stirs such a sense of hope in me that the only appropriate outlets are my tear-ducts. What I found most interesting was the proof that we are happiest when we are not just focussing on ourselves but on the well-being of those around us. Yes, personal growth is certainly an area in which we need to invest in order to maintain our satisfaction with our lives. But ambition is not everything. Rather, surrounding myself with the things that make me truly happy means I have so much more to give to those around me. My world is a better place when I am content. I operate from a place of joy and gratitude and my mood is infectious.
During the film, I suddenly started to recall all the things that inspire me; things that I pushed aside long ago when busyness began to dictate my routine. I find the sound of piano music incredibly emotive…not just the sound of it…playing it too. I love to dance. I danced for sixteen years and then I ‘grew up’. Nonsense. One is never too old to dance…just talk to this 75-year old! I get the warm-and-fuzzies from cuddling my dog. Thankfully he is pretty affectionate too otherwise his life would be one of relentless torment. The longer I am apart from my loved ones, the more I realise how much I am actually a family person. Yes, they drive me nuts sometimes but the world feels like a safer place when I know I have the love and support of those I cherish. I feel uplifted when I spend time with people who are inspirational and genuine. As I get older, the more I realise the uselessness of pursuing toxic friendships. And what really gets my Dopamine going is the idea that what I am doing is making a difference to someone else’s life!
I know that negative reactions have their place. I see a picture of a dying African child: it makes me sad. I am prompted to act on their behalf. But I am also far more effective when I am driven to respond out of a place of hope and expectation. So, my small change this week is to do more of the things that make me happy. Why do we spend so much time striving after those things that ultimately do not fulfil us? As Henry Rider Haggard puts it so eloquently in King Solomon’s Mines: ‘Truly wealth, which men spend their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.’ As for me, I would rather spend my time being happy.