Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts On Happiness

Yesterday we had an all-school staff and faculty meeting to kick off the new year. Part of the main presentation was about two recent books, one of which, "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor, led to a discussion about what creates happiness. (I haven't read this book, but our head of school did.) The gist of the book is that success doesn't create happiness -- happiness, instead, creates success.

Let me just say that I am not a fan of self-help books. When people start talking about success, my eyes glaze over.

But I was interested in the list of five factors that lead to happiness, as outlined in the presentation by our head of school (and I confess I'm not sure whether these came from the book or elsewhere):

-- Make a list of three good things a day
-- Find something to look forward to
-- Express your gratitude
-- Spend money (but not on stuff)
-- Cultivate work friendships

As I listened to the presentation it occurred to me why I'm so insistent about blogging (and before that, journaling). Not only does it create a record of my life, thereby assisting my own pathetically inadequate memory, but it fulfills both the first and the third items on that list. I usually try to keep my blog relatively positive, and I post all the time about the cool things I come across or the experiences I have in a given day. I don't know that I necessarily mention three good things every day -- let's not get crazy! -- but the number, I suspect, doesn't matter as much as simply acknowledging that good things happen regularly.

As for stuff, as my friends know, I have never been much of a stuff person -- but I seldom hesitate to spend money on traveling or experiences.

I don't mean to suggest I'm the paragon of happiness. But I think being able to find beauty in the commonplace, and being interested in what's around us, definitely leads to a more positive state of mind. The list is simplistic, like all self-help advice, but there is a kernel of truth to it.

And on that note, I am going to go walk the dog, who is lying across my lap in a rather awkward and insistent fashion, making it very hard for me to type.

(Photos: A back alley in South Hampstead.)


  1. I, too, am no fan of self help books. Most of them are completely unhelpful.

    Eyes glazing over at the mention of the word "success".

    I'm glad we try to figure out the key to happiness, but am not convinced anyone has really pinned it down yet.

    It makes me happy that you blog so regularly. Thank you.

  2. I think those are good rules to live by. The "spend money" thing sort of baffles me. I hate to spend money but I know it's because I don't work and feel as if I should have and should still be and thus, in some weird way, it's not mine to spend although my husband, for thirty years, has been trying to dissuade me of that idea. "I couldn't do what I do without you," he says.
    I think the part about having something to look forward to is very important. It is for me, at least.

  3. that last bit about the dog sounded like complaining...

  4. Blogging definitely keeps me conscious of the good in my life. As I began to type this, the sounds of hammering and power saws started up again in the apartment above us, an ungodly noise, but your post somehow reminds me that instead of being mad at it, how grateful I am that we have a roof over our heads, and lets hope whatever renovations are happening up there will not cause it to collapse.

    Happy Wednesday, friend.

  5. I am grateful...that your memory is poor and you must blog. YAY, we readers and lookers score! I am just along for the ride on this planet, and what a ride it is! Not taking it too seriously is the key to happiness,I reckon... in my little world.Please keep doing what you do, your blog is my absolute favorite.
    Also what Utah DOG said- hahahaaa

  6. I love your post today and upon more thought, I think my blogging also highlights the things I find that are good or enjoyable. I used to buy stuff but over the past 10 years have pulled away from that and tend to spend money on travel and entertainment (theatre, concerts and every now and then a good bottle of wine) instead. The word "success" always seems to equate to money in our part of the world and that's such a shame. I think real success is being happy with who your are and what you have even when a large bank account is not part of the equation.

  7. Reya: Success! Ugh!

    Ms. Moon: Knowing all you do around your house and in your yard and taking care of your family, I have no doubt that Mr. Moon is correct when he says he couldn't do it without you!

    Utahdog: I never said I didn't complain! :)

    Angella: Happy Wednesday! Renovations ARE a pain. At least your neighbors are taking care of their place. That's a good thing, right?

    Linda Sue: Not taking anything too seriously, including ourselves, is a good rule of thumb! I try to follow that one, too.

    Sharon: Yes! Your blog highlights the same sorts of things mine does -- the odd or unusual that you find out and about. Why are Americans so obsessed with financial success at the expense of all else? It's very strange.

  8. Your brother is funny. And it looks to me like Rachel is happy :)

  9. Despite the conflicts that periodically pop up every now and then on my blog and the often sobering nature of writing about my life raising a child with disabilities, I find the act of writing itself very joyous. I love the list that you put up -- even the "spend money" part, which I imagine is the opposite of squirreling away your money to prepare for the future. I definitely need the reminder to be more grateful for things -- I just have trouble with anything being made systematic.