It’s sad that we’re not that happy

It’s sad that Australia isn’t entirely happy. That includes people at work.

In the 2019 World Happiness Report, the annual United Nations landmark survey on the state of global happiness, Australia slipped from being the 9th most happy county in the world to the 11th.

To be happy, do we need to move to the happiest country in the world, a title Finland has won twice in a row?

No we don’t.

What we can do is understand happiness—what is it, how we search for it and what the science is behind it. It’s also helpful to remember that the study of happiness isn’t a modern phenomenon. Moral philosophers over the centuries have debated and written about happiness, including Plato, Aristotle and, more recently, the Dalai Lama, including in his book The Art of Happiness.

‘Everyone wants happiness and there’s an entire industry built around giving it to people,’ says Dr Kim Vella, an accredited executive career coach. ‘While many people turn to self-help books for happiness, there are better ways, including learning more about, and applying, the hard science behind the topic. Coaching sessions can also help and quicken the pace.’ [New clients can start with a free 30-minute coaching session with Kim.]

Kim is midway through a Science of Happiness course, by University of California’s Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (yes, there is such a beast). The course zeros in on the fundamental finding from positive psychology which is that ‘happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good’.

‘We can adopt practical strategies for tapping into and nurturing our own happiness,’ says Kim, ‘including research-basked activities that create a greater sense of wellbeing.’

Here are some practical strategies, which will help you feel more happy at work, at home, and with life in general.

Gratitude journal

Keeping a gratitude journal can make you happier than you think, says the Greater Good in Action Center, which devotes itself to science-based practices for a meaningful life. While we’ve always thought that we must practice gratitude every day, this isn’t the case. ‘Sciences suggests that less is more beneficial,’ says Kim. ‘Indeed, gratitude journaling a few minutes at least once a week for at least two weeks can start to have an impact.’ Here’s how to do it.

Don’t waste time on what doesn’t work

If something isn’t working, despite your best efforts, it isn’t working. Instead of trying to control it or banging your head against the wall, adapt your own thinking and move on. Pretty soon you’ll have forgotten about the issue, which is great because it sure wasn’t making you happy. Give writing a self-compassionate letter a go. It only takes 15 minutes, at least once a month.

Don’t overdo things

Overdoing things that need less attention simply causes stress and wastes time. Why self-impose this on yourself? Try a science-based happiness exercise or take a 5-minute self-compassion break. Here’s how to do it.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Letting little things take over your life, at work and at home, can drive you crazy. Instead, complete the three good things happiness exercise. It also only takes a few minutes.

Learn when not to talk

Needing to have our voice heard all the time, on every topic, isn’t a route to happiness. Being critical of others at work is a great example. Instead of speaking up every time, without fail, exercise understanding and compassion, accepting that we’re all different. There’s no law that forces you to comment on everything, especially in a negative way. It just drags us down. Instead, why not find silver linings with this exercise? With 10 minutes a week for 3 weeks you’ll have a new attitude.

Change your relationship with happiness

Happiness isn’t about getting rid of your problems. It’s about changing your relationship with them, and managing them so they don’t make you sad. Life = problems. They’re inevitable so when you encounter them, put them into perspective. Here’s another exercise, related to funny things, that will make you happy, not sad.

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