I really like the ‘Action for Happiness’ ethos, but I can’t help wondering if the movement’s name might be a bit of a turn off - especially, ironically, to those who might benefit most from their offerings.
It gives the impression of an organisation that’s working towards some sort of utopia where people smile joyfully all the time, skip through meadows, love everyone, never shake their fists and fart rainbows all day long! Let’s face it; if we saw someone behaving like that we’d know they were putting a pretend happy face on what’s probably a pretty unhappy life!
But that’s not what ‘Action for Happiness’ is all about at all.
What it actually tries to do is bring people together in the old fashioned face-to-face way to talk, listen to each other, share their experiences and explore what really matters in their lives. It does this not with a view to making you ‘feel happy’ all the time, but with a view to helping you lead a ‘happier’ life. Its aim is to help you move towards a healthier inner state where you’re much better placed to embrace all of the emotions and circumstances - such as joy, sadness, pleasure, pain, elation, excitement, anger, ecstasy, injury and loss - that you’ll inevitably encounter throughout your life.
It encourages those of us participating in their ‘Exploring What Matters’ course to think about what ‘happiness’ really means. And it encourages us to share our thoughts so that other people might feel motivated to think about their own sense of what it means to be happy too.
So, here goes...
For me, happy is how I feel during moments such as when I’m cooried in with my husband, when I'm having long chats with my kids, when I sing, when I’m blethering with a good friend who loves me warts and all, when I write, when I speak to a crowd about something I feel passionate about, when someone trusts me with their deepest feelings, when I see an otter, when I eat salted caramel ice cream, when I cycle, when I hear someone speak from the heart, when I'm in the sun, when I look out my window and see the hills, when I see the sea, when I watch the moon follow me home, when I’m in the audience of Les Mis, when my family is round the same table, when I’m listening to Queen, when I’m eating my mum’s dumpling, when I’m hugging and being hugged… Happily, the list of moments that make me feel happy is way too long to fit on this little page!
Overall happiness for me, or living a happy life, is however about much more than all those good or special moments. It’s also about embracing the not-so-good stuff too.
Everyone encounters adversity and everyone experiences negative emotions, they're a fundamental part of the human condition, but when we don’t sit with - or express - our sadness, pain, anxiety, loss, anger and fear we risk being left all in a tangle. Like a party popper, with our emotions all quietly and tightly screwed up inside, ready to explode and fall apart when something unexpectedly pulls our string.
By not pretending to myself or to other people - but mostly to myself - that things are OK when they’re not OK; by talking about how I feel to someone I trust, someone I know will listen - really listen - without judging me; by being with people who’ll sit comfortably and patiently while I gradually untangle, I’m left feeling lighter, seeing things more clearly, feeling more equipped to cope, less likely to explode, and less afraid.
And happier. Even through the difficult times.
Of course, there are many other things that, together with all of the above, I think make for a happier life; learning new things but not buying too many new things, being active, having meaningful and genuine relationships, helping others, listening, being listened to, being honest and true to myself, being honest and true to everyone else, dancing as if no-one’s looking, focusing not so much on ‘getting there’ and instead appreciating ‘being here’… the list is way too long to fit on this little page, but that should be enough to give a little flavour of what ‘happiness’ really means to me.
So, I guess ‘Action for Happiness’ can count this as a success; they inspired me to write this article, the process of which has made me feel really happy! And, hopefully by reading this, you might have felt inspired to take action and think about what happiness - or being happy - really means for you?
Now, please excuse me while I go belt out some Bohemian Rhapsody…
© Jane Milne 2017