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Happiness Is Not An Optional Extra


We're pleased to be able to share with you a piece from Herefordshire-based Rich Hadley, MSc qualified business psychologist.

Getting through your days feeling crushed and hopeless, or toiling in misery, isn't a life worth living. Rich Hadley takes a look at the alternative.

Forget fame, money, or even good health, the quest for a fulfilled, contented, cheerful existence would surely be top of most people's list of life goals. Thomas Jefferson, America's founding father hit the spot when he said that happiness, alongside life and liberty, is an 'inalienable' human right. The fundamental business of being alive is all about enjoying ourselves, positively appreciating what's happening around us, learning and growing so that each day we become stronger and wiser.

Bombarded daily by bad news, it's not hard to see why we're a world hooked on medication, intoxication and obsession, religious and military. Yet amid all the depression and anxiety, so many people are happily forming relationships, passing exams, dancing, making money, falling in love, bringing up delightful children, writing their novels, just being themselves. They are coping with whatever life throws at them – but not just coping, they are succeeding, flourishing. So what's their secret?

What marks these happy people out from the others?

Certainly, it's not just having more money. Consider that America's wealth has tripled in the last 50 years, yet people's sense of personal well-being has stayed just the same.i More surprising is the finding that the link between happiness and income is an illusion: being richer doesn't make you more contentedii. In fact, some research suggests that the wealthier you are, the less you are able enjoy pleasurable experiences. It seems that loads of money may actually dull your ability to savour the good things in life.

Since the turn of the millennium, a revolution has been taking place in psychology. Instead of treating mental illness, psychologists have increasingly focused on understanding how people can be helped to thrive and flourish, mentally and physically (the two are linked). Scientific research is now beginning to detect some of the basic ingredients of human well-being. There really are, it seems, silver bullets to help you be more creative, fulfilled and resilient in your life. Here's one: each night before you go to sleep think of three good things that happened today. Write them down. Go to sleep reflecting on why they happened – particularly what part you played in making them happen. Do this for a week - or forever.

This is not just some random feel-good exercise. The act of focusing on positive life experiences, building your awareness of how you can make good things happen, and crucially, writing those thoughts down, has an intensely therapeutic effect. It builds self-esteem, appreciation and optimism. It alters your view on things.

Positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking.

Relentlessly putting yourself in a positive frame of mind and imagining positive outcomes as a route to success might work for some people, but sadly, isn't backed up by the vidence. What's different about 'Pos-Psych' is that techniques (or 'interventions') are investigated using scientific experiment, repeated over and over and scrutinised by ever-sceptical academics.

The psychology of happiness is about those things that have been shown to unlock positive emotions, those feelings that improve your mood, strengthen your relationships, and help you solve life's problems. Pos-Psych is not psycho-babble. It's grounded in the hard-wiring of our brains and the feel-good/feel-bad chemicals that surge around our bloodstream. It's about challenging our ingrained negative behaviour and destructive attitudes towards other people and ourselves.

Feeling pessimistic and cynical all the time is a bad habit that needs to be broken. The startling finding is that we can control our moods, and create the conditions to lead more meaningful lives. Whether at home or work, in a relationship or a team or on your own, studying or participating in sport, we are all able to cultivate routines which can have a dramatically positive effect on our sense of well-being. The growing body of research into the field of 'positive psychology' is beginning to map out the things that clearly help us flourish, the building blocks of a 'good life'.

Some might find it easier than others, but all positive-minded people cultivate habits and patterns that do not merely help them survive – but that help them flourish, make their hearts sing with joy, and their minds fizz with creative energy. While a positive mindset can be expressed in a thousand ways in every area of your life, one of the keys is to keep doing it, every day, all day. Try to look for the best in what's happening around you. Be realistic, but don't worry. Be guided by the principle that most people are out to help you. It works!

So what is happiness to you?

Is it just about feeling good in the moment? Or is it something deeper, having a sense of meaning in one's life, believing in one's abilities, feeling connected with other people, understanding and appreciating one's uniqueness, the things that make you exclusively you?

Achieving happiness is complex of course, but it's simple at the same time. Happy people cherish friendships, they appreciate the good things in their life and help others, they exercise, they look forward to good things in the future, but also live in the present, and above all they are tenacious and optimistic, preferring to see their glasses half full.

Here's the thing: your goal is to wake up each morning with a smile on your face because you truly are looking forward to what the day might bring. You are optimistic, and mindful of the good things that surround you. You know you can cope. You believe in yourself, and think often about your talents, and achievements. You feel lucky and glad to be who you are. You are kind and generous to others. You work hard to appreciate the virtues and talents of the people in your life. If that that sounds like you – congratulations! If not, it's time to put your best foot forward...

So where to start.

There are some great books out there - The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson are two of the best, both wonderfully energising. Or if you only have fifteen minutes to spare, take a look at Pos-Psych guru Martin Seligman on Enjoy!

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