22.08.2013 Wellbeing

Chasing Happiness

Being happy is really our own choice, says counsellor Charlette Barry

I just finished watching the film The Bucket List one of my all time favourite, feel-good movies. Not only do I like the entertaining duo of Morgan Freeman, the benevolent, wise soul and Jack Nicholson, who has the alacrity of a five year old, but I also like the significance of the film, 'Our quest in life'. I think we all spend our lives on a quest. Osho referred to life as a quest and not a question. Maybe it's a quest for meaning, for love, perhaps an esoteric piece of wisdom and, for many, that quest is for happiness.

There's a scene in the film where Nicholson reads the letter Freeman wrote to him in which he says, 'Find the joy in your life.' Find the joy. How do we define joy? Is a large portion of our lives concerned with the attainment of happiness and is it sustainable? Happiness is an emotion, a mood, and for that reason it is a dynamic state. It isn't a destination we miraculously arrive at; rather it's about cultivating moments of joy throughout the journey. Most importantly, happiness is a decision. It's derived from intrinsic motivation. If we are continually questioning when we'll find happiness, and what exactly will create that happiness, then we're depending on external factors and not being accountable for our own lives. The Greek philosopher Aristotle devoted his research to the study of happiness. He questioned the meaning of life and the purpose of human existence, suggesting that happiness was the fundamental motivator. He related it to virtue and attainment for the greater good, as opposed to individualistic gain and defined virtue as maintaining the median. Aristotle's theory is comparable to the Buddhist philosophy of the 'middle path' or the 'middle way', which is concerned with the balance between hedonism and abstinence.

Buddhists also advocate that contentment is a more achievable state than happiness. If we reflect on the catalysts in our lives that have generated happiness - buying a new car, falling in love, to list a few examples, I'm sure we would discover that these states are temporary, impermanent and therefore unsustainable.

In 1972, Bhutan's fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH) to demonstrate his commitment in developing a nation established on Buddhist principles. This concept was later developed by Kara Ura, Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, to holistically measure the quality of national well being. The research concluded that the factors contributing to individual and therefore collective happiness included the work-life balance, good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. The findings of this research have since been adopted by various other nations. It seems the quest for happiness is now a global phenomenon.

Here are some practical tips for the path to a more contented lifestyle:

Healthy body, healthy mind

There is an old expression which refers to a healthy body in a healthy mind, mens sana in corpore sano, I promote the regular exercise, balanced diet theory, but I'm also an advocate for holistic health and feel that if we are in a continual state of stress and anxiety we don't possess the motivation to eat nutritiously, or to engage in physical activity. Our eating patterns become irregular, we crave foods containing high quantities of sugar, salts and starch, our sleep routines become disrupted and irregular and we don't possess the motivation to exercise or even socialise. These factors can contribute to mental health issues including depression, anxiety disorders and a range of physical conditions. Constant worry, stress, fatigue and physical ailments may be an indication that you need to reassess key relationships or career, and may require the guidance and support of a health professional to implement changes to your lifestyle, which leads me to the next point …

A Balanced Lifestyle

'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' - another cliché or perhaps another universal truth? With rapid globalisation and technological advances, human beings are in a continual state of flux. Work demands, financial obligations and family commitments are common stressors, which can affect our quality of life. Happiness is about maintaining the balance between the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Sufficient rest, exercise and a balanced, healthy diet are essential, but it's equally important to discover a hobby, enrol in a course, learn to meditate or practise yoga. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to ensure you undertake activities you feel contribute positively to your lifestyle. In addition, this principle should be transferred to your relationships. All things in life are interconnected, and occur in duality. We possess the ability to self determine, so it's up to us to create the balance.

Your Bucket List

If you haven't all ready, I would recommend you hire the film The Bucket List. If anything, I'm convinced the film will inspire you to convert your fears into courage, and to create your own bucket list. Allocate some time and find a quiet place to start creating your list. Perhaps there are things you have always wanted to do but have put off because of time or financial constraints, family commitments, or the negative feedback you receive from family or friends. Or, perhaps you have always had the support of others but have never had the self belief and confidence. Once you have written your list, it might also require further planning, for example, if your list contains goals that involve travel, or a specific allocation of time like undertaking a course of study. It's essential to specify your short and long term goals, a time frame and additional considerations to achieve the outcome. You have everything to gain. To quote my mother's words, 'Don't be afraid of succeeding!'

Enjoy the journey!

Charlotte Barry

Charlotte Barry is a family support counsellor