Day 1979 – Day 1985
That title of my previous post, “YouTube Famous” was a nod to the Millennial generation, the first generation to grow up on social media, and to create and aspire to participate in the phenomenon of going viral. I have no expectation that TTDOG’s YouTube channel will become YouTube famous and in fact, at a personal and selfish level, I’d be horrified and my skin begins to itch at the thought of it, because I am attached to this project. I’ve known several famous people and fame is something that looks great on the outside but comes at a very high price. I told a story and hoped that it would take the reader along a journey with me but maybe I didn’t signpost clearly enough the final destination. I truly do want the practice of Gratitude to go viral. It is the only reason that I’ve continued to write about gratitude, and my gratitude practice, past the original 7 day Facebook challenge.
Like every human, I am wildly flawed and plagued by ego – both the self-aggrandizing and the self-deprecating sides of that ego coin. My name may be associated with this project but being on camera, I pretty quickly realized that I needed to tell the story while taking the focus off of me, even as the storyteller. Yes, I am the writer and it is my subjective story of a long-term practice of gratitude that I am telling but the protagonist of the story is Gratitude, not me.
If this story of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude should happen to go viral, if I’ve done my job well, it is Gratitude that will spread like wildfire. I will have succeeded in achieving one of my goals – these last 5 years – to be an instrument of what Robert Emmons calls a Global Renaissance of Gratitude.
My channel isn’t competing with all the other content providers making videos on gratitude. It is competing with the channels glorifying luxury consumption, self-made star status, and the obsession with more that comes from a mindset of lack.
I am aware of the underlying Christian ethic in the West that says one should not be seen to be virtuous in public. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that to guard against hypocrisy, one ought to be somewhat clandestine with our virtue. Whether one is Christian or not, if one lives in a Western democracy, this is a prevailing cultural imperative and we use it to assume hypocritical intentions of anyone who sets out to inspire others to follow a virtuous path, no matter how humbly it is done.
We have become so cynical that an outward expression of thanks is considered suspect and the whole practice of forming a habit and an attitude of gratitude is considered cliché. To be cliché means it is overdone, and the art of genuinely living gratefully is, sadly, forgotten in our modern world. We fill the air with empty words of thanks, to maintain an appearance of politeness, while sneering at those actively forming a practice to honour the sacredness of gratefulness, expressing profound appreciation to others, and acting upon that thankfulness to increase the good in the world. I’m afraid our happiness and wellbeing indices tell a story of a culture that is tragically lacking in gratitude, despite our social etiquette.
Public practice of a virtue is condemned, yet on television, in the news, on social media, and in our gossip, we make it a guilty pleasure to be spectators of the public practice of vice. That, to me, is hypocrisy.
The demographic that reads a written blog like this is somewhat different to the younger demographic that watches YouTube. There is yet a different demographic that consumes podcasts. Whether TTDOG gains a large following or not, I will put TTDOG on each of these platforms to increase the chance that this story will inspire others to practice gratitude. Emotion is contagious and in a world with the airwaves filled with bad news, I’d like to counteract that and spread the complex emotion of gratitude, with all the associated positive emotions and behaviours that attach to it.
I’m a servant to a social movement of Gratitude and a volunteer employee of the TTDOG brand. Doing this work comes at the sacrifice of earning more money in my professional gig and at the cost of my own creative work. I have been transformed and healed through the steadfast daily practice of gratitude and the cultivation of an attitude of grateful living. I could not, in good conscience, not do this work.
I believe in the great potential of gratitude to change the world. I have experienced in my own life what Robert Emmons calls the ARC model of gratitude – the ability of gratitude to Amplify, Rescue and Connect each of us. Gratitude amplifies the good in the lives of ourself and others by changing our predisposition to one that expects and recognizes the goodness in the world, it rescues us from a world built on doom and gloom, transforming a natural negativity bias, that robs us of our happiness, into a bias towards benevolence and the capacity for joy, and it connects us to others with our desire to pass on the great good we have experienced, though reciprocity.
I am dedicated to do my part to further a social movement of gratitude. Speaking of the teachings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, Emmons eloquently says, in The Little Book of Gratitude:
“The spark that can ignite a trend towards global gratitude is the zeal of men and women
who discover that grateful living makes life meaningful and fulfilling.”
For what are you most grateful, today?
Last month, TTDOG featured an article on Lord Richard Layard who, together with Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, founded Action for Happiness. In this article we depart from featuring an individual making a difference to introduce a group of individuals in a worldwide movement working together to create as much happiness in the world as possible, and as little misery: Action for Happiness.
TTDOG interviewed the director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson and Head of Campaigns and Communications, Alex Nunn, who agreed to speak on behalf of the organisation.
TTDOG: What is the mission of Action for Happiness? How do you hope to achieve this?
AfH: Action for happiness is a movement of people taking action for a happier and more caring world. We bring this about by provoking people to think more deeply about where happiness really comes from, with learning from the latest wellbeing research, and helping them commit to taking action in their own lives. These actions go on to benefit and inspire others in their families, workplaces, and communities. It is through the collective force of these ripples that we hope to see values shifting in society.
Action for Happiness is organised as a UK based not for profit organisation as part of the Registered Charity, The Young Foundation. Action for Happiness is run by a Board of experts in various fields related to Happiness and a team of dedicated volunteers. The organisation hosts large events in London with inspiring guest speakers and self-managing groups meet worldwide. The organisation has provided a (by-donation) 8 week course ‘Exploring What Matters,’ which is facilitated by volunteers, to help these self-managed groups get started. The patron of Action for Happiness is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
According to the Action for Happiness website: “Everyone’s path to happiness is different. Based on the latest research, we have identified 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell “GREAT DREAM.”
The letters in GREAT DREAM stand for: Giving to others; Relating, because as we have seen from the work of Layard and others, relationships are the greatest contributor to happiness; Exercising, because we feel better when we’re fit and healthy; Awareness, because it’s impossible to be happy if we are not present in the moment. Living mindfully helps us to be aware of our emotions, including happiness; Trying Out, because people who try new things throughout life are able keep the brain healthy and feel happier. Direction, because people who have goals and a sense of purpose are happier; Resilience, because having the tools to bounce back from hard times is key to long term happiness; Emotions, because paying attention to, and generating more positive emotions, like gratitude, helps us feel happy; Acceptance, because it is not possible to be happy with ourselves until we accept ourselves – warts and all; and Meaning, because happy people cultivate a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.
These are the keys, according to the organisation, to build a happier life. However, the mission of the organisation is not just to focus on each individual’s happiness, but to create more happiness in the world.
TTDOG: In what ways are the members of Action for Happiness taking action in the world to promote happiness?
AfH: Everyone’s journey is different, and the actions they take along the way can be really diverse: we have members who do small daily acts of kindness, helping out strangers, picking up litter, practicing mindfulness to reduce quick-tempers and stress, to people who quit high-paid jobs that aren’t making them happy to try out something new. It’s great to see that a lot of our members also take action to support the mission and movement also (e.g. volunteering to run one of our courses, host a local gathering or set-up a happy cafe).
London’s first happy cafe, the Canvas Cafe in East London will be featured next in this series of articles. It provides a venue for people to meet, share conversation and to attend events related to self improvement, the arts and – of course – Happiness.
TTDOG: Critics of positive psychology and the happiness movement might say that the focus on individual happiness and wellbeing leads to a society of selfish and isolated individuals. Does the pursuit of happiness make people more or less concerned about social justice and issues like rising inequality in the world?
AfH: There are two reasons why people fail to stand up for social justice issues, either they are insufficiently aware, or they insufficiently care. Taking happiness seriously helps with both. When we start to look at where happiness really comes from in our own lives two things tend to happen: we gain perspective on the things that don’t matter, that distract us and fill our heads with unnecessary stress, and pay more attention to the things that really do, particularly the importance of our connections to other people. This shift frees up people’s minds to become more aware of what is going on around them, and cultivates caring for others – the very foundations of a social conscience. It’s also worth noting that relationship between inequality and materialism, the fact that we’re in the collective habit of seeking happiness in the insatiable consumption of stuff, and the pursuit of ‘wealth’ which provides it. A more enlightened understanding of happiness can be quite helpful in liberating people from this.
Like all organisations, however, it is really the ‘tone at the top’ that creates a pervasive ethos and determines how an organisation will contribute to a society. And so we thought it incumbent upon us to inquire a little into the personal motivations and feelings of those who lead the organisation and its volunteer activities.
TTDOG: Why is Action for Happiness important to you, personally?
MW: As Aristotle said, ‘Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence’. And when you ask parents what they want above all for their children, by far the most common answer is: “to be happy”. So happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most. But in modern society we spend too much time focusing on money, status and possessions – and don’t give enough priority to the things that really matter for a happy life… like good relationships, mental wellbeing and having a sense of purpose. That’s where Action for Happiness comes in. We help people take action to focus on the things that really matter and help contribute to a happier and kinder world.
AN: My background is in campaigning and activism, but I became deeply frustrated that so much energy in that space is wasted on generating anger (however righteous) towards society’s problems, creating unproductive ‘us and them’ divisions and only very rarely putting forward constructive solutions that everyone can get behind. Action for Happiness to me is exactly that: a positive idea, with the potential to radically improve the world that anyone and everyone can get involved in. Whereas in other movements constantly suffer from activist burnout, our members become happier, more aware and more caring the more they get involved. It’s got such potential, and it’s hugely exciting.
TTDOG: Are you a happy person?
MW: Yes I’m generally very happy, although like everyone I have my moments of sadness, anger and despair. For me a happy life isn’t about smiling all the time or pretending everything’s fine when it’s not. Rather it’s about being your own authentic self, finding ways to cope with the dark times and learning to respond constructively to what ever life throws at you.
I attribute my happiness to a combination of my upbringing (grateful to have a close and loving family), my good fortune (lucky to have good health, freedom, opportunities and a degree of stability) and my choices (ie habits and behaviours I’ve learned that make a big difference to my wellbeing – eg mindfulness, helping others).
AN: The idea of a ‘happy person’ suggests it’s some intrinsic aspect of my personality – which if true, would be pretty unfortunate for anyone who’s not happy right now. I have the same ups and downs as anyone. But when tough times come around I’m really fortunate that I’ve invested time in cultivating skills that contribute to happiness and wellbeing: I’ve trained my mind to notice things I’m grateful for, to seek learning in a challenge that can help me grow, to accept problems without obsessing about them, and if things get too much to step out of my own head for a moment by exercising or doing something kind for someone else. So happiness isn’t about yellow-washing the dark times, it’s about finding ways to accept whatever is happening, remember that happiness is possible, and stay willing to try to make things better for yourself and others.
TTDOG: Action for Happiness recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary. What have you accomplished?
AfH: We’ve accomplished a lot but we’ve really only just started and there’s so much more to do.
In terms of numbers, we believe our messages have been seen by over 20 million people, around 7m have used the resources on our website, we have nearly a million online followers and over 70,000 signed up members in 160 countries.
Since our launch in 2011 over 100,000 people have taken some kind of personal action based on our ideas, including over 2,000 people who have put themselves forward to run local activities and 200 of these who have been actively running Action for Happiness courses and groups in their local communities.
The Action for Happiness 8 week course: ‘Exploring What Matters’ was featured on the BBC, following the Dalai Lama’s visit with Action for Happiness members in London last year:
As is our custom at TTDOG, we asked Mark Williams our final question: For what are you most grateful and what gives you greatest joy?
I am eternally grateful to my mum and dad for all their love and support and for giving me the most important start for a happy and meaningful life – ie a loving, safe and supportive family environment. I am also hugely grateful to all the amazing and inspiring people who give their time so generously to support Action for Happiness and help bring our vision to life in their communities, schools and workplaces.
What gives me greatest joy is spending enjoyable time with the people I love, especially my wife Kate and our three young children. Other things that make me very happy include cycling (a lot!), time with friends, singing in a choir and taking time every day to notice the good things, however small.
TTDOG would like to thank Action for Happiness for providing all the photographs appearing in this article.
For more information on Action for Happiness, follow the links below:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – Unknown
Happiness matters. Yet, for many of us, the pursuit of happiness has remained an elusive goal, despite being the central preoccupation of most of our lives.
At a time when few other Economists were seriously studying Happiness, Lord Richard Layard took up the mantle. An Emeritus Professor of Economics at London School of Economics, founder of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance and current Director of the LSE Centre for Wellbeing, Lord Layard is a leader in the academic field of Happiness research and champions its pursuit as a legitimate aim for societies and their governments. In 1980, he wrote the first empirical research paper on Happiness to offer policy implications. In 2003 he gave a seminal lecture series on Happiness and authored a book on the topic. He has been invited to share his expertise and findings with the OECD, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and from 2012, with the United Nations, as co-editor (with John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs) of the UN World Happiness Reports. Although he draws from the work of Psychology, Neuroscience and Philosophy, his approach to the science of Happiness is one of Economics.
TTDOG is honoured to feature Lord Richard Layard, an individual making a difference to the lives of others, with his work.
Happiness: The Overarching Goal
TTDOG interviewed Lord Layard, by telephone, about his work on Happiness.
“The goal of society should be to enable people to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Unless there’s agreement about that as the objective, discussion about what we know about causes of happiness is not that interesting.”
Layard adopted this 18th century enlightenment thinking, after reading Jeremy Bentham at University. In his book, Happiness: Lessons from a new science, Lord Layard states:
“By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. By unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different.”
Layard outlines the Easterlin Paradox, named for USC economist Richard Easterlin: People want to increase their wealth, and societies have operated under the assumption that an increase in wealth must result in an increase in welfare. At any given point in time, the richest in a society will be happier than their poorer counterparts, but surprisingly, across society, any increases in income result in only minimal changes to happiness.
In response to Easterlin’s findings, Economists Ruut Veenhoven and Michael Haggerty published their own analysis, using different data sets and arguing against the paradox. Economists Bestsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers conducted a time series analysis in which they showed that happiness rises with incomes, but at a slower rate. Easterlin maintains his original position and Layard agrees.
The Easterlin paradox, Layard argues, demonstrates that it is our level of income, relative to our peers, that impacts our happiness. In order for person A to be happy, person B must be less well off. Overall, this produces what mathematicians call a ‘zero sum game.’
Layard confirms Easterlin’s findings that over the past 60 years, societal happiness levels have remained constant, despite rising wealth. In any given population, changes in income account for only about 1% of the variance in happiness for rich countries, and, in no country does it account for more than 2%.
Layard also points to what Economists call the ‘declining marginal utility of income.’ TTDOG offers an example of the law of diminishing returns: When a person has nothing, £1 adds happiness because it helps us to obtain our basic needs, but as income rises, each successive £1 provides less and less additional happiness. An extra £1 means more to the poor than it does to the rich.
As Layard notes in his book:
“One thing is clear: Once subsistence income is guaranteed, making people happier is not easy.”
Why should we bother with happiness at all, then?
“I’ve always reasoned in the following sort of way: there are many goods that people like Amartya Sen spell out: health, wealth, freedom, agency, and so on, and happiness. One can ask: ‘Why are these goods good?’
If you ask: ‘Why is wealth good?’ It helps people to feel better about their lives and lead more satisfying lives. Why is health good? Because being sick makes you feel bad, and so on. You can go through all the other things other than happiness, and you can give reasons why they’re important. In many cases, it’s because they make people feel better.
But, ask: ‘Why does it matter if people feel better?’ You can’t give an answer. That is just the overarching thing that is felt to be true. I’m very keen to get across the idea that happiness is the overarching good by which we should judge our societies.
Now that’s not the same as saying that we should judge one person against another by how happy that person’s life is, because it is also very important how they contribute happiness to other people. You have to look at it as a proposition that the best state of life for a group of people is one in which they are enjoying their lives.”
But can Economics, renowned as ‘the dismal science’ really measure and contribute to the pursuit of Happiness?
Happiness is a feeling, and feelings fluctuate constantly. Is there really a way to measure and compare something that changes from moment to moment and is inherently subjective? Lord Layard argues that we should not shy away from feelings because it is how a people feel that really matters and is how we can judge society. Further, he argues that it is possible to do sensible research into the levels and causes of happiness by looking at an individual’s long term average happiness.
Throughout his career, Layard has argued that economic theory and policy must always be based on facts and points to four advances in measurement of life satisfaction:
- A person’s subjective assessment of their own wellbeing can be verified by third party assessment, with a high level of correlation;
- Factors we expect to impact on wellbeing do, in fact, impact on people’s life satisfaction scores;
- Things people say they will do correlate with what they actually do; and
- Research from Neuroscience shows that when a person reports their subjective wellbeing, measurable electrical activity is observed in the centres of the brain associated with the emotions being reported.
Since electrical impulses in the brain are an objective measure, and subjective wellbeing responses coincide with these, then, Layard reasons, the subjective responses must contain “objective content.”
“Economists and psychologists are both looking at the facts. Psychologists have tended to look at small surveys that they’ve done with groups. Economists have tended to look at big population surveys and what both of these enables you to do is to look at the huge variation in any population in the happiness levels of the different people in society and then look at possible causes.
That’s the essential method of research and then of course it can go on to looking at individual lives over time to see what makes the same person become more or less happy as different experiences occur to them.”
Large data sets like those collected by Gallop and the OECD allow Economists to make comparisons both within and across populations. Controlled experiments are also undertaken in Happiness studies.
“Until recently it was not that easy to implement this idea. We now know what produces happy lives. We have a huge amount of evidence that makes it possible to argue that it should be, for policy makers, their goal.
And of course it also enables us to inform people about what would be a good way for them to lead their own lives as individuals and citizens.”
The Pursuit of Happiness:
So what is it that does contribute to happiness and what would be a good way for us to lead our lives in order to be happy?
In the 2012 UN World Happiness Report, Lord Layard argues that there are several internal and external factors which co-vary with income. It is these co-variables, not income alone, that are responsible for changes in levels of happiness.
Broadly speaking, external factors include income, but also include the quality of our relationship to work and our community and the existence of good governance that allows trust and security to flourish. Those countries which emphasised cooperation and mutual respect scored far higher on happiness ratings than did those societies emphasising individualism and competition. Shared values and engagement with religious experience also impacted on subjective wellbeing.
Internal factors such as gender and age, family relationships and educational attainment were predictors of happiness, as was current physical health and one’s history of mental health.
By far, Layard says, the biggest contributors to happiness are our relationships: with family, work and community.
Knowing what causes happiness, is Richard Layard a happy person?
“I think it’s a very good question because sometimes people ask you: ‘Are you always happy?’ Of course a happy person isn’t always happy. A happy person is normally somebody who is trying to do something useful with their life which means that you’re bound to be frustrated sometimes. But, are you a happy person? Yes!
There’s always things which I’m trying to do which I think are useful and exciting and rewarding. I’m very very lucky in having a wonderful wife. We just enjoy being together and doing things together and being on holiday together and all of that. And also, some social life is important. I play tennis twice a week and we play bridge once a fortnight. I wouldn’t be quite the same person at all without socialising and keeping my body and mind fresh.
A good work life, a good family life and a good social life. This is the basis.”
What Then Must We Do?
Following the publication of the first UN World Happiness Report, policy makers in a number of countries have included happiness and wellbeing in policy discussions.
“The most important thing is that each country does attempt to measure the happiness of its people and try to improve it. I think the power of the World Happiness Report is that it has data for every country and that just raises so many questions in people’s minds, they begin to address the issue of ‘Why are we so much lower than somewhere else?’ and ‘Is there something we can do about it?'”
Might a focus on the pursuit of happiness simply provide justification for social injustice, individual and political self interest?
“Altruism is incredibly important. I think that part of the happiness movement, including some of the people associated with Positive Psychology do focus far too heavily on helping the individual to pursue their own happiness, whereas, of course, if we are saying that the goal that we want to see is happiness spread across the population, that is absolutely not the way to bring that about. If each person is seeking their own happiness only, it’s not likely to be a very happy population because we’re so affected by how other people behave toward us.”
Lord Layard argues that society has moved away from times when religious belief or the secular belief in socialism provided the foundation for value systems that included a concept of something greater than oneself and a strong sense of duty to others. Modern society has retained a sense of individual rights but seems to fall short on the other side of the social contract: responsibility to one another.
In the 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report, Layard offers an alternative to the competitive individualism that has replaced faith based values. He proposes the development and promotion of a set of Secular Ethics based on a return to virtue morality and strength of character.
“I very much believe that we should be trying to create as much happiness in the world, in the way that we live, and especially as little misery. This is the basic principle behind all detailed moral rules. But it’s not just moral rules which tell you what you shouldn’t do. It’s particularly moral rules of what you should do. You should be going out and creating happiness. The sins of omission are as important as the sins of commission.”
As for how each individual can make a difference in the world, Layard suggests that each person must assess for themselves how they can best use their skills and personality to bring about these aims. Each of us can do it differently, he says, whether it is through our work, or the way in which we live in our families and communities. He notes that it is important that each individual develop inner strength and “a certain emotional disposition to keep at it.”
TTDOG asked Lord Layard to share with readers how he maintains his own resilience:
“One does have to remember that many people are feeling a lot worse than oneself at any point in time. That’s important. But I think equally important is to remember what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to create more happiness in the world that’s quite an inspiring thing to do and if things are not going very well at the moment in one way or another, including your own efforts not being very successful, I think you should take a slightly heroic view of these things. You can’t expect to win every time. Feel inspired by whatever you’re trying to do.
I also think that we should all have mechanisms for raising our spirits. When I was in Bhutan I asked one of the high Llamas that I’ve visited 3 times now: ‘If you want to lift your spirits how do you do it?’ So he taught me. You can almost call it a trick but it works extremely well. I’m sure every great tennis player has some device for cheering himself up when things are going badly. We all need internal sort of tricks that we can play with our spirits to lift them and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”
“Matthieu Ricard talks about ‘unconditional benevolence’ and that we should try to develop within ourselves an unconditional benevolence so that when someone is threatening or doesn’t seem very friendly, we are determined not to react negatively; We are going to reach out to everybody.
Then the question is how can we inspire people to hang on to this principle in all the vicissitudes of life? I think you can’t do it without associating with other people. You just can’t lead a good life in isolation. You have to be associated with other people who have the same values and remind you of something bigger. And this is what I think that churches do. I think most of us, even if we’re not believers, when we go into a church, feel that there’s something bigger than ourselves and we need institutions that keep reminding us of that.”
“That’s why we founded Action for Happiness as an organisation where people would meet in groups to discuss the things which really matter, what they were going to do about them, and get some uplift at regular intervals. And we wrote this course called ‘Exploring What Matters’ to help these groups get started. These groups are now spreading like wildfire in Britain, the Netherlands and Australia and hopefully world wide.”
Action For Happiness is a UK Not for Profit Organisation, founded in 2011 by Lord Richard Layard, Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan. The Director of the organisation is Dr. Mark Williamson and their Patron is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. The organisation hosts large gatherings in London, with inspiring guest speakers. Over 70,000 members in 170 countries have taken a pledge to create as much happiness in the world as they can, and as little misery.
Lord Layard argues that individual efforts should be met with policy decisions designed to achieve society-wide happiness. But policy decisions involve tradeoffs. How might the goal of happiness be used to adjudicate decisions where, for example, two public goods associated with Happiness – Trust and Security – come into conflict?
“You’ve raised a difficult issue, the balance between security and liberty. I think that’s a difficult trade-off and I think that the only way of thinking about where along that spectrum you should strike the balance is in terms of the overall level of happiness of the population.”
TTDOG pointed out that social injustice could result from actions that achieve a high sum total of happiness in a society, but which comes at a high cost for a vulnerable minority.
“I certainly don’t think we should judge a society by the sum total of happiness. I think we should judge it by the overall distribution of happiness and in particular, how many people are below an acceptable level.
In particular, you have to aim to lift the happiness level of people who would otherwise be at an unacceptably low level. So policy should be concerned with the reduction of misery more than raising the general level of happiness. It should be concerned with both, but an extra special weight should be given to the reduction of misery.
I think that is the basis for establishing minimum standards and basic rights and all the other values within society that governments and legislators have for protecting, as you say, vulnerable groups.”
The 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report contains a chapter arguing for the importance of addressing issues of inequality in the distribution of happiness within society and for adjusting the concept of inequality to be defined by distribution of happiness, not income.
Happiness and Deprivation
When one looks at Lord Richard Layard’s body of work, policy recommendations based on Happiness may seem very far removed from his early work on poverty. Scratch the surface, however, and it would appear that he has come full circle with the application of Happiness to a wider concept of deprivation.
“Obviously we should address all problems and I’ve spent most of my life working on poverty and unemployment but if you’re looking at what particular ways people that are least happy differ from other people, certainly a proportion of the least happy people are poor and a proportion are unemployed. But a hugely greater proportion are people living with a diagnosis: depression or anxiety disorders and that is a fact which has been overlooked when people have developed their concepts of what it is to be deprived.”
“What is deprivation? Deprivation is not just to be deprived of the means of earning a living but it’s to be deprived of the means of enjoying life. We’ve really got to have a much wider concept of deprivation.”
In his work, Lord Layard found that roughly 1 in 6 people in the UK will be diagnosed with a mental illness. Of the diagnosed population, only a meagre 25% receive any form of treatment and for the most part, this is medication, rather than psychological therapies recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
“Can we do as much about mental illness as we can do about poverty or unemployment? There we again have something which has changed radically over the last 30 years because we’ve developed evidence based psychological therapies which have good success rates, after quite inexpensive interventions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one, but there are others as well.
Typically, after an average of 9 or 10 sessions with CBT costing, let’s say £1,500 pounds, 50% of the people will cease to have symptoms and will continue in the case of anxiety disorders, to be free of them for the rest of their lives. If it’s depression, their relapse rates are at least halved as a result of the treatment.”
Layard has authored several papers on mental ill health and co-authored the book Thrive with David M. Clark. With mental ill health costing the UK £60 billion per year in benefits, lost taxes and greater costs of physical care, Layard argues that spending to help the mentally ill to recover and stay well has a net benefit to the economy.
Some Psychologists criticise Layard’s Economic analysis as glossing over the complexities of mental illness. They argue that depression and anxiety are not discrete conditions that can be separated from environmental factors. Behaviour that presents as depression, for instance may be a normal response to temporary situational factors which resolve naturally, in time. If these cases are diagnosed as clinical depression, they skew success rates by their resolution. Further, critics argue that anxiety and depression cannot be treated in isolation, as they are often linked to other conditions like alcohol and drug misuse.
Layard acknowledges the complexity of mental health diagnosis and treatment and maintains that even a non-targeted programme which makes psychological therapies available to the general population has been shown to be successful. His research resulted in the creation of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. An initial phase has been successfully completed, and serves as a model for countries around the world. Layard argues for further expansion.
“When you think of what it costs to relieve poverty, you can see that this is a rather cost effective way of raising a person’s wellbeing.”
Layard has also co-authored a report, with Judy Dunn: A Good Childhood: Searching for values in a competitive age. The report is based on several years of research into problems facing children today, and provides more than 2 dozen recommendations for parents and teachers.
TTDOG asked Lord Layard about the role of prevention, particularly in childhood, in helping to avoid the conditions of misery.
“Our first moral duty is of course to help people who are in trouble. It’s absolutely shocking that we don’t have good services available to help every child and young person who has a mental health problem so that’s a number one priority, but then we should be trying to prevent people from getting into that state in the first place.
There’s a range of things that we can do. We have to help parents to bring up happy children. Antenatal classes should include not just how to care for the child physically, but emotionally. We need to be addressing the issue of perinatal depression in mothers and even in fathers. This is a huge problem in terms of its impact on the children as well.”
Layard believes that schools have a vital role to play and argues against educational policy that would produce exam factories. Academic success – like income – is one of the weakest predictors of life satisfaction.
“I think that it’s really important that we change the goals in schools to include higher in their scale of priorities, the happiness of the children, and the skills which they have for leading happy lives both as children and as adults.
Schools should have a proper wellbeing code, and they should be measuring the wellbeing and happiness of their children, and should be looking at how happy the children are in school. There are many ways in which schools can do this, not just in the way they’re organised in their goals and their ethos, but also teaching life skills in a professional way, which can now be done.”
Lord Layard has promoted the 4 year, adolescent life skills programme, Healthy Minds, and his work has led to universal provision of evidence-based psychological therapies in the treatment of children’s mental health, in the UK.
Lord Layard’s vast body of work validates the wisdom of the 5 year old child who understands more than his adult teacher: Our life’s aim really is happiness.
TTDOG asked Lord Layard: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy? He recounted those things which contribute to his happiness: a good work life, a good family life and a good social life, and went on to add:
“Music is very important and an awful lot of people probably have many of their deepest experiences through music, either listening to it, singing it to themselves or playing it. I play my clarinet to myself at various times and I find that quite inspiring.”
To learn more about Lord Richard Layard’s work:
Today is the day that the UN has designated as World Happiness Day to mark a changing consciousness away from material acquisitiveness and towards a new way (some might say it is actually a return to an old way) of achieving happiness.
Happiness, can be defined in many different ways. There is the hedonic pleasure that one can experience from eating an ice cream or the heady rush of buying a Ferrari and showing up your friends. Economists, psychologists and neurobiologists would all argue that these are not the things that evidence suggests will provide lasting happiness. Humans have an innate ability to adapt and as we obtain more luxury, we become accustomed to it. Like a drug, it takes more and more ‘stuff’ to give us the pleasure that we used to have. We can never be satiated.
And so, what is a better measure of lasting happiness? In his seminal book on the subject, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Richard Layard defines happiness as:
“…feeling good – enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. By unhappiness, I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different”
Layard goes on to argue that happiness – at both the individual and societal level – boils down to the search for a few essentials: status, security and trust. Without a consistent set of values, rights and responsibilities, and without understanding what brings about lasting happiness, the pursuit of this definition could lead to mayhem, with our drive for status and security resulting in – Oh, let’s be extreme here – the richest 1 percent of the world owning more than the rest of us combined. Or, our drive for security, in a world where relationships are necessary but people cannot be trusted, could result in – again, just to be extreme – the building of walls at country borders, the increasing surveillance of the populace and a growing attitude of “us versus them.”
Can you imagine a world like that?
Yes, I think in 2016, we all can. And so, if what we want is status, security and trust in order to be happy, how can we go about building that? In honour of World Happiness Day, I offer you 5 ways I believe we can use the principles of the practices of this site to begin to build a happier world, starting with ourselves:
1. Appreciate all you have: We all have a need for status. But status that is based on comparison is a zero sum game. If I have a better car than you do, I feel better, but you feel worse. There can be only one winner, and there must be a loser. And what happens when a third party comes along with an even better car? My status is gone as it transfers to the neighbour. Comparison offers only temporary happiness, at best.
Our sense of ‘status’ comes down to a sense of ‘abundance’ when we dig beneath the surface. One way to achieve this sense of abundance is to allow ourselves to experience and appreciate all that we already have. We can appreciate the material possessions we have, the experiences we have had and continue to have, every day. We can appreciate the skills and education we have acquired. And, we can appreciate all the love and support that our relationships provide. When we begin to look around and appreciate all we have, whether our car is a newer model than our neighbour’s loses any meaning. We have abundance, simply because we have a car that gives us transportation and comfort.
2. Pay attention to the positive: Neuroscience and psychology posits that humans have a negativity bias which has been important for survival. In order to run from wild animals, to shelter from storms and to last out the winter starvation, primitive humans had to scan the environment for risks to our lives. This is a pattern of a very old part of the brain which is much less required, for humans adapted to modern city living. Our negativity bias, however, remains. Unless we become aware of our tendency to catastrophise and paint everything in a negative light, our mood can suffer from our thinking. Whether people are trustworthy or not, whether we feel secure and whether our status is under threat are facts that can be objectively determined, but our mind has a bias to think and spot threats.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and certain types of meditation help train individuals to challenge their automatic thinking and, where appropriate, to replace outworn negative thoughts with more positive thoughts.
With growing evidence from neuroscience, we see that the more we train our brain to make new pathways to more measured and positive thought patterns of realistic optimism, the quicker we can short circuit our pessimism and become happier individuals. Noticing positive thoughts and the emotions that they engender is another practice that can help build and strengthen these neuropathways.
3. Nurture relationships: Research shows that those with strong bonds of trust, loyalty, security and love tend to live longer and are happier individuals. In all studies, across disciplines, strong relationships are the most commonly cited factor that is crucial to lasting happiness.
There is a lot of pessimism in the press these days about the self centredness of our culture, of the disposability of relationships, of the replacement of dating and intimacy with hookups on Tinder and Grindr. Okay, this may well be a fact. But, not everyone is participating. I know this, because I am not. And I suspect that where there is one…there are others.
Love, I would suggest, is not something we ‘get’ from someone else. Love is something that comes from inside of ourselves. We make the choice to be loving or not. How others respond to it is, in many ways, not our business. What is our business is to be a person of integrity, to be trustworthy, to be curious about others and life in general, to be consistent and compassionate and to be loving. We must be what it is that we want to see in our world.
“Won’t we be used?” I hear someone ask. Perhaps. But we also have a responsibility to choose how we spend our time, and with whom. When we find someone who acts with integrity, who is trustworthy, curious and consistent, who is compassionate and loving, we ought to invest more of our time into that kind of reciprocal relationship.
And most of all, we must build a strong relationship with ourselves. If we build our own characters so that we are persons of integrity, curiosity, consistency, compassion, and love, we will (I guarantee you this) enjoy our own company. And, by being comfortable in our own skin, we will attract others out of mutual regard and reciprocity, rather than need.
Maybe we won’t end up with the hottest girlfriend on Tinder or the stud from Grindr. But we will have a circle of friends and companions, and hopefully a partner that fulfills our human need to love and to be loved; to hold and to be held.
Be patient. Be consistent. Be the catalyst. Those wonderful people are not living behind the sofa. It takes time and effort to get out and meet people – many people – until we find a few with whom we connect. We are more likely to meet them if we are engaged in activities that align with our values than simply ‘mixers’.
Building relationships takes time. I have built friendships with a handful of people that have taken 20 years or more to nurture. Sometimes people will come and go from our lives, and that is fine, too. The key is to keep making and nurturing relationships with ourselves and others that are likely to fill our deepest needs, and not our immediate urge for gratification.
4. Be Kind and Do Good for Others: Research from the University of California, Berkeley, has shown that altruism makes people feel good. Being kind, paying it forward, doing acts of service, and volunteering all make us feel good. And, they do more than make us feel good, individually. They make the recipient feel good as well. Being on the receiving end of an act of kindness makes the recipient much more likely to be kind and altruistic, in turn. One act builds a virtuous circle of kindness and builds social capital in our communities, creating the trust and security we all require, to be happy.
5. Make a Life of Meaning and Live in Alignment With Your Values: In the past 50 years, our lives have become far more secular than they used to be. Just a generation ago, church attendance was a regular feature of weekly lives and, whilst people tried and failed to live up to the values of their religion, individuals had an organising set of principles around which to live their lives. Living in alignment with a set of spiritual values gave meaning to life.
Coincidental with the decline of spiritual values has been the increase in the drive for status. It leads me to suspect that status is a maladaptive attempt to fill the void. How then, can we find meaning in our lives?
A values exercise can be a helpful beginning. How many of us have really taken the time to sit down with a set of values and choose our top 5 values and then prioritise those? And how many of us have taken the time to look at how we spend our time and determine if we are living in alignment with our values? Even if we have done these exercises in the past, periodic review is important, because life changes often bring about values changes and life pressures can mean we spend more and more time not in alignment with our values and feeling vaguely dissatisfied with life, as a result.
It is incredibly simple. And deeply powerful.
Let’s say that my top 5 values are: Beauty, Truth, Legacy, Nature and Family. I may choose to spend more time volunteering with a conservation charity to ensure a legacy of the beautiful natural world, and I will spend time camping with my children. If my job requires me to lie to customers, I will become unhappy very quickly and either want to leave or go off sick with stress. My life will certainly not be a happy one and my family will suffer, which will make me even more unhappy.
Once we have done a values exercise – thinking through our top values – we can begin to organise our personal and professional lives around the things which we hold dear. Living a live aligned with our values gives meaning to life.
There are many free tools online to aid in values identification. An example can be found here.
I hope you’ll give these 5 techniques a try over the next 365 days. If you do, I believe the world will be a happier place, because of you, on World Happiness Day, 2017.
We continue our series on individuals making a difference in the world, with the skills they possess. As a Valentine’s Day special, we feature LA based street artist WRDSMTH.
Each day, WRDSMTH touches hearts around the world with a new WRD – spray painted images of a vintage typewriter, topped with his messages of motivation, love and humour. WRDSMTH mixes a sense of nostalgia with pop culture in his art and for a world lost in the complexity of the “extreme present,” his WRDs evoke a simpler time – perhaps imagined – when we were all a little kinder to ourselves and one another, and when love was a committment for life.
Every piece, in its own way, feels like a love letter, sent out to the world, from the artist.
WRDSMTH calls his WRDs “indelible messages” which he “tattoos on walls” in cities around the world. WRDs can be found in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, West Palm Beach, London, Paris, Edinburgh, and Melbourne. His art is best experienced in its public context where its position in the surrounding environment adds another layer of meaning. However, for those unable to see it in situ, clever use of social media enables worldwide followers to participate in the daily experience, with photographs of his work appearing on his Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
Hoping to achieve a modest following of 500-1,000 followers, WRDSMTH currently has over 75,000 followers on Instagram and the number continues to grow, daily.
We emailed WRDSMTH in LA, to ask him a little more about his work and his motivations for being a force for positive messaging in the world.
TTDOG: In a recent article you were quoted as saying: The aim of art is “to inspire, entertain, or woo other individuals” Are you trying to woo us, Mr. WRDSMTH? As my father would say: What are your intentions for us?
WRDSMTH: No and yes. I recently used the word woo mainly to refer to the romantic WRDs I put up all over the world, as opposed to the motivational ones which inspire and the funny ones which I hope entertain. However, yes, I am trying woo people with my words. My intention is to affect. Period.
I hope my work makes people ponder, smile, and maybe laugh. The notion that people turn a corner and see a piece of mine or are driving by one and my WRDs affect them in a positive manner, makes me happy and, in turn, adds fuel to the creative fire. If a percentage of those people notice the name attached to my pieces and at some juncture look me up, fall into the rabbit hole that is the my body of work, and possibly become followers/fans, then my wooing was successful.
TTDOG: Why do you think positive WRDs from an anonymous stranger are so important to people and why is that craving so universal?
WRDSMTH: When I began WRDSMTHing, I just felt that this city (L.A.) and the world needed some positivity. I think it’s easy in this day and age to feel negative toward current events, politics, and even most of what’s deemed entertainment these days. I shy away from those heavily debated topics and instead choose to focus on the individual – the person that happens upon my WRDs – and, again, I aim to affect them in a positive manner.
And even though my messages reach a wide audience, I think people find the words compelling because of that one-on-one experience. I often am told people feel like my WRDs are speaking directly to them, which is a huge compliment, in my book. And the mystery of who is putting all these WRDs all over the world definitely works in my favor, which is a big reason why I retain my anonymity.
Born in Ohio, WRDSMTH moved to Chicago, where he crafted words into slogans designed to sell dreams through consumption. Realising that time waits for no one, he risked all to chase his own dream of being a writer and moved to Los Angeles. Following a very successful run, in 2013, he again turned his craft to selling a dream, with his WRDs. This time, it was the most cherished but often abandoned dream – fulfillment.
Despite his startlingly rapid rise as an international street Artist, WRDSMTH remains dedicated to his first passion: writing. He writes, every day. For solitary people of letters, his WRDs offer not only a dose of motivation but a sense of community.
TTDOG: One of your most famous WRDs says: “Aspire to Inspire Others and the Universe Will Take Note.” In what way do you feel the universe has taken note – for yourself as well as for those who have been inspired by you?
WRDSMTH: ‘Aspire’ has definitely become a mantra for WRDSMTH, but that’s because those words are so in line with what I aim to do and aimed to do from the get-go. I began this endeavor speaking to all the creative individuals doing time in Hollywood. However, I quickly realized it wasn’t just about those doing time here, but those doing time everywhere. Everyone has a dream – whether it be a creative one, a productive one or a romantic one.
We all aim to inspire others and if that intent is truly altruistic, I firmly believe the universe will take note. And hopefully good karma ensues. My success has been unexpected. I actually started WRDSMTHing for me because I needed an active hobby. The fact that my WRDs are resonating with so many is thrilling on a daily basis, which is why ‘Aspire’ is a mantra. The messages I get from fans and followers are amazing and are always welcome. I love hearing how I have inspired and motivated others. I also love hearing how my romantic WRDs have helped bring people together.
In a city and in an era where ‘authenticity’ is simply an attribute for branding, the nostalgic warmth and sometimes gut wrenching honesty of his art hints at the character of the man behind the WRDs.
TTDOG: Is the open hearted, playful, and vulnerable quality of your WRDs an extension of your professional writing, or is the anonymous WRDSMTH an alter ego that doesn’t get space for expression in your other writing? Why put yourself at risk, in a renegade medium? What impact does the medium and your anonymity have on what you communicate?
WRDSMTH: Both. I think the most compelling stories in any medium are open-hearted, amusing, and vulnerable. At least my favorite novels, movies, TV shows, and music have those characteristics. My professional work includes novels and screenplays and I follow that path, along with a strong belief that “less is more” in all my writing. WRDSMTH is such a merger of worlds for me. I used to work as a copywriter in advertising, so I think I understand how to be effective and affect with as few words as possible. However, WRDSMTH is not like advertising in that I have the creative freedom to say what I want with no agenda or boundaries. That is refreshing and addictive. As far as the risk in a renegade medium . . . isn’t that a vital ingredient in most success stories?
While affirmation is a great drug, I was not seeking it when I started WRDSMTHing and I always say I’d still be doing what I do even if I only had 500 followers. I will always say what I want to say and will always express myself in a myriad of personal and vulnerable ways because that’s what writers do. Hemingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I love that. Another mantra of mine that I penned is, “Do it for yourself and hope that what you do resonates with others.” I guess where Hemingway and WRDSMTH intersect is where my WRDs are born. The medium of street art seems to add a level of cool to my words.
The action of putting pieces up at all hours of the night while dancing a line of legality romanticizes the words to a great degree. There’s a difference between potentially reading “You got this. You know you do.” on a motivational poster or “You are amazing. You deserve amazing.” in a greeting card, versus seeing those words on a wall on the corner of Sunset and LaBrea. And the action of taking a picture of those pieces and Instagramming them or sending them to a loved one is more meaningful in this day and age of texting and social media. However, while I am aware of all this, it doesn’t change or alter what I put out there. My WRDs come from my life and my experiences, not from the expectation or hope that they will be Instagrammed or forwarded.
Specific laws, enforcement and penalties for street art vary from city to city and from country to country. In some cases, artwork is specifically commissioned or ‘permissioned.’ WRDSMTH’s installation at SYNDCTD creative agency in LA, and in Lululemon’s shop windows are recent examples of such work. Without such permissions, the question of legality is always a concern for artists painting in public spaces.
While second guessing what the law would consider ‘acceptable placement’ for his street art, WRDSMTH has stated that he never paints on private property in order to have his WRDs seen. Sensing what he terms a renaissance occurring in street art in Los Angeles, he points to promising changes on the horizon. Some city council members have begun to work with street artists to attempt to provision public spaces for art, as part of urban rejuvenation and beautification.
Not to detract from the LA cool of WRDSMTH, the street artist, his midwestern kindness goes beyond messages of love, humour and inspiration. A proponent of the Pay it Forward philosophy, WRDSMTH gives of his time and notes that most of his sales have some component of charitable giving attached to them. In 2015, he gave time and artwork to several causes including after school programs for LA children, local youth centres, the city’s homeless and for breast cancer research.
TTDOG: You help and inspire many people. Who has helped and inspired you, along the way? Who helps you these days, and what inspires you to stay positive and keep going, even on those days when things look bleak?
WRDSMTH: I am inspired by a lot of things: Friends. Family. Love. Music. Sunsets. Sunrises. Wanderlust. A really great burger. Cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Honesty. Laughter. Great conversation. Really good wine. Art in all its forms.
Someone once said, “Life is a struggle. But every now and then, we stumble upon something magical and it just makes everything all right.” My list includes things I often stumble upon – and they just make everything all right for me. Maybe for some, my art is something stumbled upon. At least I hope it is. And I stay positive by immersing myself in the things I love, by surrounding myself with people who challenge me, and by finding the good hidden in all the bleak on this big blue marble we are spinning on.
TTDOG: Many people want to make the world a better place but feel that they alone can’t make a difference or that they don’t have the skills, talent or opportunity. What would you say to them?
WRDSMTH: Find a way. There’s always a way.
TTDOG: What do you wish people would ask you about yourself or your work, but never do?
WRDSMTH: I like when people ask me my name instead of calling me Word or Mister Smith. I enjoy when fans inquire about my other writing. I like when they ask about my muse(s). I love when they ask if they can buy me a drink. I’d like more single girls to ask if I am single. I also wish people would ask me what my favorite palindrome is. The answer: racecar.
Heads up, ladies: WRDSMTH is single!
As is our practice at TTDOG, there is one final question for the artist:
For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
I am most grateful for my life – the amazing and baffling opportunity to spend some decades living and making a mark in the world. And my greatest joy is knowing that my work, words, and WRDs are reaching and affecting people all over the world.
WRDSMTH’s original artworks have been sold at Julien’s Auctions, Art Share-LA, In Heroes We Trust, Q Art Gallery, The Gabba Gallery, Stone Malone Gallery, and LabArt. He currently has prints, photos and wearable art for sale at Paper and Fabric.
To learn more about WRDSMTH and be inspired by his daily artwork, follow him at:
Email WRDSMTH at: WRDSMTHinLA@gmail.com
As I go through the world talking to people about gratitude, I notice their eyes glaze over and I recognize that my coolness quotient suddenly drops about 1000 points. Any of you who have known me awhile know that I despise evangelism of any kind and I strive to be authentic. By the time I knew I wanted to write about this, I knew that I would need to practice what I preached and to write about the awful days (like yesterday) where I feel petty, depressed and defeated because they are as much a part of the process and a part of life as living gratefully. We can’t simply bypass the darker moments to get to a place of gratitude. We have to go through them. And that hurts.
But, for those who don’t know me….there is a tidal wave of happiness messages out there and it is easy, in doing a kind of social shortcut, to tar me with that same brush.
I admit it – gratitude and happiness are interrelated. In my experience, gratitude practice leads to living gratefully and that leads to happiness. So, anything that reflects poorly on the ‘happiness’ movement will probably reflect poorly on gratitude practice. (Witness for instance, the coca cola adverts that use the repetition of the word “happiness” to sell sugary drinks that cause tooth decay and obesity – yeah, happiness, alright)
In that vein, I am grateful for an article published by Huff post by Jamie Varon about the pressure that all this happiness movement seems to put on people to be cheery all the time. It has given me a focus to bring together a lot of thoughts.
Like I said, happiness isn’t about being cheerful and negating the experience of darker moods and difficult times. But, just like yoga, a lot of people run to these movements to actually suppress and repress their emotions and avoid dealing with life. Oh yes, there are a lot of people hiding out in yoga, and, from what I can see….in the happiness circles as well.
Its not very PC of me to say this because I am a member of a Happiness movement and I am a yoga teacher. But, it is a dark truth with which the yoga community has had to contend, and one with which the positive psychology gurus better get a handle before they get tainted with someone flipping their happy lid, going postal and shooting a bunch of school children. I am grateful to be able to say that my yoga teacher, Swami Satchidananda and the current leaders of the Happiness movement to which I belong do understand this. But, as with all things, we can’t judge the leaders or the teachings by all the followers around them. Swami Satchidananda used to remind us that if all the followers had it all together, they wouldn’t need the teachings, now would they?
Unfortunately, it is often the followers that are a bit off kilter that get all the attention and go out into the world hypocritically evangelising. The article described how the stream of endless spiritual platitudes pisses people off and makes them feel guilty for somehow not having it all together. There is a tyranny of happiness out there – it is real and nobody should be ashamed or wronged for having darker emotions. I agree with her on this. Forcing a ‘happy’ world view or attitude on anyone before they can find their way to it reeks of the saccharin coated sinister world of Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and of religious cultism.
Yes, I do believe happiness is a choice…but not in the way it is normally preached….not because we can choose all our circumstances…but because we can choose how we respond to those circumstances. And no, I don’t define happiness as a perpetual feel-good state, nor as the achievement of all our dreams. Bad stuff happens. We hurt. And we process that hurt and transform it into something positive in our lives. Or…we grow bitter. Therein lies our choice.
I know this sounds like first world thinking. I don’t believe that our personal responsibility to choose our attitude and thoughts in any way negates our social responsibility to one another. When we see another suffering, it is our duty in society to do what we can to alleviate suffering. It is the social contract under which we have lived for centuries. It has broken down – I admit that. This week I watched a man maintain his rush hour stride while stepping right over a homeless man who was begging outside of Clapham Junction. Perhaps we are afraid to look into the eyes of that man on the street because to do so forces us to recognize that save for a few circumstances, it could be any one of us in that position. If we don’t want to take responsibility for our fragility in becoming destitute, we certainly don’t want to take responsibility for creating our own happiness.
But it is more – when we fail to have compassion for the man on the street, we cannot have it for ourselves, either. And without self-compassion, we can never make peace with our shadow selves. Happiness is not about sustaining pleasure all the time, in my opinion. To me, the journey to happiness is finding our own ways to experience loss, anger, grief, injustice and finding the seed of compassion that propels us to grow, to live resiliently and to take what we’ve learned out into the community. It is that seed of compassion that turns a rape victim into a counsellor, a Nazi death camp prisoner into a positive psychologist, a school drop out into a ground breaking modern artist and a victim of injustice into an activist.
Art by @Lakwena 🙏🏻 Calls to mind Mae West “When I’m good, I’m very good. But, when I’m bad, I’m better” 😉 #lakwena #streetart #streetartuk #streetarteverywhere #graff #graffiti #grafftastic #urbanart #design #painter #womeninart #womenwhopaint #rsa_graffiti #TV_StreetArt_ #TV_StreetArt
I share positive feeds and I hashtag many of my photos #happinessisachoice and hell, I’m bothering to spend 10,000 days here writing about gratitude. That may make you want to slap me but I practice pratipaksha bhavana (a yogic practice of replacing positive thoughts for negative thoughts) not to avoid dealing with my negative emotions and thoughts, but because I do believe that as we think, so we will be. Sometimes that positive thought is simply one of compassion.
I will be the first to admit to my own petty-mindedness, anger, disappointment, grief, lust, loneliness, gluttony, greed, shame, laziness, jealousy and insecurity. Some days I want to slap the smile off of people’s faces, too. Accepting this about myself, without judging, fearing or having to look away from it allows me to have compassion for myself and to avoid acting on those impulses. By compassionately processing, without judgement, my dark stuff, I am freed of it and I can find the meaning in the suffering that gives my life a deeper purpose. And so, with a mix of acceptance, processing the darkness and working to transform it through choices in thought, word and deed I do believe we can find our way to a meaningful, authentic life of depth and purpose. And to me, THAT is the meaning of happiness.
The full piece Art by @lakwena #grafftastic #graffiti #graff #streetart #streetartuk #streetarteverywhere #streetartlondon #londonstreetart #shoreditch #urbanart #womeninart #womenwhopaint #TV_StreetArt #TV_StreetArt_ #rsa_graffiti
If you want to read the original blog in Huff Post it is here: