• Rikki Aherne

Happiness Doesn’t Just Happen

It has been nearly two years since the world went into lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we know it. As everyday routines, relationships, and sources of joy changed, little room was left for happiness. Fear, sadness, and loneliness have become constant companions for many people. These emotions have been felt so often that they have become the norm.

Throughout the pandemic, a common phrase became “when this is all over...”. We used this to describe everything from when you’ll see loved ones to when we can go outside again. This phrase firmly declared that everything will improve post-pandemic.

As the danger subsides whilst society reopens, the pandemic’s end will not just flip a mental switch. Fear and sadness will not just evaporate. Even as we look for happiness and a better future, these emotions of fear have become comfortable. Leaving them behind can not only be scary, but hard to do.

Just like before the pandemic, you will have happy and sad moments as you move throughout the trials and joys of life

Sometimes people stop seeking happiness after a while because staying in a state of fear and sadness is easier than having your emotions bounced around every time something happens.

After being denied the happiness you’ve sought for so long, going out in search of it can feel like a risk or a ‘too good to be true’ situation.

It’s not wrong to feel sad or not feel happiness as quickly as you expected. Renowned psychologist, Romanoff, says: “We aren’t meant to always be happy. Often the emotions that occur beyond happiness are just as important and allow us to experience vital processes like processing the loss of life during the pandemic”.

Just like before the pandemic, you will have happy and sad moments as you move throughout the trials and joys of life.

What do we mean by happiness?

Most of us won’t need a definition of happy as we know it when we feel it.

To fully understand how to become happier and how this happiness effects our lives, we must have a formal definition. Many of us use the term happy to describe a range of positive emotions, including joy, pride, contentment, and gratitude. Researchers use the term ‘subjective well-being' to describe happiness.

They measure this by simply asking people to report how satisfied they feel with their lives and how much positive and negative emotion they’re experiencing.

Psychology researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, describes happiness as “The experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile”. This is a good definition as it captures the fleeting positive moments that come with happiness. It also captures the deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life. It suggests that these emotions and sense of meaning reinforce one another.

From these definitions we can draw the following conclusions:

· Happiness is a state not a trait. This means it is fleeting in nature and not permanent. It is not a personality trait and it can change.

· Happiness doesn’t always have to show on the outside. It is both an internal and external experience.

· Neither definition allows for no individual improvement. You can work on yourself to improve your overall happiness.

Being happy is a state not a trait

What is so great about being happy?

June Silny at Happify (a company which uses scientific research to provide interactive tools to enable us to live a happier, more fulfilling life) tells us that the main reasons for increasing our levels of happiness are:

· Happy people are more successful. Areas of success include marriage, friendships, work performance, and health.

· Happy people get sick less often and experience fewer symptoms when they do get sick.

· Happy people tend to have more friends and a better support system.

· Happy people are more helpful and more likely to volunteer. These things, in turn, make us happier!

· Happy people are more optimistic. Optimism makes us more resilient against pain, sadness and grief.

· Happy people can have a positive influence on others. Their happiness is infectious.

· Happy people tend to engage in deeper more meaningful conversations.

· Happy people tend to exercise more and eat a healthier diet.

· Happy people are more productive and more creative.

· Happy people tend to live longer.

Research suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis. Both of these things are relatively stable. Our lives change and our mood fluctuates but our overall happiness generally stays the same.

Happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. But we know that with consistent and conscious effort, this overall state of happiness can be changed or improved. You have the ability to control how you feel. With consistent practice and small changes in your behaviour, surroundings, and relationships, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life. You can be happier.

How do I Become Happier?

Slowly explore what makes you happy now, such as certain people, restaurants, and music. By easing into joy, the process may not feel so overwhelming.

Slowly explore what makes you happy

· Treat yourself like a friend

When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice you would give a friend who was down on themselves. Simply close your eyes and imagine a good friend is listening to your thoughts and problems. What would they say? What would they do? How would they comfort you? Now apply that advice to yourself. This is called the compassionate friend technique.

· Take time to connect with other people

Research suggests that loneliness poses the same risk to our health as smoking and obesity. This makes it important for us to reach out and connect with others. It doesn’t matter who we connect with; family, friends, colleagues or complete strangers. We can start small and simple by talking to the barista at a coffee shop or the person at the till. Call a friend and arrange to meet. We are naturally social creatures so it makes sense that relationships are so central to our overall happiness and well-being.

· Get Moving

It’s not clear if moving makes you happy or if happy people move more, but what we do know is that more activity positively correlates with better health and greater happiness.

Exercise releases endorphins (the feel good hormones) and decreases stress hormones. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise all the time either. A gentle walk can often leave you in a good mood. Moving outdoors can boost your mood even more.

· Have goals to look forward to

Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us. Choosing meaningful but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them. Working towards our goal seems to boost our happiness just as much as achieving our goals. Perhaps start with a day-to-day goal, such as finishing the laundry. Move on to short-term goals, such as planning a party or joining a local class. Build up to making long-term goals such as career moves and aspirations.

Mindfulness is a how, not a what. A talent, not an object     Herman Hesse

· Mindfulness

Learning to be more mindful and aware really boosts our happiness levels. It helps us connect with our feelings and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness helps us get more out of the day-to-day. To practice mindfulness is very simple. You take a moment to simply notice. Notice how you feel physically and mentally. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Set yourself a goal or intention for the day. Perhaps pause for a moment and think about what you are grateful for, or write it down every night before bed. These simple things can be done anytime or anywhere; on your walk to work, when you get up in the morning, or you can set a specific time aside to relax and practice mindfulness.

· Keep learning

Life is one long lesson and learning increases our happiness in many ways. Seeking knowledge helps us to engage with the people and environment around us. It gives us a sense of achievement and boosts our self-confidence. You don’t need to gain formal qualifications to be learning, you can all do it all the time. You can share a s