I have been out and about again! Having written about happiness in my last blog (2nd October) I keep coming across more on the subject, such as a presentation I went to by Professor Robert Winston entitled “What makes us happy? Read the human mind”.

The pre-event blurb said that he was going to “attempt to unlock the answers”. I found the hour and a half he spent with his audience entertaining and informative, but didn’t leave with the answer. I did leave with a head full of interesting thoughts though.

One of them was the idea that many of the things that make us happy are actually rather bad for us, and lead to situations that, even whilst we are doing them, we know we will not be happy about in the long term. You know the kind of thing: overeating, smoking, over drinking, falling in love with the wrong sort.!! We know they’re not good for us in the long run, but we do them anyway, because at that moment they bring us something that we need.

It reminded me of Henry D Thoreau’s comment that

The question is not what you look at, but what you see

When I am looking at a large glass of Pinot Grigio and a big bowl of crips I am not seeing the future in which I may be overweight, hung over and unhappy: I am seeing things that bring me joy!

It also reminded me of something I heard a while ago on You and Yours on radio 4 (yes I know, but I like radio 4: it makes me happy, and I’m hoping the worst long term outcome may be nothing more than accusations of being middle aged!!). Peter White was interviewing the Director General of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, about the new health recommendation that only 5% of our diet a day should be sugar. When Peter put it to Mr Wright that, instead of food and drink manufacturers voluntarily taking action to encourage people to be healthy, he was putting all the responsibility with the consumer, Ian Wright’s response was:

In the end being fat is a matter of personal responsibility

So there it is: the ball thrown right back at us. We have a choice and so we are responsible.

Will Schutz of course had exactly the same idea

I choose my whole life and I always have. I choose my behaviour, my feelings, my thoughts, my illnesses, my body, my reactions

To take responsibility in that way, to give up what makes us happy now because of the long term implications, is hard. By denying that we have a choice we can live with the belief that it is not our fault and feel no responsibility for doing anything about it. We are absolved!!

But if we acknowledge that we have a choice then we are suddenly responsible, and so can do something about it. And whilst that can be scary (because after all it is often easier to blame someone or something else), it puts us in charge of ourselves.

As a coach there is a lesson learnt early on that in order to change anything, even when we want to, then we need to understand what we are losing by doing so, otherwise the change will not stick. Neuro Linguistic Programming puts it like this:

What does what I am doing now do for me? What will I lose if I change what I am doing?

So many of us set out on choosing something different to get us a happier long term outcome, without first considering what our current habit does for us, and what we will lose if we give it up.

For example, as I am sat here typing I have eaten three biscuits which I’ve enjoyed, but I know they are bad for me. So I might decide to give up biscuits whilst I type. But if I do that I will lose something important. When I really think about it I realise that the act of eating gives me a break in my typing as I munch and stare out of the window, getting my next thought together. And so I realise that the biscuit is irrelevant: it is the pausing that eating creates that is important. So I could replace the biscuit with a carrot stick or a banana. Or I could just pause and stare and not eat anything at all. By working out what my current habit is doing for me I can get a happier long term outcome and keep the benefits.

Or of course I can carry on eating biscuits, more aware of the choice that I am making.

Thoreau’s earlier quote also brings to mind the idea of ‘reframing’, which is defined as

A way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives

And maybe that in itself is a key to happiness: taking the good from any situation.

Or as Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it

For their is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

With Prof Winston suggesting that all the evidence shows that people who are happy live longer, healthier lives, and that laughing increases endorphins and lowers stress levels, it’s got to be worth the effort of all that ‘thinking to make it so’, hasn’t it?

No simple answers then, but for a longer, happier life, it could be worth exploring what we choose and how that makes us happy.

Thank you for reading this blog. I am enjoying sharing the Choose You Project with you and I love hearing your thoughts, comments and examples of Choose You moments, so do please continue to share them with me, (you can email me at jenny@insight-out.co.uk).