Blue Skies Self Help: Happiness 101

***image1***‘And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

Anais Nin

What are you afraid of? What stops you being happy? More to the point, what exactly is ‘happiness’? Some equate happiness with a feeling of euphoria, an ‘uplifted’ or joyous feeling. However others, most notably the Oxford professor and author of the book Happiness Theodore Zeldin, believes that happiness is more about altruism than it is about temporary highs.

Zeldin says that you must connect with others and help others in order to truly lead a happy life. Yet, look around you, how often do you connect with people who are not family or friends? And the occasional trip to the doctor or dentist doesn’t count. For example how often have you sat on a bus or tube staring straight ahead, not making eye contact with anyone because you were always taught that it was ‘rude to stare’. Of course what that really means is that it is rude to stare at people but not to stare into space. Connecting with people, let alone helping them, is a rare part of our day. We have been trained from childhood to be uncomfortable around strangers, sometimes even around people we know.

***image2***I was really amused recently while travelling to work to find the sweetest little boy, perhaps six years old, craning his neck around to read the cover of the book I was reading. His mother was extremely embarrassed at what he was doing and tried desperately to get him to stop. I held the book up higher for him to read the cover with ease, he nodded sagely once done and turned back to what he was doing. That child was so wonderfully uninhibited, so confident of his right to his senses that he completely bypassed our societal norms of so-called ‘manners’.

This lack of connection with others is not our fault. We are made to feel excruciatingly awkward by the thought of speaking to those around us. We are terrified of rejection and of being made to look stupid. This ensures that we stay in our own little shells and only the extraordinary draws us out. There is a tube train driver on my local route who always livens up the commuter run by making more than the usual announcements for customers. He tells people he likes their hats or entreats them to ‘stand away from the doors before your butt gets squished.’ People are at first startled by these human phrases coming over the tannoy system but then they smile and strangers are suddenly sharing a ‘moment’ about ‘that nutter of a tube train driver’.

We seem to need that impetus of the unusual in order to talk to one another. People are thirsty for conversation and connection — you can sometimes see it in their eyes — but they are much too scared of looking foolish or being taken for madmen. I find it in myself when I see someone reading a book I’ve just read. I would love to hear what they think of it and if they have suggestions of ones like it that I might not have read but it is simply not the ‘done thing’ to invade people’s personal space.

There is no doubt we are individuals who need personal space but modern society has elevated the individual to the point that is so much higher than that of the community that we no longer know how to relate to those we’re not familiar with. I am not an opponent of individuality – in fact I actively encourage you to discover who you are as individuals — but I do think we need to reach out more to each other on a day to day basis so that we bring more joy into each other’s lives. Happy people seem to know this and have a ready smile for strangers.

***image3***Connecting with others is not the only thing that happy people seem to have a knack for. Naturally happy people ignore the temptation to think the worst. Every time you have a negative thought, you trace a pathway in your internal landscape that leads to a negative emotion. If you have more negative thoughts than positive ones, your pathway to negative emotions will begin to look like a super-fast highway with the pathway traced by your positive thoughts turning into an overgrown little country track, hardly ever used. It will become more and more difficult to break the pattern of bad thoughts and in turn feel better about things. So in order to be happy, you must think happy thoughts.

For example, if someone is late for a date, don’t automatically think you’ve been stood up or that something terrible has happened to them. It is rare for people to stand others up or to be lying bleeding in the gutter. It isn’t helpful to think the worst. Even if you have been stood up, don’t dwell on it or assume that it reflects on you as a person. Make your positive thought pathway a huge motorway with lots of lanes so that your first inclination is to think the best. This will impact how things turn out in your life. Try to reduce the amount of times you say ‘but’ or moan or complain about your circumstances.

A good instant ‘pick-me-up’ to promote happier thoughts is to break patterns. Do a new thing every day, no matter how small. Try having tea instead of coffee in the morning if coffee is your usual. Take a different route to work. Try something new for your lunch. No matter how tiny the new thing or change in pattern, the effects will be to let you see that you can control certain things.

You can dictate aspects of your life and, above all, you can control how you feel. Try to distract yourself if you feel you’re about to descend into a bout of ‘doom and gloom’. Clear out an old drawer, write a letter to friend (even if you email her or him daily), read a book you’ve been meaning to get round to reading. If an uncomfortable emotion really is unavoidable (and sometimes it’s important to feel them) try taking a short nap instead. In these minor ways you can learn to be happier in smaller ways until you discover that the times that you are happy outnumber the ones where you are unhappy.

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by Tania Ahsan
Tania Ahsan is a writer and artist based in London. She is the former editor of Prediction, the UK's original mind, body, spirit magazine. She is currently working on a book project to do with witchcraft in Pakistan.