Tag Archives: The Happiness Project

So how happy do you really need to be?

Elle magazine’s August issue had another article on happiness – I hadn’t realised quite how much this blog is part of the zeitgeist until now. The article was called “Is content the new happy?” and questioned  why we are less happy nowadays than ever before, referring to a survey which showed people were happier in the 1930s – the days of the great depression. Alice Wignall, the author, thinks it is because we have so many options, we want for so much, that happiness is a continual and unfulfilled search.

She interviews many of the HPL’s favourite happiness people – Robert Holden from the The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin from the The Happiness Project (note to self: well done for coming up with an original blog name) and Alain de Botton’s School of Life (I actually hadn’t realised that the School of Life was De Botton’s baby, will definitely have to pop along now). She talks about how the things that we think make us happy – the payrises, the material things – only provide temporary happiness. And she suggests that our constant treadmill pursuit of happiness means we ignore the good things in our lives and are never just content with what we have. She thinks that if you lower your expectations and appreciate what you have, this contentment will make you truly happy. She even says she’s been finding happiness through gardening.

I was reading the whole thing going *jumps up* That’s what I’ve been saying!! Meeee!!!! I could have written this article myself  it was so similar to what I’ve been writing about lately. In my guest post on How To Be Happy  I said that happiness can’t be achieved by things, or bestowed upon you by other people, because it is a state of mind. You cannot be made happy, you have to become happy in yourself (as she says – buddhist monk style).  

I totally appreciate her point about not constantly trying to do or buy things to make you happier – better clothes, losing weight, a different partner, better social life. The problem is the world is our oyster nowadays – Facebook and twitter are full of people trying to show how much more fun they’re having than you are, and the list of what we can do and buy, where we can travel and live, is endless. But rather than constantly pursuing every possible source of happiness, we could all do with appreciating what we have, counting our blessings, being positive.

So here’s what I think. Your life generally splits into 4 categories – job, friends & family, partner, home. Typically, if one’s going well, something else will go tits up, apart from the occasional smug time when you realise that everything is perfect. And then it all goes tits up again. Rather than striving for perfection in everything, we all need to know ourselves enough to understand what we NEED from each. For instance, I know I have to have a job I love to be happy (and am very lucky that I now do). I also know that I am happiest when surrounded by my friends and family and any niggles with any of them will mean I’m not truly happy. I’d like a bigger flat but I’m working on the little one I have to make it even nicer and this makes me appreciate it more. I know I don’t need money or a flash lifestyle, but I do want to be loved for who I am.

So, don’t rely on anyone else’s standards of what makes them happy, don’t seek perfection because you won’t find it, don’t envy thy neighbour’s facebook photos and remember its your own little world that matters. Appreciate what you have. And call your mum more. And new lamp shades really make all the difference in a small flat, as do new pillows.

Make your own Happiness Rules

Several people have pointed out to me that, sailing along on the New York Times bestseller list, is a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

Sadly, given that the name and premise of my blog is so similar, I knew absolutely nothing about it until recently, doh. However, I’ve signed up to Gretchen’s blog and am hugely impressed by the discipline by which she is living by her happiness rules.  These are her 12 happiness commandments:

  • Be Gretchen.
  • Let it go.
  • Act the way I want to feel.
  • Do it now.
  • Be polite and be fair.
  • Enjoy the process.
  • Spend out.
  • Identify the problem.
  • Lighten up.
  • Do what ought to be done.
  • No calculation.
  • There is only love.
  • These are different to my Rules – they are more specific, psychological.   More about the process by which you live your life.  A bit Americano perhaps, but I like and want to use some of them – like not calculating (I washed up so you should do the cooking/its your turn to call me),  pinpointing specific causes of stress/sadness, and acting the way I want to feel (if I want to cheer up, forcing myself to smile etc).

    This got me thinking – we are all so different that we need to make up our own rules.  Mine work for me because I know what makes me happy.  I find myself smiling and content after a long dinner with friends; or if I’ve kept up my yoga practice for a while; or worked in the garden and seen results; or done something for other people.  I’m hoping that the other stuff – patience, warmth, relaxation, tolerance, mindfulness, all comes as a result of following my Rules.  I’m certainly finding I’m more and more content as I continue the project, although I’m nowhere near as disciplined as Gretchen.  

    Gretchen encourages people to start their own Happiness Projects and so I wanted to spread the word to all you Londoners.  It may take you a while (her rules took her 12 months to reflect on) but if you can, start being conscious of what specific things or behaviour patterns make you happy or that you think might make you happier (anything from eating more scotch eggs to calling your best mate once a week to making to-do lists) .  Also when you feel unhappy, try to work out what the cause was, and write down ways to combat that feeling again.

    I’ll be asking friends and other happy people about what makes them happy and will post their answers here, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what rules you’ve come up with!

    Give a little – busy Londoners guide

    As you know, The Happiness Project London believes that as well as making the most out of your time doing fun stuff; to be truly happy, you should fit in some time to help others.  This is especially important given that more and more of us are unhappy nowadays as highlighted by this recent Sunday Times article

    But let’s be realistic – we work long hours; book our evenings and weekends up weeks in advance to see friends and partners; and with our remaining free time we try to squeeze in yoga classes, gym sessions, shopping, calling mum. 

    However, New Year is about making changes to your life and these can be as small as you like to fit in with your busy lifestyles.  The Evening Standard recently published an artice called “Let’s eat, drink, shop – and give to others“, where it encouraged people to think of others over Christmas and quoted the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent sermon where he said that “real happiness comes from family, friends and community, not status and things.”  

    I’m in no position to be preachy (and, having recently hit the sales pretty hard, I know that there is some happiness that comes from “things”), but The Happiness Project London is trying to help the wider community as part of my Rules, and I have therefore come up with some simple, easy ways to help:

    1. Unwanted Christmas presents


    An embroidered tissue box holder?  Thanks!

    You can of course give away on Freecyle or Gumtree, or sell on ebay (for charity if you like), but I’ve found these to can take time and effort, and you often have no idea who you are giving stuff to.

    • So, take random gifts to your local charity shop – they’ll be very pleased to get them. 
    • Toiletries (especially dentist stuff, shower gels, shampoos and razors) would be really helpful to homeless shelters (see St Mungos or the Waterloo Christian Mission) or other charities where people pop in to get shelter (for example The Refugee Council). 
    • Many charities including homeless hostels and shelters for victims of domestic violence and refugees, including The Refugee Council, would love clothes, shoes, toys, colouring pens, etc too – just call first to check that they have room as some have more than they need already. 
    2. Donate old furniture
    Emmaus and other organisations including Mencap, Trinity Homeless, Salvation Army, Homestore Tower Hamlets and Furniture Aid South Thames will come and pick up your old furniture and electricals for free and donate to charities or people who need it. 

    An Evening Standard article on this received a lot of negative comments that this was harder than it sounded, but the alternatives aren’t great.  You can sell on ebay, but I’ve had problems lately with moaning buyers.  The council always takes a while to pick your stuff up, and you might get in trouble for leaving it out in the street.  You also might not want to go through the hassle of giving stuff away on gumtree or freecycle (Londonders can be strangely picky when enquiring about free items).

    3. It’s not fundraising, its handraising – www.ihave.org.uk
    I LOVE the premise of this new Edinburgh-based website.  ihave.org.uk asked charities what they need and the answers are refreshingly specific and simple – a spare amp, children’s books, volunteer drivers, advertising space, digital cameras, pet food, white boards, blood.
    You can give as little as you like, as often as you like, which means it can be fitted into your busy lifestyle.  I can’t be the only one that has hordes of stuff gathering dust that I’d be happy to donate – old cameras, frizbees, plant pots, photo frames, paint….  It is currently Scotland-centric but they are hoping to expand – hopefully it will get to London soon.