The world of psychology is overflowing with literature on how to live a good life and be happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy? The problem is that often people look in the wrong places. For example, many people think that the road to happiness involves great achievement, in either academic performance or in their career. Other people search for happiness in trying to make sure they have plenty of money and material comfort or possessions. However, it is possible to become very successful and very rich and still be entirely unhappy.
We all have the potential to make tiny changes in our lives. From building fitness, to learning a language or how to dance, through to practicing meditation or yoga. The possibilities are endless.
Have you noticed the big increase in articles in the media telling us “how to be happy”? It’s a great idea but there are some problems to consider. Firstly, aiming for short term pleasures can bring happiness, but this can soon fall flat and often brings a heap of unwanted long term side effects.
Whichever way you look at it, getting older in years is a process involving an inevitable steady decline. That’s the bad news. Is there any good news? One good thing is that many large scale studies would suggest that, on average, levels of happiness and contentment can rise as we get older. We tend to savour and appreciate life’s precious moments.
Like our lives in general, Christmas has dramatically changed over the years. The great majority of us have lives that centuries ago would have been on a par with royalty! On a material level we have an abundance of food, warmth, clothes, electronics, and so on. Does this make us happier? Unfortunately, our expectations of what we should have has also risen and this can undermine our enjoyment of life. Some psychologists have described this as the ‘abundance paradox’.
We all know, but tend to forget, that just because we are not sick or ill, this does not mean that we are physically fit and healthy. It’s exactly the same when it comes to our mental health. Having good mental health usually involves having the resilience to deal with life’s slings and arrows, and to experience a sense of purpose and positive well-being. Psychologists call this positive state of mental well-being ‘thriving’ or ‘flourishing’.
Have you ever wondered what is behind the saying, “Spend your money on experiences, not things?” It’s an interesting idea that runs counter to common sense because, as we know, things last longer than experiences. For example, whilst your holiday can be over and done with in a fortnight, a new settee or pair of shoes will last for ages! However, it doesn’t work like that in practice. This is because human beings quickly adapt to the new possessions.