Last week my friend Nikki and I are kicked off the first week in our Action for Happiness course, Exploring What Matters course. One of the thoughts I was left with after the two-hour session was that as a society, we are insane.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. As part of the course, we played TEDx lecture by the economist Prof Richard Leyard, who points out that over the last 50 years, there has been a huge increase in material wealth in Britain and America, but happiness has flat-lined.
Again and again we have hoped that getting richer will make us happier and it hasn’t. And so what do we do? More of the same and hope for a different result. That is insane.
This is why mental health disorders now affect one in four people, because as a society we do not prioritise things that are good for our happiness! Being depressed is a sane response to our cultural values.
My mother is a family counselor. She once had a ten year-old client who was on the verge of being expelled because she was so violent. She would just lash out at people in the classroom, seemingly unprovoked.
When she started asking the girl questions, it soon became clear that this anger came from feeling neglected by her mother, who was always working late in the City. The mother had been ‘reassuring’ her that she’d make it up to her with a skiing holiday.
The mother wanted the best for her child, and she thought that the best was providing for her materially. The prescription my mum gave was simple: spend more time with your child: cut down your hours, take her to the supermarket, make her part of your life.
Within weeks the child’s behaviour was transformed and the school haled it as a minor miracle. To me this illustrates how badly things go wrong when we don’t focus on what really matters, and how easy they can be to rectify!
According to the science, the strongest determinant for our happiness is the quality of our relationships. Our wealth only influences 1% of our happiness. On one level this might seem obvious, but how many of us really live as if that were the case? How many times have you prioritised work over your family and friends? And even at work, how many times have your prioritised your to-do list over giving time and attention to a colleague?
The other thing at the top of the list was your mental health, so meditation got a good plug. You can have lots of friends and still suffer greatly from anxiety, depression or negative thinking.
While I felt a strong sense of consternation at the gap between what makes us happy and how we live, I was inspired and uplifted by the last few minutes of the session, where all 21 people pledged an action they would take this week for their own happiness.
The most common ones were to do a few minutes of meditation and to ask a friend or family member what makes them happy. The latter being important because talking about it more helps us take our heads out of the sand.
It can be a bit of an awkward question though. Maybe because it’s requires acknowledging that gap between what we know to be true, and they way we live each day. Surely it’s better to feel a bit awkward, though, than continue this madness!
If you’d like less madness and more happiness in your workplace, get in touch for a taster session to experience how mindfulness can help.
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