According to the Dalia Lama,
"The purpose of life is to be happy"
However according to Victor Frankl (renowned psychiatrist, philosopher and author) "it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness". So how do we get there? Must we somehow engineer an accidental path to happiness by pointing ourselves in another direction, whilst watching in our peripheral vision for our true goal? This International Day of Happiness, as I hunker down with my family amidst our worst storm in decade, it seems a good time to reflect on what is happiness and how do we get there?
Not surprisingly, in the last year, our global collective happiness has taken a hit. According to the annual World Happiness Report released yesterday, "the early data also show some notable signs of resilience in feelings of social connection and life evaluations", helping us to fair better than one might anticipate. In other words, with the onset of Covid, maybe we weren't as happy, but it wasn't as bad as you'd expect. More importantly a few very significant things happened...
Firstly we discovered we are stronger than we realised. And as it turns out resilience is a building block to happiness. Putting setbacks into perspective, choosing a positive attitude, having self-compassion - these are the coping mechanisms that allow us to grow through adversity.
Secondly, we recognised our need for connection. The World Happiness Report values Trust (in those around you and your in your government) and Connectedness highly as markers of our overall happiness. The report states "many positive features of a person's life helped to protect their sense of connectedness. These included gratitude, grit, prior connections, volunteering, taking exercise, and having a pet. It also helped to have activities that provided 'flow'." I also highlights "the pandemic has revealed improvements in social connection for those who engage in acts of kindness".
Lastly, we had time to take stock and consider what actually makes us happy. Amongst the many lessons of lockdown (how much wine is a good idea; how brilliant teachers are to put up with our children; how to bake sourdough) there also seemed to be a collective re-evaluation to what most matters in life. Globally we may not have been happy being forced home for months but it has allowed us to laser in on how we want to move forward more happily.
The counties that faired best haven't changed much - those pesky Nordic countries with their ever chipper attitude keep outranking us all. Coincidently they are also the countries that score highest on generosity and social support. Australia is no 12, slipping from number 11 last year - but certainly fairing better than many other countries around the world. New research from the University of Oxford also finds "a strong correlation between achieving sustainable development and self-reported measures of well-being".
So the outtake seems to be, instead of running headlong at happiness, if we squint at it from the corner of eye, whilst instead focusing on the things that matter most to us. If we approach connectedness as a verb instead of a noun, building community and showing kindness both to ourselves and to others. If we are lucky enough to be surrounded by others who do the same. We might just stumble on happiness together.