Happiness – more than a feeling

If during this tumultuous year someone had asked “How do you feel?” very few of us would have answered by saying “Happy.” But if the question had been phrased “How are you coping?” many more of us would have answered –without false optimism– “quite well” or even “surprisingly well.”

This highlights the distinction between personal feelings – often fleeting emotional reactions – and the deeper, more lasting resilience of response to the demands of life.

This is the argument of Richard, Lord Layard in his extensive work in the field of what he has called “the new science” of happiness. The words “happy” and “happiness” are a necessary shorthand for a range of activities and attitudes that contribute to personal well-being. Taking happiness seriously has led to the development of several well-authenticated strategies for building this well-being in ourselves and fostering it in our children.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people building a happier society by making positive changes in their personal lives, homes, workplaces and communities, and a charity with which Lord Layard has closely identified. Its 10 keys to greater happiness have as a mnemonic “GREAT DREAM.”

Action for Happiness’s website tells us “Our happiness is not set in stone. Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%. As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.”

To ourselves and to those with whom we share our lives. This has also been borne out by persuasive if only as yet anecdotal evidence that during this pandemic it is the quality of our relationships that have made the most difference to us all.

Happy people make happy relationships and this leads to happy communities. At Home Renaissance Foundation we have been keen to add the missing element to this equation: How does the home contribute to happiness – personal and for wider society. This is the question raised by our forthcoming academic sessions, supported by the Social Trends Institute, Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes.

We are delighted to have Lord Layard as a key contributor to these sessions, in which world-class academics share their perspectives on the relationship between home and well-being.

Please find the schedule of video presentations here ready for our launch on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th November. The agenda is also available on our site.

Happiness is more than a feeling – and it starts at home.

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Is pleasure synonymous with happiness? Absolutely not!

Can we be happy in the middle of this maelstrom that we are experiencing? Can we find a positive side to Covid-19? What is the role of homes in achieving a happy society? When we set the theme for our 5th conference “Happy Homes, Happy Society?” we did not imagine what 2020 was going to bring but our experts are ready to give us answers to all the questions that have arisen.

Without a doubt, we are living through some of the hardest moments in recent history. This virus is strongly shaking the main pillars on which society stands. The economy is suffering a lot, the different confinements are causing great work imbalances, everyone’s mental health suffers, fear also generates insecurity and nervousness and homes have become the centre of operations for everything, as we saw in our recent “Home in the Time of Coronavirus” Report.

What can each of us do individually from our homes to deal with this? What tools do we have to cope with this situation and be better prepared to face both the uncertain present and the future? We can’t live as if nothing is wrong. We must be aware of the problem in order to work at a solution.

A fundamental tool is knowledge, information, understanding. Being well informed prevents us from falling for lies, rumours, and fake news that flutter on social networks generating panic or uncertainty. And according to experts, it is essential not to get carried away by our emotions.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence”, explains that our brain is divided in two: we have a rational side and an emotional side. Letting one kidnap the other prevents us from seeing life in a normal way. When the emotional one traps the rational, we live in the grip of passions and we find ourselves facing a serious problem.

Precisely why, the paediatrician Robert Lustig explains that we are experiencing a cultural crisis is due to the confusion between happiness and pleasure. It’s an intentional confusion on the part of governments and large companies and it is increasingly ingrained in society. Happiness and pleasure are not the same, we cannot equate them despite the fact that many people do so without realising their differences. According to Dr. Lustig:

  • Pleasure is temporary and happiness is permanent.
  • Pleasure is visceral and happiness is ethereal.
  • Pleasure is taking and happiness is giving.
  • Pleasure can be achieved with substances and happiness cannot.
  • Pleasure is experienced alone, and happiness is experienced in social groups.
  • Extreme pleasures lead to addiction through substances or certain behaviour but it is not possible to be addicted to happiness.
  • And from a biological point of view, the most important difference is that pleasure is dopamine and happiness is serotonin.

These are two biochemicals, two neurotransmitters that the brain produces and uses for neurons to communicate with each other. Dopamine kills serotonin so we should strive for more happiness and less pleasure. Because the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you will be. You can see the technical or scientific explanation in this video.

Of course, we face an ambitious challenge. In 15 days’ time, our academics will speak of happiness, in the 21st century immersed in a global pandemic. It will not be an easy task, but if you are interested in learning more about the research carried out by our experts, on November 12 and 13, keep an eye on our social networks and go on our website to watch their videos and read the introductions to their papers. This Conference is not going to leave us indifferent.

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

We begin the month of March with this post by Rosemary Roscoe in which she talks about Resilience, that human being’s ability to overcome traumatic experiences. Being resilient opens the door to happiness.

“In 2009, an Ofsted happiness questionnaire made an interesting discovery –young people in a deprived suburb of Liverpool were happier than those from more affluent areas. Teenagers from the closely-knit community of Knowsley, where grown-up children tend to stay living close to their families or siblings, enjoyed a better quality of life than was typically found elsewhere in the country, apparently due to stronger friendships and family relationships.

It was argued that many in the area were happier because they had benefitted from being “resilient” in the face of social deprivation, and from experiencing more stressful moments and competitive or frightening situations. Resilience, many believe, is a central part of any child’s emotional wellbeing, and learning to ‘troubleshoot’ can do a power of good.

While everyone agrees that children should be protected from chronic stress and some in the economically deprived area were no doubt seriously unhappy due to family breakdown and high unemployment, short bursts of stress, especially physical play, are not just fun but even considered necessary for childhood development. Even feelings of acute stress that can be overcome within seconds or minutes, teach us how to bounce back from adversity.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education, began observing and interviewing children on playgrounds in Norway. In 2011, she published her results in a paper entitled Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences. “Children have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear,” she concluded.

But before we all head off to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not just the training that matters, the environment we’re raised in also makes a big difference. Those who are taught patience and self-control early on, while being allowed to take risks from the safety-net of a loving home, have the best defense against stress in later years, and are much more likely to be well-functioning, contented adults.”