There’s growing interest in the idea of Gross National Happiness! We need to measure more than the GDP, the money passing through the system, because it doesn’t differentiate between the positive and the negative. We need to measure the wellbeing of people and the planet and make our policies accordingly. Why should government care about making people happy? Happy people are healthier and kinder as well as being better parents, better workers, better environmentalists, better citizens, and on and on. We need public policies that help people become happier — things like national health care, social security, and shorter work hours.
But we also need to discover things we can do as individuals:
- Put money in its place! Money will always be a motivator, but it shouldn’t be the main one. Research shows that after a certain point, more money doesn’t make you happier. But the belief that if we’re rich we’ll be happy is deep in our American bones. So resist! Be generous! For instance, don’t pass by the Real Change people selling their newspapers. It’s a great paper and you’ll feel better for being generous. The true beneficiary of kindness and generosity is the giver.
- Stop and Chat! Social connection is the essential ingredient in happiness, but we have fewer friends and social trust is down. Interacting with people in a friendly, respectful, and convivial manner adds years to your life! Take time to stop and chat as you go through your day!
- Experience Flow! Engage in activities that absorb you deeply, where time stops and you’re totally engaged. People find joy in gardening, birding, cooking, sewing, writing, reading, and on and on. Make the time and resist distractions! (No more multi-tasking!)
- Savor! Take time to notice and appreciate what you’re doing. When you walk around Green Lake, don’t just lose yourself in thoughts about work! Look at the water and the trees and the turtles lined up on a log and remark (to yourself or anyone around) how wonderful it all is.
- Feel Better! Walk, get enough sleep, and eat fruits and vegetables. You know this! How many times do you need to be told!
- Smile! I hate to say this because it sounds so phony! But, again, the research finds that people who smile are happier. We’re not asking for a phony smile. ( In fact, studies find that phoniness is bad for you.) But other cultures seem to smile more than we do. Is it because we want to appear tough? Do we think that smiling makes us look weak, and you have to be strong to compete in our cutthroat culture? Or is it because we’re really not happy with our frantic, competitive society. Whatever the reason, we don’t smile as much as we should. Smiling is a gesture of caring — a signal that we’re nice people, approachable and non threatening. It’s at the core of friendliness.
- Be an activist! Acting on your values gives you a feeling of self respect and a sense of control (another important ingredient for happiness). Research has found that activists are happier than others, as long as they are fairly “nice” activists -- not angry and hateful. People who are extreme, people who always rant and rave about how awful everything is, aren’t as happy. Spite and bitterness aren't good for you!
- Find a way to feel grateful! There’s a lot of advice about the importance of gratitude. Some of the ideas will suit you and some won’t. For instance, some like keeping a gratitude journal or writing a gratitude letter, but these don’t appeal to me. I like starting a meal acknowledging feelings of thankfulness, though. Whatever you do, gratitude is important because we live in a culture that makes us feel that we don’t have enough or that we’re not good enough. We’re in a perpetual state frustration — always wanting more, never satisfied.
- Enjoy! Do more things that you like; get out of the things that you don’t like; and try to enjoy the rest. Be an easy laugher, particularly at yourself.
- Take your time! Ultimately, you can’t do any of these things if you’re in a hurry. We need a Slow Down Seattle movement!
Note: If you want to laugh more, join us for Funny Films in Phinney. Monday’s 7/12 -8/2 ,7:00 to 9:00. Lutheran Church 55th and Phinney. Free. Sponsored by Sustainable Greenwood Phinney.
Related: Cecile's previous column: Gross National Happiness
Cecile Andrews is a long-time author on the subject of simplicity and originator of the Simplicity Circle idea. She's involved with projects to build Sustainability and Community in her North Seattle Neighborhood. The theme is living Simpler, Slower, and Smaller.
She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University where she received her doctorate in education, and an affiliated scholar with Seattle University. A former community college administrator, she now works with community groups to explore the issue of living more simply: how to live lives that are sustainable, just, and joyful.