So after an irritating conversation morning including the words ‘money’ and ‘priorities’ it was unsurprising that the fuzzy warm glow of happiness which I have so carefully been cultivating felt more like a damp stormy drizzle… but in this new pursuit of happiness I put down the plate I was thinking of throwing across the kitchen, made myself a camomile tea (ok so it was a coffee but the image isn’t half as romantic) and decided to try and find out if anyone had devised some ‘mind exercises’ to make you happier. (Yes apparently I’m prioritising the mind over the body re: exercising, sorry trainers.)
Turns out, it’s a mind field (excuse the pun..please keep reading.) A quick google of ‘brain exercises for happiness’ reveals pages of results, the first being an interesting scientific article which, in short, tells us that we can train our brains to be happier! I particularly like this quote from neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor his own brain.” So the initial findings re: changing my soggy mental state look good – just got to start focusing on the positives or ‘emotional self-regulation.’ OK …mental note: ‘Brain – I am the boss of you ok.’ Brain put in place. Check.
Turns out scientists are trying to put together a ‘happiness formula’ – using a hugely scientific method they are.. wait for it… asking people how happy they are to gather data “It may sound silly but we ask people ‘How happy are you 1-7, 1-10?” Revolutionary. Anyway, their results are genuinely interesting – happy people live longer. In one group the difference in life span between the happiest and the most depressed was 9 years (!!!) According to the article, being depressed is worse than smoking, given that cigarettes can take off 3 – 6 years. Reader – if you are a depressed smoker you’re down a possible 15 years!
However, good news if you’re married because according to this research it can add 7 years onto a man’s life and 4 years to a woman’s. (Ladies what does this say about us?) So things are looking up married – depressed – smoking men out there – you’re back to being just 8 years down which is actually pretty good if you look at it?!
So, happiness makes you live longer. That’s one more reason for keeping up this escapade.
Back to brain exercises and a visit to the leading blog on happiness ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchin Rubin, who has dedicated her life to writing about the topic. She suggested that I take the Authentic Happiness Inventory devised by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania which measures my overall happiness (?!) In an inane 24 questions my score came out at 3.42 – 5.00. I leant nothing apart from this score is 67% ‘as high or higher than all web users’ and 75% of users within my post code. Brilliant. (?!) I do wonder what kind of person rated themselves against the following statements (and surely they must be one of the most irritating people on the planet?!) :
2. I am usually in an unbelievably great mood.
7. Most of the time I feel fascinated by what I am doing.
12. My existence has a lasting, large, and positive impact on the world.
23. I like my daily routine so much that I almost never take breaks from it. (Seriously!)
Distracting myself from the anger I felt at the total waste of energy I had just put into that questionnaire I popped back to Gretchin Rubin who lays out ’12 mental exercises – zany but productive.’ Now, like any normal person, I think anybody who uses the word zany in a serious context should be publically outcast – but this women has some credentials (and a book publishing deal) so I give her the benefit of the doubt and continue reading… She suggests that the key to the door of happiness lies in the ability of the individual to experience ‘novelty and challenge’ (i.e. if you’re stuck in a rut you ain’t likely to be that happy) and then goes on to list Dorothea Brande’s 12 exercises to keep your brain ‘keener and more flexible’ (sure, i’m game) which were written in 1932. She argues that by facing difficult challenges you will overcome them and essentially become happier. This I can understand, there are certain things in life which were initially scary but once completed gave me a sense of satisfaction (with exception of a certain trapeze swing over a river in S.E Asia which I still have mental scars from…) However, I think that Dorothea needs a new list – because I’m really not sure how No. 8. ‘Talk exclusively about yourself and your interests without complaining, boasting, or boring your companions,’ is going to do anything except make me look like a narcissistic moron. I do fancy having a go at No. 7 though, ‘Keep a new acquaintance talking about himself or herself without allowing him to become conscious of it. Turn back any courteous reciprocal questions in a way that your auditor doesn’t feel rebuffed.’ Hilarious as this would be, it feels more game show than path to enlightenment.
In all seriousness, Dorothea does provide some excellent advice – I won’t hear a bad word said about No. 11 – set yourself random tasks, for example eating a meal in the unlikeliest place you can find.
Now if you excuse me I’m off to eat my sandwich in the public toilets and the good news is, all this talk of food has completely made me forget about said conversation this morning and the clouds appear to have lifted.
If you want to find out your happiness level click here
To read the full list of Dorothea Brande’s exercises click here to go to The Happiness Project