Many of us spend a lot of time being unhappy. Is it possible to change? If the answer’s no, then we might as well stop there. It would be a very short blog post!! But I do believe that we can change. We can experience life differently.
I was reading recently about young people and how they use their thumbs. Now we all know and have seen how young people will use both their thumbs on smartphones, and they’ll be texting or swiping really quickly with both their thumbs. Constant use of smart phones has changed the way that they use their hands. When they started, it was probably difficult to do, but two-handed typing is faster than one-handed typing. It may be difficult initially typing with two thumbs, but it’s a lot easier than typing with two index fingers. They kept on repeating it and repeating it until it became a habit.
As it became normal for them, some also started using their thumb rather than their index finger for pointing. So you can change in some profound ways if you practice, repeat, practice, until you make a new habit. And you may be saying, “Well, that’s okay for physical things. But what about the rest of it? What about minds?” Can we learn to be happy?
There’s a really interesting article by Richard Davidson, who is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, USA. In it, he says,
“There’s no question that certain genetic propensities provide some broad constraints. But within those broad constraints, there’s a huge amount that each of us does that will influence our level of happiness and well-being.”
He’s saying that genes do play a part, but we can influence it.
He goes on to say, and I think this is particularly interesting:
“These days I talk about happiness and well-being as being skills. And we don’t normally think of them as skills, but there’s fundamentally no difference between well-being and learning to play a musical instrument. If you practice, you’ll get better. All of my work is pointing in that direction. These days, I talk about happiness and well-being as being skills.”
He’s saying that we can learn to be happy, just as we can learn to drive a car, lift heavy weights or learn a new job.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”If we are contsantly unhappy and thinking about things that make us unhappy, the unhappiness gets reinforced and continues.
Sadly, many of us won’t taught how to be happy while we were children. If Richard Davidson is right, it should be on every school curriculum. So we have to learn as adults how to be happy.
There is much in our culture which suggests that more money will make us happier. I like a research article with the wonderful title “If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right”. The article by three psychologists doesn’t talk only about money, but talks about strategies for happiness based on research by psychologists.
They come up with 8 different points all aimed at consumers, but these can be applied more generally in our lives:
(1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods;
(2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves;
(3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones;
(4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance;
(5) delay consumption;
(6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives;
(7) beware of comparison shopping; and
(8) pay close attention to the happiness of others.
Happiness is too important in our lives to leave it to chance, so we need to practice it and follow at least some of the strategies suggested in this article.