Happiness Manifesto #1

The idea for this blog was to write a book review of 'The Happiness Manifesto' by Nic Marks while enroute to visiting my mother in Canada -- in airports and while visiting her.

Happiness is such an ephemeral, transitory and temporary state that to try to define or study it seems like a hopeless task. Some would claim that the least helpful thing you can do is to consciously focus on it. Given that in the end we are all going to face an incapacitating old age with loss of independence and dignity and even accompanied by pain, this happiness is accompanied by the dark shadow of looming foreboding.

The thing that surprised me while visiting my mother (who is 93 and frail and living in a retirement residence) is that old age has a quietness and serenity that is missing from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. We are far too busy doing things to pay attention to what is going on. What my mother valued the most was the memories of her family and pictures of her children and grandchildren and little for her possessions. Most of our time together was spent exploring family photos and histories and the retelling of family stories.

The enduring and endearing image of her is with my iPad looking at the photos and videos of the grandchildren.

So in thinking about happiness we need to be thinking about the end game -- are we going to end up being happy? -- which depends on what we are doing now and which bring us back to The Happiness Manifesto. The book and the accompanying TED talk is not your traditional happiness self-help book but it does contain some helpful ideas for your happiness. The book is more concerned about making a happy planet -- global sustainability and resetting our policies and priorities. As Tim Jackson may have said: "It is a story about people, us, being persuaded (NOT) to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to impress people we don't care about."

What can the individual do to enhance their well-being (happiness) -- actions that are universally applicable and evidence-based? Here they are:

1. Connect -- With the people around you -- with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours -- at home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

2. Be active -- Go for a walk or run -- step outside -- cycle -- play a game --garden -- dance -- Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

3. Take notice -- Be curious -- catch sight of the beautiful -- remark on the unusual -- notice the changing seasons -- savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

4. Keep learning -- try something new -- rediscover an old interest -- sign up for that course -- take a different responsibility at work -- fix a bike -- learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food -- Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.

5. Give -- do something nice for a friend or a stranger -- thank someone -- smile -- volunteer your time -- join a community group -- look out as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.