Tuesday 12 April 2011

12.04. Action for Happiness

Wherever you are in the world right now, reading this post, I bet your daily news are filled with reports of war in the North-African countries, earthquakes, radioactive pollution and countries in serious financial destitution. Isn’t it depressing?? Well, only if you let it depress you. There is very little you and I can do about any of these issues, unless you happen to be David Cameron or any of the other prime ministers around the world. Of course it could be possible that David Cameron reads my blog....hmmm, fascinating thought...anything is possible...but not very likely I must admit, so to all the rest of you, don’t get too upset if you can’t fix the world; try to fix the things you are able to on a more homely level – that’s probably going to make you much more happy. The following words are very true, even if they are nicked from a theologian (named Reinhold Niebuhr).

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

If you think these words seem familiar, it’s probably because you have heard them in many American films, as the prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. So what kind of things would you change if you could, what would make you happier? Would you change anything at all? A lot of people look back and say they regret things, they would have done things differently had they been given a chance to live a certain period again. But what about looking to the future and make decisions that are right so you don’t have regrets next time you look back?

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Today sees the launch of Action for Happiness – a new mass movement for social change founded by three pioneering thinkers, Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon. It is based on one simple idea – that if we want a happier society, we've got to approach our own lives in a way that prioritises the things that really matter, including the happiness of those around us. In Britain, the last 50 years, great progress has been made in terms of living standard and material wealth, reaching a point that previous generations could only have dreamed of. But the shocking fact is that, despite massive material progress, people in Britain are no happier than they were over five decades ago. In the 1960s, 60% of adults in Britain said they believed "most people can be trusted". Today the figure is around 30%. We've seen huge increases in anxiety and depression in young people, greater inequality, more family breakdown, longer working hours, growing environmental problems and crippling levels of debt.

But it doesn't have to be like this. The good news is that by focusing our time and energy instead on things that have been shown to consistently bring happiness, we can live rich, rewarding lives. These things include loving families, close friendships, good self-awareness, strong community ties, doing things for others, keeping active, and having some kind of greater purpose to our lives. If we could increase our levels of happiness to those enjoyed for example in Denmark, Britain would have 2.5 million fewer people suffering from unhappiness and 5 million more people who are very happy.

Action for Happiness is based on this new science of happiness and the evidence that we can affect our happiness. We have identified 50 practical actions that people can take in their everyday lives that not only help boost their own happiness but contribute to building better, more positive environments in their families, relationships, workplaces and communities. These include simple things like finding things to be grateful for each day, however small; trying out something new or different; and looking for the good in others. They also include skills to be more "mindful" in our thinking. When people do good, they feel good. (Abstract from The Guardian, 14.04.2011)

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So, do we need an action group to tell us that having family, friends, strong community ties, keeping active and have a purpose in life makes us happy? Doesn’t everyone know that already?? If you don’t have these things, all of them or most of them, is that because you don’t think you need them so you have chosen not to have them? I don’t think so! For most people, these things are seen as important, but sometimes life itself comes in the way, and these important parts of everyday living are sacrificed for things that are even more important at the moment, like earning enough money to pay your bills. It is a shocking fact that people in Britain work the longest working week in Europe, but why do they do that? Because they like to get up early in the morning and not get home until late at night? Again, I don’t think so! The average salary in Britain today is only just over £20.000. For that you have to work long hours and usually travel a long way to and from work. A lot of work is actually only paid the minimum wage, which is currently £5.93 per hour – a gross yearly income of ca £12.300. No wonder people here work such long hours...who can afford to reduce their working week so that they can have more time with family and friends – and ultimately become happier?

Grant me the serenity to accept the things....well, you can do some things, there are always things you can do like calling up your phone provider and haggle with them until you get your next 12 month contract for phone and broadband connection for half price! I did that with BT a few weeks ago, for the third year running :-) And you can shop around for cheaper gas and make sure you fill petrol at the cheapest station, and shop your groceries at the cheapest supermarket, and...and...well, in terms of money, maybe shopping around isn’t enough to make much of a difference, not enough to reduce your working week. But how do you spend your spare time then? On the sofa in front of the TV? Or together with your family, friends, out in the community, trying out something new, having a purpose in life and doing good for other people? Maybe you know you should, but you are just too tired after work? See....the longer people work, the less they do of these important things that can contribute to happiness. We are going round and round in circles, and the one factor that keeps coming up is the long working week. If you should happen to actually be David Cameron after all, please accept this post as my contribution to your quest for making changes to The Big Society. Shorter working week for everyone, please, 35 hour week would be great, thanks. To everyone else: if you can’t work less yet, make sure what you spend your spare time on is something you can look back on and say; yes, that was good, I enjoyed that...or we enjoyed that.

Back to Action for Happiness, do we need an action group to tell us how to be happy, or happier? Maybe. Maybe some people have forgotten how easy and how cheap it is to spread a bit of happiness, and for those people a visit to their web-site could prove a valuable experience. I did try to visit their web-site several times tonight, but I only got this message:

We're overwhelmed!
Thank you so much for visiting the site.
We're experiencing extraordinary levels of traffic,
so you may not get on to the site right away, but we're working on it!

...they have obviously had a fair few visitors today, since their server has managed to crash! But HERE IS A LINK to their web-site, just give it a try, I did get through once, before it crashed again! There is lots of information, lots of banalities too, but you’d expect that with a name like Action for Happiness, wouldn’t you?! Well worth having a look though, might lift your spirit and give you some ideas for what YOU can do to spread some happiness. And if you find all this talk about happiness just a tad too sickly, you can always put on the news for a while; that would offset everything for you within minutes!

I think the fact that an action group like this gets publicity and visitors to their web-site tells that the British society is ready to make some small but vital changes. These changes, along with changes the current government has set out to make, is a very small beginning onto a change of path that is necessary to Britain as a society; to turn Britain into a more family friendly, healthier and happier people. And the government are making changes; an important change in the law has been made this month where paternity leave is increased from 2 weeks to 26 weeks providing the mother goes back to work and the father is home caring for the baby. This is only one very small step in a direction of a more family friendly society which other countries in Europe made 20-25 years ago. As an immigrant to Britain, and after living here for almost 12 years, I can’t wait to see bigger changes taking place. I hope I live long enough to see some of them; big changes in society like those I am talking about doesn’t happen in years or even decades.

And on that slightly positive note I am going to finish for tonight. Put the link to the action group in your favourites and visit them when you’ve got time. Might be well worth the visit. See you next time, take care.

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