I was feeling tired last night, a little virusey, but also incredibly happy as I munched on a carrot while simultaneously cooking dinner and balancing on a chair looking in the medicine cupboard for some cold and flu Echinacea and Horseradish tablets, basking in the late afternoon Autumn sun shining in through the window, when I stopped and thought, I am so damn happy!
Do you know what I mean? Such an innocuous moment, yet a sense of happiness washed over me. I know that this feeling is happy for a fact because in my past I have felt, well, so damn sad. My years of depression and anxiety, of that black dog running things, have taught me how to avoid him and he no longer frequents my life. But I give thanks to that black dog, for it is him that has taught me happiness.
Sometimes I think that we have to experience the uncomfortable feelings, the ones nobody wants to play with, the ones that get picked last for the sports team, never get asked to dance at the school disco and always seem to turn up wearing the “wrong” clothes. The ones that keep you in bed, lock you in the house, stop you from seeing your friends and family, from venturing out into the light, from talking, from being.
Those feelings are not the popular ones but so many of us experience them. I am not just talking about everyday sadness – we all experience every range of emotions all the time and that is wonderful and being human. But many of us experience far deeper feelings of darkness than the odd sad day or moment.
And, we all seek this intangible, popular girl thing called happiness, but what is it?
My take on it, after nearly 47 years of life, a teenagehood filled with angst, living with type 1 diabetes since I was 12, living with depression on and off even longer, studying Social Work for 4 years and then working in it for 26 years, is that the reason we can’t really define happiness, can’t write it up truly and completely like a Hallmark Card, sign it off and post it, is because it is ever changing.
What made you happy when you were 5 years old, does not necessarily make you happy now – although I do think there are lots of things from childhood we need to do more often as adults, such as days where nothing is planned, jumping on the bed, eating in a very messy manner or rolling in muddy puddles. (I am working still on the unplanned days thing as I am total CRAP at it). It can also change from day to day and moment to moment. Happiness is not a constant. It can be in the background however while other feelings layer upon it. Some days I can be happy as a little bird and then something happens to bring in anger, frustration or sadness, but the happy is still there, sitting in the back seat to catch me when I fall back down from these jumpy, sneaky emotions that are fed by my busy mind and chattering head.
Seeking, finding and then knowing what makes you happy can be truly empowering.
I know that things that make me happy go a bit like this (not in any order of priority):
- my children and family
- my friends
- my cats
- waking up in the morning
- the sunrise
- the sunset
- the ocean
- the sky
- trees and flowers
- styling, design and pretty things
- rust, wood, fabric, paints & paper
- other people
- Instagram and all the wonderful creatives I have met
- the feeling I get when I contribute to or help another human being in their life
And that is just a start. What does your list look like?
I once heard at the Happiness Conference which I have attended twice, partly due to the presence of the great Dalai Lama, the wonderful Marty Seligman talking about “flourishing” as being what happiness is all about. He says that happiness is the centerpiece of positive psychology.” It is a real thing that is defined by the measurement of life satisfaction and that Happiness has three aspects: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning, each of which feeds into life satisfaction and is measured entirely by subjective report”. That meaning it is different for all of us.
Seligman identifies five aspects which he says are vital to human flourishing — positive emotion, engagement, good relationships, meaning and purpose in life, and accomplishment, cumulatively called PERMA.
“The content itself — happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth, better relationships — constitutes human flourishing. Learning that you can have more of these things is life changing. Glimpsing the vision of a flourishing human future is life changing.” ~ Martin Seligman
Having a purpose and contributing to the world is just as important as all the other aspects which is why people can become depressed if they suddenly don’t have this anymore, such as when they retire. I also totally get the part about flow – when I am in the flow of anything – faffing about at home, painting furniture, studying, blogging, singing, pottering, anything really – I feel so happy. Do you experience that too?
Having an environment which reflects all of these things is also to me what happiness is all about and why it is so important to design and decorate your home and working spaces in ways that create these things for you – positive emotion, engagement with the world, good relationships, meaning and purpose in life and accomplishment – through displaying things that remind you of your experiences, what matters, why you get out of bed each day, the places you have been, the people you love – these things all make a happier home and are reflected in the design and decoration.
Having colours, textures, shapes, images that fill your mind and heart, these things give your home a heart and encourage you and your loved ones to flourish. It does not matter what style or trend you are into – if minimalism, or boho, or coastal, or rustic, or whatever it is that rocks your boat reflects your passions and lifestyle, then this is what will make it a happy home. A home which is devoid of the personality of those who live within it, just does not have the same effect on the people who live there.
What things do you decorate your home with that make you happy?