Can happiness be measured?

Wellbeing in the workplace

For many people the pursuit of happiness can seem like the Holy Grail. Yet even when you believe you have found happiness, can happiness be measured? How do you know you are happy or simply feeling content? And if you are experiencing feelings of happiness, how do you measure your happiness levels?

In a world where we have organisations such as Action for Happiness committed to building a happier society, and more self help books than you can shake a stick at all trying to teach us how to find happiness it can seem that happiness is an elusive feeling that we need to go on some quest to discover.

We even have Prime Ministers wanting to measure happiness (that initiative seems to have been replaced with Brexit – something that’s made many of us unhappy!) with the ‘Happiness Agenda’, so it begs the question – where did all the happiness go?

Has living our life though technology and our daily (make that hourly!) interaction with smart phones, tablets, Facebook, Instagram unwittingly robbed us of our ability to experience true happiness? Are we trying to measure happiness instead through the number of likes and social hits we get?

Have we fallen into the trap of thinking “I’ll be happy when….I have been promoted; got a new job; lost 7 pounds; got the house/man/woman/relationship/car of my dreams; published my book; made it as a professional athlete?”

Have we been led to believe the illusion that we need something outside of us to experience happiness?

As a therapist and coach I have sat in front of thousands of clients as they have shared with me their desire to be happy. Yet when I have delved deeper and asked the question “when you experience feeling happy how will you know? What will you see or hear or feel that lets you know you are happy?”

9 times out of 10 the answer is “I don’t know!”.

You see people are great at describing what they don’t want to feel or experience. They know that they don’t want to feel anxious. They know they don’t want to feel dread when they wake up in the morning. They know they don’t want to spend weeks fretting and worrying about having to speak in public.

However, try to get them to paint a picture of what being happy is like and they struggle. It’s like their mind draws a blank. Given that happiness is something everyone wants more of, if we don’t know what will let us know we are feeling happiness on a day to day basis, then how can happiness be measured?

Feeling very happy in Bali

Can happiness be measured?

Happiness, in its most simple form, is a feeling and like every other feeling you experience, happiness comes from within you. Like the sun, just because there are days when the sky is cloudy and you can’t see or feel the sun, it doesn’t mean it’s not there – the same goes for happiness.

Sadly people have been led to believe that happiness only comes from external sources or events, but that’s not true. You can feel happy for any number of reasons and don’t need to wait for something extraordinary to happen before you can feel happy. You are experiencing feeling happiness because you are simply ‘choosing’ to feel happy in the moment. Forget about measuring happiness based on ‘big events’ such as meeting the right person, getting to a certain point in your career, salary level, goal weight and so on.

Life is not made of big events! Life is simply a series of moments. Yet as humans we are experts at associating how we feel with what’s going on around us.

As a simple yet powerful example, take a child and a teddy bear. When the child hugs the teddy bear the child feels happy, calm, reassured and safe. In the moment, when the child has its arms around the teddy, they firmly believe those feelings are coming from the bear and without the bear the child cannot feel those feelings alone. As adults we know that a teddy bear cannot give you those feelings because the teddy bear is simply made of material and stuffing! However, we have replaced the teddy bear with finding the perfect partner, or job, or making money or being successful – the list goes on. The truth is, everything is a teddy bear!

5 ways to tap into your own innate happiness!

As someone who has held over 10,000 one to one sessions with people, I know that the true source of your happiness only lies in one place – within you! Here are 5 ways for you to tap into your own innate happiness.

1. Stop placing feeling happy on external conditions

As I have highlighted throughout this article people have fallen into the trap of believing that they will only be happy based on something in their future making them happy! But remember the teddy bear!.

Feel happy now thinking of something or someone you love. Bring them or a memory of them to your mind and place your hand over your heart as you think of them and smile. Do this for a few minutes, during which your heart will produce cortisol – the love hormone ❤️ You can remain in this state for as long as you desire and simply notice those natural feelings of love, appreciation and happiness flow through you.

2. Get into gratitude thinking

People who regularly spend time thinking of what they are grateful for report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, optimism and vitality and lower levels of stress and depression according to Dr. Emmons, considered the worlds leading expert on gratitude.

Every day as you wake up contemplate 3 things that you feel grateful for. It can be simple things like a nice warm bed, the ability to see the sun shine through your blinds, and even the clean air that you breathe. You have so much to feel gratitude and appreciation on right here and now! It’s a fact that it’s always the ego that is never happy within the now.

By maintaining this practice you will start to feel more contentedness, appreciation (and yes happiness!) with what you have and where you are in your life.

3. Recognise where your experience is coming from

Just like the teddy bear analogy, we believe that the feelings we are experiencing in any given moment are coming from our external environment such as an email at work; a conversation with our manager or colleague; our partner; even a health condition.

Yet what if I was to tell you that everything you experience is 100% generated from within you, based on the perceptual maps and models you carry around inside your mind and brain, known as your neurophysiology?

When you are caught in a thought storm it can seem like what you are feeling comes from outside of you, but the truth is that your feelings are only ever being generated on your thoughts. However a powerful combination of those feelings and your consciousness make it seem that what you are experiencing really is coming from some external source or condition!

But the fact is, thoughts are not ‘real’ and tell you nothing of reality. In the same way clouds in the sky pass through, your thoughts can pass through your mind and you can observe them. This does take practice! Our mind and thoughts are the best special effects department ever and all too often we get seduced by the mind – and especially when the ego is involved!

The next time you find yourself caught in a thought storm, take some slow deep breaths and remind yourself that this will pass – like all good storms, eventually the rain passes, the clouds clear and the sun comes back out.

4. Tell a different story

How many times have you told the story of what is going wrong in your day or even your life versus what is going well?

How many times do you focus on the one bad thing that happened during your day at work instead of the 5 other good things that happened?

Your words are very powerful and telling the story of things that aren’t going well or have had a perceived negative effect on how you feel will only serve to drain your energy levels and create the kind of chemicals that don’t make you feel happy!

Clients are often surprised when working with me that I don’t allow them to spend much time focusing on the ‘problem’. Instead I gain just the right amount of information to gain context and then ask them questions that create insight, clarity and allow them to shift their way of thinking. Powerful questions that, like turning a key in a lock, allow them to step into a whole new inner reality where they not only feel better, but start to realise the truth of who they really are.

Maybe it’s time for you to start telling a new story!

5. Connect with nature

The world of technology is wonderful, but as a result technology has many of us more connected to devices than ever. Therefore to tap into your own innate happiness perhaps it’s time to dis-connect in order to re-connect?

Give your mind a digital detox and get outside and connect with nature. In autumn and winter it’s even more important to get outside and give yourself a daily dose of natural light and a vitamin D boost.

Move your body, take a brisk walk, activate your lymphatic nervous system, breathe in the (if you can) fresh air, be mindful as you take in your surroundings, colours, sounds and smells and let yourself simply be at one with yourself and the environment around you and notice how happy that makes you feel.

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.

Omar Khayyam

Can happiness be measured? Yes – but only you can measure your own innate feelings of happiness and the more you tap into the feeling that is there within you, waiting for you, the more you will experience happiness, like breathing, is a natural state for you to live you life from.

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