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Happiness is not in the park

Steps to SuccessI had a real ‘ah-ha’ moment recently, listening to a friend recount a story she’d heard: a father, on ‘daddy-duty’ with his toddler, going to the park for the afternoon. On their way down the street, the little one kept stopping, as they do, to watch a roly-poly or poke a crack in the wall, or just be transfixed by leaves in the breeze. “Come on,” he urged impatiently. “We’re going to the park. It’ll be fun. Let’s just get there!”

Hearing this was like echoes of my own frustration-tinged voice, chivvying my little boy along to the next thing, relentlessly busy, busy, busy, even when we’re off to relax.

But the man said he suddenly stopped, and realised: happiness wasn’t waiting in the park.

Had he been imagining they would enter the park gates and be handed a permission slip to relax and be happy? Or magic happiness would just wash over them on arrival?

Happiness isn’t waiting for us anywhere. It’s wherever we decide to be it. The dad said that after that, on many afternoon trips to the park, they happily never even got there.

Telling the story was Dr. Robert Holden, British psychologist, best-selling author and a lauded expert in happiness. Dr. Holden founded ‘The Happiness Project’ after his success with his eight-week Happiness Course, introduced in the early nineties, designed to help people learn (or rather re-learn) how to be happy.

But is happiness really something you can teach?

He describes the course as more of a conversation about happiness. Starting with the question: What is Happiness?

Considering it is something so many of us say we are striving for, it’s surprising how few of us have actually defined it for ourselves.

And once we know for ourselves what happiness is, surely we’ll want to know how we can ‘get it’ or at least get more of it.

In his book, “Be Happy” (Hay House, 2009), Holden identifies six common perceptions about happiness and how we try to attain it. He calls them The Paradigms of:

* Achievement — the belief that happiness comes from effort and action and doing, the idea that ‘making things happen’ will make us happy.

* Possession — that we can ‘get’ more happiness as if it is an object or a thing we can grasp and hold on to

* Reward — that we can earn happiness and that it has to be deserved before we’re allowed it

* Destination — that happiness is something we must seek and pursue and we will hopefully find sometime in the future

* Choice — that happiness is a state of mind and we can choose to be happy if we want to and actively make that determined choice

* Identity — that happiness is a “way of being”, “our true nature” available to all, always.

How do you view happiness? Are you working for it? Aiming towards it? Trying to win it or get more of it? What kind of language do you use when you describe your relationship with happiness?

Personally, I had always seen happiness as kind of an ultimate destination, something I was on a mission to find. More recently, as I’ve learned more about deliberately controlling our state, I had come to see it as more of a choice we can opt into.

Our paradigms and ways of seeing things can be so deeply ingrained that it can take a bit of mind-bending to make a shift from one to another. So I still find the concept slippery at times, but ‘trying on’ the sixth paradigm, of seeing happiness as an identity, and dropping ‘the story’, the conditions, and the self-imposed effort and barriers to happiness, to just ‘be’ happy, seems suddenly incredibly liberating.

“When the pursuit of happiness becomes an addiction, you get so busy trying to make life better that you forget how to enjoy your life … You definitely plan to enjoy your life one day, but chances are you will die before that happens.” writes Dr. Holden.

Especially as many of us have a ‘conditional mindset’ when it comes to our happiness, based on: If … When … or After …

‘I’ll be happy when I’ve lost 20lbs, if I get that pay-raise, after I retire … etc’

But there tends to always be something else to do around the corner, something more we want/need/expect. With this mindset, despite our achievements, we will continue to have a list of conditions that our happiness depends on, that never seems to get any shorter.

The Roper-Starch Organization conducted a survey in 1978, asking Americans to pick things from a list, which they considered to be part of ‘the good life’. The list included items like a home, a car, vacations abroad, a holiday house etc. They were also asked how many things on that list they currently owned. The average discrepancy between what people had and what people wanted was 2.7 items.

Sixteen years later, they repeated the survey. The results showed that on average, people now had more things, but they also wanted more things and the average discrepancy was 2.5 items. After a decade and a half of working towards ‘happiness’ they were still just as far away from their goal of ‘the good life’ as they were when they started.

So if lasting happiness in not in a paycheck or an adoring partner, in a flat screen TV, or a perfect set of abs, in India or at the end of a chocolate bar/glass of wine/fill in your blank here, all the places we go looking for it … and it’s not in the park, then where? Or what? Or more importantly, how?

It seems worth at least entering into the conversation to find out. I highly recommend Robert Holden’s book, “Be Happy”, a condensed version of his eight-week Happiness Course. He says we don’t so much learn happiness as remember it. His story about the park certainly served as a great reminder for me, like a nudge back in the right direction, or should I say, back to centre. And while we may get caught back up in the rush, the busy and ‘the story’ at times, perhaps we can keep nudging ourselves to pause and just “be” more often than we’re not, and maybe find that happiness has been there, been us, all along.

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com

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Published June 04, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 03, 2013 at 3:45 pm)

Happiness is not in the park

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