Saturday, 3 January 2015

Happiness Can Become a Habit


"No one wakes up in the morning and says "May I suffer all day" Matthiew Ricard. 

We all want happiness, or at the very least, none of us chooses to suffer, but how many of us realise that the choice is ours? And while you might say " I didn't choose that my lover left me," or " I didn't choose to live in poverty", what you did or do choose is your attitude towards those circumstances. 

Some years ago, while visiting Kenya, I made friends with a young man named Joseph, who worked in the hotel where I was staying. He lived in a small village nearby, and one evening he invited me to come and have dinner with his family. We drove there in his car, a small 10 year old Honda , and when we arrived we were mobbed by a crowd of laughing children. Most of them wore clothes that were either too big or too small, and all of them had bare feet. The houses in the village were all made of wood, some with a roof of thatch and others of corrugated metal and were small and dark inside. 

To my middle class European eyes, these people lived in dire poverty, but my abiding memory of that evening was the laughter (and the delicious food). Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and younger siblings all lived on top of one another and they had plenty to say, and it seems, to laugh about. 

Later, when I knew Joseph a little better, in my ignorance I asked him if he minded being so poor. ( I still blush when I think of it).  He stared at me wide-eyed for a moment, then said "We are not poor. We have enough to eat, we have a house to live in, and I have a car." 

Now some have said, when I tell this story, that Joseph didn't have experience of wealth and so what he never had he couldn't miss. But he worked in an hotel where dinner in the restaurant cost the equivalent of what he would earn in a month. Everyday he arranged the hire of luxury cars, such as Jaguars, Mercedes and MGs for the guests, then would happily climb into his little Honda at the end of the day and drive home to have dinner with his family.

There are plenty of people in public life who have everything many of us dream of. They have wealth, love, success and it seems, freedom to do as they please. Yet some of them are unhappy and depressed to such an extent that they take their own life.

What does that tell you about happiness?

Research into happiness puts the influence of circumstance on our overall happiness at around 10%. It's our perception of and reaction to circumstances that makes the difference. And this is where choice comes in. But like any new habit, the happiness habit needs to be practiced.

The following TedTalks video by Biochemist, photographer and Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, tells us more:

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