On Monday the 20th of March, we will celebrate the United Nations International Day of Happiness– a day where we are reminded that happiness is a fundamental human goal.
We often talk of our desire to just be ‘happy’ and some suggest that our eternal pursuit of happiness is in fact what leads us to unhappiness. This has not been my experience. This past 4 or so years I have spent many hours contemplating ‘happiness’. I have read broadly, written widely and now interview my colleagues weekly on just how they find and maintain happiness in their lives.
All of this is showing me that ‘happiness’ is vitally important for all of us.
What does it mean to be happy?
We all seek to be ‘happy’ in some way. But what does that really mean? I have come to the conclusion that being ‘happy’ can mean different things to each of us but there are some bits of ‘being happy’ that are the same the world over- joy, contentment and a feeling that we are valuable to someone or something.
Your happiness and my happiness might be different, and the beautiful thing about the world is that this is more than okay – what makes you ‘you’ will be different from what makes me ‘me’.
For me ‘happy’ is such a wonderful and simple word that says so many great things. On those days when I feel ‘unhappy’ I still search for ‘happiness’ as I have come to know that when I am feeling happy, life and love are just easier.
In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, described happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Sonja found through her research that roughly 50 percent of happiness is determined by our genes and 10 percent by our life circumstance, but 40 percent depends on our daily activities.
So we may not be able to tamper with the 50% of our happiness determined by our genes, and some might say that sometimes life’s circumstances may be out of our immediate control too, but I love that 40% of our personal happiness is entirely affected by how we choose to spend our days.
But what is the key to being ‘Happy’?
My study of the science of ‘happiness’ continues to show me the same thing over and over- good relationships keep us happier and healthier and are what I describe as the ‘key’ to being ‘happy’.
The importance of our relationships
As human beings, we need social connection. We need friends, we need family and support around us. Above almost everything else, we need relationships with others. Core to human nature is a desire to be part of a community, a group, a family. In fact, our brain reacts in the same way to social rejection as it does to physical pain. Our brain is hardwired to be part of a bigger community. This is central to our survival.
My study of the science of happiness continues to show me the same thing over and over – good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest running studies on human behaviour, has found that the quality of our relationships is directly connected to our health and length of life. The research from Harvard makes it really simple – good relationships (and it is quality here that really matters) keep us happier and healthier and are a key to helping us live longer.
I have learned so much in my job as a divorce lawyer, but what has really been brought home for me over and over is the importance of relationships. They are essential to our very existence and probably the most important things in our lives. Our intimate relationships, our family relationships, our relationships with our children, our relationships with our parents, our relationships with our extended family, with our friends, with our colleagues – these create those moments in life that really matter- those moments that are unforgettable.
To be truly happy, you will need to build, maintain and engage in your relationships with others.
In my job, I see the impact of relationship breakdowns on people daily, and I see many lawyers who have worked so hard to maintain their career, but at the cost of their marriage, their family and their friendships.
Don’t let this be you. Marriage, families and friendships are essential. They need to be given priority. Studies continually show that those of us who prioritise our relationships, particularly our family relationships, are happier (and even live longer!)
4 tips to happier living
When it comes to our own happiness, some things are well outside of our control but often the key, regardless of what life throws our way, is to ‘choose happiness’.
For me that 40% of my happiness that it apparently all up to me can be broken down into these 4 things-
Focus on the who not the what-
I have said it many times before (and now I can quote Harvard research to back me up!) The relationships we have with others, particularly our close intimate relationships, are the most important things in our lives. Our immediate family relationships sculpt us into the people we are. The impact of parents on children, particularly in the first 3 years of life, is both incredible and terrifying all at the same time. It is the ‘who’, not the ‘what’ that surrounds us that will make or break us and so I encourage you to focus on the ‘who’. This does not have to be fancy, expensive or time consuming. It just means being there- picking up the phone and calling, having a conversation that you are actually in, not just going through the motions and being genuinely interested in and curious about the lives of those that are important to you.
Live in the moment (even when the moment is unexpected and frustrating)
Living in the moment doesn’t mean doing crazy dangerous things but being truly present in what you are doing when you are doing it and looking for the good in any situation. I describe it as looking for the silver linings. I write about it a lot when it comes to divorce which many would say has no ‘silver linings’. But I have seen, time and time again, that where you can hold your head up high, be positive and look for the opportunity in any situation you can come out of those difficult moments a happier person.
Count your blessings-
Each day I take a moment to ‘count my blessings’- to pause and reflect on those things for which I am grateful. When things are going well this is easy but when things are tough, it is so much harder to even want to be grateful. But those are the times I find I need it most. Make gratitude practice part of your daily routine- it will take no more than a minute but can be a lot of fun particularly if you get your kids involved.
And above all be kind-
Kindness is a trait I live and breathe by- well I try to but I know I still have moments where I am less kind than I hope to be! It takes so little to demonstrate kindness and it is certainly something I cherish in return. Kindness and happiness go hand in hand for me. And kindness for each of us may be different, but I sense it comes back to good old fashioned ‘values’. Treating others fairly, with respect, having manners, being curious and not judgmental- remembering that we never really know what is happening in another’s life. When people are challenging me in my life I adopt the motto- ‘Kill them with kindness’ and it works.
On this International Day of Happiness why don’t you take a few moments to think about just what makes you happiest in your life. I know that for me, just like for many of you, what will make (or break) the times ahead will be our relationships with those closest to us. We can do without everything else but if when we don’t have ‘love’ we are lost. We seek a life that is meaningful and often our relationships with our partners, children, family and friends create much of what makes life ‘meaningful’ or ‘happy’.
Someone recently challenged me about my constant talk of happiness, suggesting that being happy is unachievable. That is not my experience. I have found that by choosing my own happiness, looking for the good and being grateful for all that comes my way, but at the same time acknowledging and expecting sadness and disappointment, I have found a way to be happy in almost every moment. This sense of happiness is a daily work in progress – it is not something I have found you can achieve once and then just expect to always have. It requires conscious thought, which, on some days, will be a lot easier than on others. But it is possible-why don’t you give it a go.
Clarissa Rayward is a Divorce Lawyer and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. over the past 14 years, Clarissa has worked with over 2000 families during separation and divorce. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future. This past year Clarissa has begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through her writing and weekly Podcast ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ where once a week she interviews lawyers who have found a way to maintain a successful career in the law while not giving up their life outside of their career.
In January 2017 Clarissa publisher her second book, ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to the be Happy in Law and Life’ and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course, helping lawyers nationwide to better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers.
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