The March 20 celebration probably seemed like a good idea nine years ago when the United Nations declared happiness as a fundamental human goal.
The Syrian war was already underway, Yemen was heading for civil war, the climate crisis was deepening, Trump lay ahead, and then came two years of a pandemic and soaring levels of mental health problems. Happiness felt as achievable as unicorn ownership.
Life appeared to be teetering back to normal via a cost of living crisis when misery from Europe started to fill our screens.
When news bulletins bring tears along with information, it feels wrong to worry about your own contentment as people on our doorstep lose everything.
Conversely maybe it’s also the best time to count our blessings and be happy about what we have. I sat with my family last weekend and enjoyed an unremarkable dinner, made remarkable by its utter normalcy.
We were warm, fed, safe, together. Moments like that would usually pass by in a flurry of cooking and clearing up, but it felt important to savour the simple luxury of family and friendship when we’re witnessing those basic human moments being stripped away.
It’s impossible to sustain that level of mindfulness because life has to go on but it’s important to learn the habits of being happy. A recent study of the lives of optimists and pessimists expected to find the glass half-full people bounced back more quickly from daily adversity but found instead they just did less adversity.
The stressful incidents which sent the pessimists in a downward spiral weren’t regarded as stressful by the optimists. Perspective is everything, a life lesson currently being conveyed by every news bulletin.
Our evolution dictates that we think the worst of any situation because that rustle in the bushes could be a man-eating predator; but as the physical threat to our survival melted away some of us hung on to the habit.
Everyone has spent the wee hours worrying about problems which seem huge in the solitary darkness, and then shrink with the daylight. The important lesson is accepting your emotions are valid, even the stranger ones.
Obviously, there’s a difference between depression and anxiety but if you’re only suffering from the latter it’s almost a responsibility to create a little joy in your own world and watch it spread.
The building blocks, according to UN Happiness Day, are basic, and we can begin with giving. It might be money or time but taking the focus off yourself and taking your thoughts out of your own head are a healthy start.
When a situation is beyond our control it’s also a tiny way of taking some control back. Resilience, and actively coping even in the most difficult of circumstances, are milestones on the road to happiness.
Exercise, eating well, sleeping well and spending time outdoors allow nature to provide nurture. Curiosity about the world and the desire to try new things can bring back the childlike wonder that adulthood strips away with every bill.
Goals — big, small, but most importantly achievable — provide hope for a future which might currently feel uncertain. And family and friends are our biggest support and best reminder that we’re all part of something bigger, especially now.