In recent years happiness has become high on our personal agendas, with governments the world over taking seriously!  But do we really know the key components required to maximise our happiness quota?  With legal prescriptions for anti-depressants at an all time high, how come we’re getting it so wrong?

In 2012 the UN held it’s first high-level Happiness Meeting, supported by The First World Happiness Report.  These have since become an annual feature of the geo-political calendar.

The first World Happiness Report was published in 2012.  Norway is first, with Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland close runners up. The six major factors contributing to human happiness which are evident throughout these reports are:

  • Income
  • Life expectancy
  • Having someone to count on in times of trouble
  • Generosity
  • Freedom
  • Trust

On the flip side the biggest single source of misery is shown, for six consecutive years, as mental illness, predominantly cited as anxiety and depression.  Antidepressant use in the UK is at a record high.  More than 64 million prescriptions were issued in 2015.  A massive 108.5% increase on the 31 million dispensed in 2006.

As a nation we are getting less happy and more addicted.

Something is going very wrong!  We have more choice, more freedom, more of so much but our need for the happy pills shows no sign of waning.  Alarmingly, these stats don’t take into account the millions of people self-medicating with alcohol and illegal drugs.  Nor the fast growing internet pharmacy, providing low cost, no questions asked medication at the press of a button for millions.

As a culture we are increasingly confusing pleasure with happiness.  Living a life of pleasure-seeking might make us happy in the short term but without meaning and purpose it’s likely to cause feelings of emptiness and misery.  As humans we are wired to move away from unpleasant feelings and will pursue ever more extreme pleasures to block out the misery cycle we’re creating.

Anti-Depressants can provide a timely ‘life jacket’ to help us weather life’s storms, whilst providing inner strength to make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and way of thinking.

So what does impact inner happiness?  What can we do for ourselves to reverse the trend?

It took me decades of fruitless attempts at buying happiness to realise the truth!  An underlying belief ‘When I have that I will feel okay’ led me to a frenzy of guilt-inducing shopping sprees and a plethora of high-octane, passionate but toxic relationships. My passport was impressively stamped as I spent my six week corporate holiday allowance at luxury resorts, simply to fly, crash and burn.  Eventually my quick fix mentality got the better of me, at forty I had a breakdown, with an extended stay at The Priory.  After years of lunging from one ‘must-have’ distraction to another I realised I was barking up the wrong tree.  Respite from a painful childhood, with its legacy of gnawing inner emptiness, was not an easy ride but my journey taught me that happiness really does start within!

Science concurs with my own experience.   Two main factors which have a significant impact on happiness are contribution and having a good sense of humour, and that means laughing easily.

As the UN Report mentions generosity.  Contributing to something other than ourselves is a basic human need.  Practicing a random act of kindness each day, belonging to a charity which has personal meaning, sharing our fortune and love.  All will quickly add to our happiness quota.

Laughter is such a powerful aide to happiness.  We’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re with people than when we’re alone.  Laughter evolved as part of social play and as a way of showing we’re socially safe.  Your brain can tell when laughter is fake and will respond differently to when it’s genuine.  A good giggle is an effective mood enhancer, producing the same Gamma Brain Waves as meditation!   As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to hang out with your besties and focus on fun … laughter lowers blood pressure  and a recent research showed that watching a funny movie actually opens blood vessels, which in turn allows blood to circulate more freely around our bodies!

As a Coach I work with successful people who want more joy and happiness in their lives.  Often their success has been full on, intense, exciting and purposeful but once they’re at the top, they feel there’s something missing.  The beautiful things in life, the first class service, the freedom to go and do whatever we choose are blessings and a privilege but all too often feel meaningless.   Take a moment to considering crafting a new path with meaning, contribution and purpose. I highly recommend it!

Today, go laugh, go give, be deep and be purposeful!

Celebrate World Happiness Day by doing one thing to add to another person’s happiness.  Not only will you be making the world a better place, in the process you’ll notice yourself increasing your own happiness quota too!