I’ve been on a long quest to find out more about happiness, looking at my own experiences and researching this fascinating subject to looking at facts, figures, scientific research and general information on the topic. Happiness is a personal thing and as such we are the best person qualified to know what makes us happy. The problem, so far as I see it, is connecting to what makes us happy and practicing it. One way is through creative outlets, personal expression, self-awareness & self-discovery and adopting daily happy practices to influence our habits and thought patterns to support our own happiness. This was my goal in creating the Spirit of Happiness Course and I’ve been successfully running it now for 2 years!
How can ‘Creative Flow’ help with happiness?
As a Creative Arts Practitioner I’ve experienced first hand and witnessed with others a beautiful thing called ‘being in the flow’. This happens when you are engaged in an activity whereby you experience a loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in it. It is described in contemporary psychology as a state of flow. In order for a flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating) and engaging. The creative arts for me has enabled me to experience this first hand whether I’m writing or singing or playing a musical instrument or focusing on my daily goals I want to get done. I become less aware of the time and it feels like I’m completely ‘inside’ whatever it is that I’m doing, I become aware of very little else other than the task or activity. A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that flow is highly correlated with happiness. Furthermore, it has been found that people who experience a lot of flow regularly also develop other positive traits, such as increased concentration, self-esteem, and performance.
So are we saying that artistic endeavors that facilitate a state of flow increases happiness? And if so, how do we harness this and do more of it in our day to day lives?
There is research to suggest that the happiest of people have developed ‘happy habits’. These are usually habits that are intrinsically connected to how they go about their day to day lives which influence their behaviour and responses to the external world. Fuelling these habits are qualities such as gratitude, kindness and compassion, being open to experiences and ‘fully’ present with them. It’s important to realise though, that it is not possible to demonstrate these qualities all of the time in all situations. We also need to feel comfortable expressing feelings and emotions that may not be termed positive, that in itself supports a healthy mind-set. But for the purpose of this blog and for you as a reader I’m focusing on ways in which we can experience happiness more in our lives. The other good news is according to recent research it doesn’t need to be wired into our DNA either to be able to cultivate a happier and more meaningful mind-set and lifestyle and you don’t need to change who you are! Based on recent research, it has been concluded 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!
What I’m suggesting is that happiness can be many things to different people, however there are some commonalities that allow us to share and experience happiness in its true state. It’s not about material possessions, it’s available to all and with more ‘doing’ or being in ‘a state flow’ and less ‘thinking’ it naturally increases your happiness levels and mind-set putting you in a much better position “to make normal life more fulfilling”. Happiness is in essence the result of what we do and how we behave. To quote the words of Ben (C) Fletcher who is a Professor of Occupational and Health Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK:
“So when a person who is unhappy shifts their focus and does something different they help themselves to become happier. Trying to think yourself happier is difficult, happiness comes when you change what you do.”
If you’d like to find out more about Professor Fletcher’s research click on the link Happiness is Not a Feeling – It Is Doing. So this research and scientific evidence perhaps makes it a little more clearer as to what prevents us from being happy or happier in our day to day lives. The first thing that springs to my mind is ‘putting things off’ or ‘procrastinating’ which is something I’ve done a lot of in the past and it’s true I’ve always felt better once I have done something, even if the build up to do that ‘something’ took weeks! It’s also about doing more of what you love and what brings you joy. Sounds so simple doesn’t it? So why aren’t we all doing it? Well, that’s a question for another blog, but our lifestyle, our focus, our work and relationships and our mind-set greatly influence our effectiveness to be happy.
To summarise then, we know it is partly about ‘doing’: being in a ‘state of flow’ but it’s also about creating new habits that support our quest for happiness and challenging old ones that no longer serve us. Here are some useful tips based on science-based information on life skills and habits needed to enhance well-being, build resilience against depression and anxiety, and pursue a meaningful life with a focus on happiness and psychological well-being. Many of these themes are explored creatively on my course the Spirit of Happiness:
- Connect to others around you, friends & family to enhance your happiness. Research suggests our relationships give us much needed nourishment in our lives and helps us to cultivate meaning, love and understanding.
- Be kind, caring and compassionate. It sounds simple and it is. Being kind towards someone and caring supports evidence that people who do this feel much happier and content.
- Be active and keep moving. Physical exercise helps to improve mental well-being and increases the endorphins in the brain that make you feel good.
- Find your flow – being in the flow induces a state that benefits the mind, body and soul and engages you in a way that is productive, fun, engaging and rewarding.
- Meaning and purpose can increase your happiness as you feel more connected to who you are, what you do and what you can offer in the world. People are happier when they practice spiritual engagement (discovery of greater meaning in our lives) or follow a religion that may encourage faith, prayer and social support.
- I’m a big advocate of focusing on strengths and feel as a society we ignore some of our greatest assets, feeling almost embarrassed to declare what we are good at. Positive Psychology supports the notion that focusing on strengths instead of perceived weaknesses can boost happiness and well-being and encourage a positive mind-set.
- Optimism, mindfulness and gratitude go along way to fuelling positive habitual traits that make you feel happier.
We often forget what we already have especially if we start to make comparisons to others and find it increasingly difficult to take some time out for our minds. If we exercised our bodies as much as we do our minds we’d all be top Olympic athletes by now! Our minds are crying out for some down-time so find your flow, be mindful, practice yoga, read a book or listen to some music and give it a little rest and your soul a boost! If you’re interested in learning or finding out more about how to increase your happiness please click on the link: Spirit of Happiness for more details, which is a six-week programme I facilitate throughout the year.