The familiar sound of laughter and childlike wonder began to fill the streets, in anticipation of the magical being whose treats guarantee a sugar-rush-infused afternoon. Lucy had been eagerly waiting for the ice cream van to announce its presence. With mum’s cash held tightly in her hand, she was faced with an dilemma – which flavour ice cream should she go for today? Strawberry, chocolate or vanilla? This conundrum had Lucy fall momentarily in a cotton candy, dream-like world, where clouds are pink and they taste like bubblegum. As her mouth began to water, the magical chime echoed down the road, gently escorting her back to reality.
“Happy?” Lucy’s mum asks the little girl whilst she is tucking into her bubblegum-flavoured cone.
“Of course mama” says Lucy, with a smile adorned by ice-cream.
What is happiness? How can we define it? For some it’s a state of mind that can only be achieved when enthralled by pure, unadulterated bliss. For others, it ensues after a few moments of pleasure, joy or contentment. It is safe to say that different individuals have different definitions on the subject. For Lucy, a child, happiness meant tucking into her favourite ice-cream. Some adults may recoil at the idea of getting acquainted with sugar and cream, no matter how delicious it may be, and would rather try to attain a similar state by wrapping themselves with a comfort blanket, made of wool and financial security.
Although scientists have disagreed on what happiness actually means, they generally agree on what it feels like: being satisfied with your quality of life, feeling positive emotions, feeling contentment, etc. (Ackermans, 2019).
Psychologist Martin Seligman (2002) stipulated that happiness is comprised of three dimensions:
- Experiencing pleasantness frequently (the pleasant life)
- Engaging in satisfying activities regularly (the engaged life)
- Contributing to the world for the benefit of the public (the meaningful life)
Sirgy and Wu (2009) added the balanced life dimension to Seligman’s model, which focuses on an individual’s ability to engage in satisfying life domains and maintaining a good balance.
The importance of engaging with the life dimensions is further affirmed by the general public’s views on happiness. Well-being technology expert and writer Tchiki Davis (2020) asked regular individuals to define happiness, and these are some of the answers she recorded:
- Relationships (different types)
- Financial stability
- Doing meaningful work
- Engaging in activities that you enjoy
- Practicing self-compassion and self-gratitude
Davis (2020) then carried out a mini study by inviting the general public to share their happiness values, meaning what emotions they value. Once the data had been analysed, Davis (2020) noted three types of happiness seekers:
- The Energy Seeker: these individuals find value in feeling confident, excited, inspired, passionate, etc.
- The Connection Seeker: they find value in connecting with others, experiencing love, feeling secure, etc.
- The Goal Seeker: they value being efficient, content, appreciated, and at times secure, sure of themselves and proud.
By identifying and understanding your personal values, as well as the emotions you prioritise, you may then be one step closer to defining what happiness means to you.
So, what is the link between mental health and happiness? When individuals feel content with most aspects of their life, and their needs are being met, they are more likely to experience frequent boosts of happiness. Granted, happiness is not a long-lasting feeling. However, having the necessary buffers in place to help you navigate mental illness can certainly help you alleviate some of the stress/anxiety/pain that you may be beset by.
Here are some tips on to how improve your quality of life and general wellbeing:
- Identify what your values are (e.g. being connected with family, being productive, having a career, wanting to have a purpose) and brainstorm ideas on how you could use them effectively in your day-to-day life
- Know your worth – start by listing all the qualities you like about yourself. If you struggle to do so, get a loved one to help you out. Assert and maintain boundaries with individuals, recognise your strengths, challenge your negative self-talk (see resources at the end), challenge unhelpful behaviours (e.g. perfectionism, going for a job that you’re overqualified for or being friends with someone who demeans us and doesn’t appreciate us), come up with your own affirmations.
- Ensure that your needs are being met by communicating them clearly, and be willing to compromise
- Invest in your relationships
- Create meaning for yourself. Do you feel that you lack a sense of purpose? If so, what could help you live your life in a more impactful way?
- Recognise that life is truly unpredictable and accept that some things are out of our control. Focus on the things you can control.
- Work on yourself – is a past experience holding you back? Seek help from a professional if you can. If you are unable to do so, confide in a loved one, journal, or sit with any emotions that may come up for you (unless you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed). I would suggest that you read the book “Homecoming : Reclaiming and Championing your Inner Child” by John Bradshaw.
- Slow down and enjoy the moment
- Make use of your coping skills, for when things don’t go quite to plan. What helps you confront adversities?
- Challenge your worry patterns – what evidence is there that would suggest that my thoughts are or will come true? Is there a more realistic, more positive way of looking at the situation? (See resources at the end)
- Have fun! What do you enjoy doing?
- Be kind to yourself.
- Read this magazine! We’re going to be addressing different facets of mental health and coming up with ways that you can improve your quality of life.
Just like a rollercoaster, life is full of ups and downs. It isn’t feasible to continuously chase the dragon and impatiently wait for your next happiness fix. It is a fleeting, changeable state, that can be improved upon by addressing and working on what’s important to you. This journey becomes easier when you have a trusted companion on this ride (e.g. a friend, a partner, an internal resource) waiting to go down the slope, sitting right beside you.
Ackerman, C.E., (2019). What Is Happiness and Why Is It Important? (+ Definition). Positive psychology.com https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-happiness/
David, T. (2020). What is Happiness, Anyway? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/click-here-happiness/202009/what-is-happiness-anyway
Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Simon and Schuster.