Anneliese discusses the leadership aspects of executing a vision and ownership with Wim Dejonghe, senior partner of Allen & Overy.Read more
Can we be happier than happy?
According to Yuval Noah Harari we’ve reached the pinnacle of happiness. The more we continue to pursue happiness now, the unhappier we’ll become.
There’s certainly some truth to that statement. As a species, we’ve never had such an abundant amount of reasons and opportunities to be happy. We’re living in an era of prosperity; never before have there been such few wars, famines, disease and epidemic – and yet suicide rates increase every year – especially in wealthy and developed countries, with South Korea being an example of extremely high rates at 36 suicides per 100,000 people.
In order to keep our ‘happiness hormone’ (serotonin) levels in balance, we might need to take on a new perspective to happiness and our beliefs. Whenever I ask someone ‘what makes you happy?’ I usually get the same answers. Health, wellbeing, happy and healthy children, a good relationship, a fun job… But, for me – although they sound reasonable – those answers are still far too abstract.
Because even if we’re able to achieve all of these things, a lot of people still wouldn’t feel happy enough – in fact, a lot of people might even still feel unhappy.
We’re always striving for more happiness. As humans we’re in search of short, instant shots of serotonin – and this can be addictive. Because of this we believe that just one extra piece of chocolate, a new pair of shoes, a new car, etc. will bring us permanent happiness, but unfortunately that burst of serotonin will soon dissipate, leaving us with an empty or unhappy feeling.
We’re always searching for more – what if less is more?
I think it’s time we return to basics and ask ourselves some of the following questions:
- What does happiness mean to me?
- When do I truly feel happy enough?
- What could I reduce to experience more happiness?
- How do I contribute to my own happiness?
I’d like to illustrate this by sharing two anecdotes with you about my own life:
During the past year at Qlick, we would write weekly colourful post-it notes with examples of what we were grateful for that week. At the end of the year, Anneliese and I used those gratitude notes to organise a special Qlick team day. We enlisted the help of Veerle Dobbelare to run the event so that we, too, could fully enjoy our “Qlick Gratitude Day”.
We booked our session with “De Gasten van Veerle” (Veerle’s Guests) and immersed ourselves into the subject of gratitude. It was a brilliant afternoon with countless moments of happiness. I’ve always been convinced that gratitude and happiness go hand-in-hand, and our Qlick Gratitude Day certainly confirmed those beliefs for me.
Happiness and gratitude are themes to which we pay a lot of attention within Qlick.
My second anecdote serves to illustrate how less can often bring us more (happiness!).
Every year, I travel to Thailand for a month. I go there to write, reflect, recharge my batteries and work on self-care. I fill my suitcase with seven t-shirts, four shorts, two sandals, one pair of trainers, three bikinis and two pair of trousers (for those days when the mosquitos are out in force!).
In other words, there’s not much I need to pack for my month away to work on my inner happiness. More than that I don’t need; there’s no fancy dinners to attend, no important places to go to, no unnecessary expenses – not even much wine to be found!
With the absence of focus on materialistic gain – I create the space to give my attention to my body, mind and soul.
This includes movement, yoga, breathing exercises, mindfulness, reflexion, healthy food… and very little alcohol! And honestly, this space, awareness and absence of materialism is what makes me happy and gives me the clarity I need.
Of course, you might be thinking “well yeah, I’d feel pretty happy if I was on holiday in Thailand for a month, too!” and I won’t deny that being there does make a difference and helps to bring balance more easily.
However, even when I’m back home in Belgium, I make sure to keep these balanced practises in my daily routine through the following steps:
- I eat mindfully. Although serotonin is a neurotransmitter, about 95% of it is made in the gut. I believe that our moods and emotions can be changed by what we eat –sugar, especially, is one of the deadliest ingredients for long-term happiness.
- I surround myself with positive people and stay away from gossip. Every day I chose the environment in which I want to live. Of course, sometimes you simply can’t choose who you’re surrounded by or who you need to interact with – but I make the choice not to join in conversations that could bring down my spirit and inner happiness.
- I ban negative thoughts. I like to make a game out of it; every time I feel that I’m sinking into a pool of negative thoughts, I ask myself the question: “is this thought useful?”. If the answer is no, I immediately decide to think about something else. It’s definitely a game worth practising (and it does take practise!) – as I’ve been using it daily for the past 15 years and still might occasionally spiral into a whirlwind of negativity, but luckily that is extremely rare these days!
- I keep my body healthy and flexibly through yoga practise. I’ve always stood by the expression “a flexible body results in flexibly thoughts; resulting in a flexible and easy-going life”. While I don’t practise yoga every day, I do strive to meditate through my daily life and give my attention only to productive and peaceful thinking.
- I don’t blame myself for my mistakes. Everyone make mistakes and I can accept this. If I were to condemn myself for the mistakes I’ve made, this would only result in feeling guilty, which would give rise to stress. Instead of focusing on guilt and shame I try to analyse the situation and to find a positive solution.
I’d like to close with the quote “Tranquillity is the new luxury” from Robin Sharma, as it so perfectly ties in with what we’ve talked about today and might be worth pondering on throughout the rest of your day.
So, what makes you happy? What are you thankful for? Let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to hear from you!