Twice a year I meet with Project Plus, an international team of happiness experts that includes Mathieu Ricard, John Helliwell, and others. Currently, we are drafting the introduction to the Bhutanese Gross National Happiness paper, which will be used by the United Nations as a kick starter for setting happiness policy around the world. In our discussions last week in New Orleans the members of Project Plus talked about the possibility that individuals who are trying to achieve more personal happiness may be asking the wrong sorts of questions. Here, for your benefit, are alternatives that you might find provocative and useful in your own quest for happiness:
- 1. How much happiness should I have?
People often simply think they should be happier than they currently are without giving due consideration to whether or not this is true. Take stock of your current happiness. Where in your life are you satisfied and where is there room for growth? How happy would you ideally like to be? What is it you are shooting for, emotionally speaking? When have there been periods of your life when you have achieved, or been close to, this ideal?
- 2. How much unhappiness should I have?
Feelings of sadness, guilt, and anger act like radar, scanning and providing information about the quality of our lives. Negative feelings can signal that problems are occurring and that action must be taken to change courses. It wouldn’t be sensible to try to eliminate negative feelings entirely. How frequently do you experience negative feelings, and how frequently do you think you ideally would like to?
- 3. With whom do you share responsibility for your own happiness?
It is easy to get lulled into a sense that happiness is an individual pursuit. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are connected to other people in a complicated web of loyalty, obligation, generosity, protection, and mutual support. Your own happiness is not simply a product of your mind, but of your decisions concerning other people. You can ask support from others to boost your happiness; you can sacrifice some personal happiness in favor of helping others. Who are the primary stakeholders in your happiness and how do they affect your moods? What does this tell you about your own pursuit of happiness?
By simply asking these new questions you will redirect your attention and take stock of your own happiness in a different way. We hope that the very act of questioning wakes you up to an invigorated sense of pursuit of happiness. We recommend taking five (5) full minutes aside and actually thinking or writing answers to these questions in detail. We would love to hear from you about how asking these questions affects you. Please drop us a line or post to our Facebook site.