Connecting for Happiness
Yesterday the sun was obscured by the moon, the temperature dropped noticeably and the daylight turned to twilight at 9.34 in the morning of what was International Day of Happiness. As a school, we were all out, with the help of York Astronomical Society, safely viewing and enjoying the passage of the moon in front of the sun. It was a great communal event, and a wonderful thing to happen on a day of happiness that focused this year on connecting with others.
International Happiness Day came exactly a week on from Red Nose Day 2015, which we celebrated heartily at my school, St Peter’s 3-18, with our biennial fancy dress day. Comic Relief is a wonderful cause: it fuels – as well as exemplifies – the sense of community that exists in a thriving school. It is also a moment when the sense of internal community is completely in step with the community at large, indeed the national community.
Comic Relief is a great fund raiser and a great connector. Whilst it is a day of laughter and legitimised silliness, its mission addresses squarely the fact that we live in a world where not everyone enjoys the same life chances; not everyone has the same opportunities to live happy lives. Red Nose Day is also, founded on the simple and profound truth that laughter is part of our common humanity. Laughter is a great connector. And happiness is something that can be grown. Sure, it doesn’t and can’t solve all the world’s problems. But growing happiness actively and concertedly can help.
I spoke to the pupils about international Day of Happiness, suggesting that an awareness day doesn’t imply that everyone has to be happy that day; neither does it imply that happiness can be manufactured. It doesn’t imply that every other day of the year is for unhappiness. Rather, it’s a day to raise awareness that as individuals, with our good will and proper attention, can make a difference to the happiness of those around us, and therefore to our own.
The more cynically-minded may suspect such positivist occasions as being naïve and feeble – mere candles held out in the stormy night. I would say simply that happiness is about action. And action is what brings change.
As the Action For Happiness movement argues: “After years of happiness research, one thing has proved fundamental – the importance of our connections with other people. Yet modern societies are built as if the opposite was true. We are surrounded by people, yet we feel genuinely connected to almost none of them. The effects are devastating. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking; and the epidemic of loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity. We could change this in a day if we all reached out and made at least one positive connection. The best place to start is with our own daily actions. Here are five simple but proven things that, according to Action For Happiness, we can all do to help create a happier and more connected world:
- Do something kind for others
What goes around comes around – and with kindness it really does. Research shows that being kind to others increases our own levels of happiness as well as theirs. What’s more it has a knock-on effect – kindness is contagious, so it makes our communities nicer places to be.
- Volunteer your time, energy and skills
Whether it’s a one-off or something you do on a regular basis, volunteering is good all round. As well as making a positive contribution to the happiness of others, it’s a great way to meet people, get the most out of your local area and to increase your own happiness and wellbeing.
- Get to know your neighbours better
Getting to know the people who live nearby helps create a sense of belonging and shared identity in our local area. It also helps to strengthen connections and trust in our wider communities and contributes to a happier neighbourhood for everyone.
- Understand each other’s needs
Good communication is at the heart of happy relationships of all kinds. It’s about understanding others’ needs and having our needs heard. And it’s a skill that can be learned that will help deepen our connections with the people around us.
- Look for the good in those around you
It’s easy to take our nearest and dearest for granted. Constant criticism can be highly destructive, but we often fall into this trap, especially in established relationships. But if we take time to bring to mind what we value and appreciate about others, we can both get more enjoyment from our time together
Schools are in the lucky position of being close, day-to-day communities where you can see the immediate effect of actions, and where the words we use can change the way we behave. Every day gives us a chance to grow happiness around us and inside ourselves.