Category Archives: Personal

What employee satisfaction looks like during the pandemic (guest post)

This is a guest post by Tina Johnson.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a paradigm shift in the world of work. In March, the Polish workforce – just to name on example – were in consensus that businesses in Poland must offer remote work this year in response to the global Covid-19 crisis. Six months later, employers in Poland and elsewhere have adapted. More and more organisations are pivoting away from traditional office-based setups and into work-from-home models. In some sectors, it’s nothing new, but its normalisation in the face of this pandemic is worth a deeper look. Its increasing prevalence might already be altering how the country’s employees perceive happiness and satisfaction in their jobs.

But to understand better the ramifications of working from home on employee satisfaction and happiness, it’s important to first take a closer at its pros and cons, as they can directly impact how employees view their current situation. It has affected mine, and I can honestly say that I’m happier now that I’m working from home.

The advantages of ‘WFH’

These are some notable pros of remote work that might explain why job satisfaction and happiness are higher among employees working from home. That’s what Wrike found in their survey of people working from home.

Improves happiness. In a poll among remote workers in four countries, Wrike found that people working from home are happier because they are doing meaningful work in an environment where they want to be in. Having some flexibility over their schedule helps too, and is a far better enticement than workplace perks.

A chance at good work-life balance. With scheduling flexibility, remote workers get a better shot at achieving a good work-life integration. They can re-allocate the time they spend commuting to other aspects of life, like family time, exercise, or socialisation.

Increases productivityAn Entrepreneur article on why remote work is the future notes how there’s mounting evidence that remote workers are more productive. It’s mainly because employees are often eager to accomplish their tasks, mostly in deference to the flexibility and convenience that they are getting in return.


The disadvantages of remote working
Despite the benefits remote working has, not everybody is able to adjust.

Blurring of professional and personal boundaries. Working from home often makes it difficult to shut off from work, because work will often be within reach and in part because there not a universal stop time due to flexible hours.

Possibility of burnout. Lack of boundaries can increase the likelihood of overworking, and can cause burnout. This is an occupational phenomenon described by the World Health Organization as stemming from chronic, unaddressed work stress. Burnout then leaves an employee feeling exhausted, unmotivated, and pessimistic.



Making work from home work

As discussed in an earlier post on the 4 spheres of happiness at work, the Employer Branding Institute’s Aleksandra Grabska sees health as a prime consideration in terms of job satisfaction, along with a good work environment, a sense of purpose, and flow (or how employees feel about what they do). Unfortunately, working from home can adversely impact employees’ overall health, which can be reason enough for them not to feel fully satisfied at work — more so during this pandemic. But that doesn’t have to be the case, as there are ways for remote workers to take full advantage of the work-from-home setup. Here are three of them:

Have a firm set of rules

Since overworking is one of the biggest problems when it comes to remote work, it is important to find ways to address it immediately. In his 30 tips for work-from-home professionals, lifestyle writer James Gonzales offers a solution: set ground rules — no social media, no working in the bedroom, etc. — and stick to them. Another solution is to set definite work hours and designate a work area, as doing so helps in delineating between the personal and professional.

To be honest, my first thought when I was offered this work-from-home arrangement was: Things will be so much easier! They are now, but back in March, when I first started, I struggled. I wasn’t just working 9 to 5, but often well over my usual set hours. And I was having a hard time focusing, as there was always a distraction: my kids running around, my dog wanting a walk, Netflix, and a power nap or two. Then, I read about the importance of establishing rules, and that’s when I put my foot down. I set up a workstation in a spot just adjacent to our kitchen, and resolved to strictly follow a 9 to 5 schedule. It was a sacrifice I had to make, and I’m better off now for doing so.

Find time for casual chats

Another thing that can adversely impact remote workers’ wellbeing and job satisfaction is feeling isolated and lonely. That’s why in their 23 tips for working remotely, Inc authors recommend taking time for water cooler chats, whether through texts or via the company’s communication platforms.

In my case, I never had a problem with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having kids and a dog certainly helps. But I know of colleagues who struggled in this regard initially. That’s why I took it upon myself to check in on them as often as I could, or drop a message of encouragement in our group chat. Sometimes, I’d leave a funny meme or a link to a cool video just to prop up everyone’s spirits. Before long they were doing those things too, which increased our team’s morale across the board.

Take breaks small and big

Just as office-based workers need to take breaks, so do employees working from home. That said, it’s imperative for remote workers to take frequent breaks throughout the day to rejuvenate the body and the mind. These breaks can be spent moving about, meditating, or socialising with family, friends, and colleagues. Vacation days are important too, as it’s a way to step back from busy days and recharge oneself fully.

The conventional thinking here is: I’m already at home, why do I need long breaks? That’s the wrong mindset. Remember my early struggles I told you about? Part of it was because I was working long hours, largely because I was trying to make up for time lost whenever I got distracted. It got to a point when I couldn’t get enough sleep, and was feeling fatigued all the time. That’s when I asked my manager for three days off — and it was a godsend. I got to recharge, and was fresh when I restarted. With new energy, I set work rules. I got more productive, and thus put in fewer hours. All that meant: more time for myself, and I’m enjoying this work-from-home setup a lot more now.

With a bit of organisational skills, we employees working from home are more likely to be satisfied with our jobs and happier overall. That’s because we have some control over our schedule, are working at the comforts of home, and are striking the right balance between work and life. Of course, things won’t happen overnight. But give it time, just as I did, and stay the course. It’ll work for you too.

Written by: Tina Johnson

The look of happiness

Last week, I took part in a two-day program on foundations of happiness from what I’ll simply call the Department of Happiness of Erasmus University Rotterdam – the official name is Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation (EHERO).

The very first lecture was by a philosopher on the question ‘what is happiness’? As could be expected, prof. Jack Vromen’s review of thousands of years of philosophy raised more questions than answers. From Aristotle’s emphasis of the ‘life of virtue’ to Jeremy Bentham’s “greatest good for the greatest number”, ideas differ what happiness is. And it gets more complicated when we try to set happiness apart from the similar concepts life satisfaction and well-being. My takeaway simply was that we don’t need to have a solid all-weather-proof answer what happiness is. We ‘only’ need to decide what happiness is to us.

But what triggered me most is the picture to illustrate happiness in the deck that Vromen used. While I haven’t been able to find the actual one he used, conceptually it looked a bit like this:

What do you see here? Two people, seen from the back, in nature, jumping out of excitation in the air. It’s a very common theme in stock photos of happiness. Start paying attention to the imagery for online news stories about happiness or search for images of happiness on Google. This is what you’ll usually find, alongside a bunch of smileys of course. I’ve copied a few more examples in the gallery.

On my blog, you’ll also find a few posts illustrated by views of the beach or a tulip field, based on the implicit assumption that being in nature can create moments of happiness (it certainly can, in my experience, and evidenced by an emerging scientific literature).

Still, my favourite image of what happiness looks like is different. It is a picture that went viral in 2015. The picture was taken at the movie premiere in Boston of Black Mass – a crime drama starring names such as Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The picture shows how a group of spectators all get their phones out to depict, I imagine, the celebrities arriving from their fancy cars. Apart from one person: the older lady in the centre of the picture seems to be truly taking in the moment, a small smile on her face. I might be projecting something, but it looks like a moment of happiness for her. And if you see how the image went viral and people praise her for being aware in person rather through their cameras, I think I am not the only person to ascribe this meaning to the picture.

For me, this is what happiness is about: paying attention to the small moments of pleasure in our life. Happiness doesn’t need to always be about majestic landscapes and great excitement. It can be as simple as enjoying the view of the moon in the sky, calm waves on the beach, a glance at a field of tulips, a coffee on the balcony or indeed – seeing a few celebrities at a movie premiere.

Source: the picture now can be found all over the internet, but was originally taken by John Blanding of the Boston Globe

The King’s Speech: beyond happiness, pursue flourishing

“The pursuit of happiness is a beautiful thing. But it shouldn’t become an obsession.”

That’s one of the key messages of the Christmas speech of Dutch king Willem Alexander gave a few weeks ago.

It puts the finger on an important issue around happiness: happiness is worthwhile to pursue, but only in moderation. It should not become an obsession, indeed. Happiness gurus and positive thinkers may emphasise optimism so much, that they forget that bad things are a natural part of life. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes we fail, sometimes we doubt ourselves. And negative emotions – anger, guilt, self-doubt, sadness – are just as important in regulating our emotional health as positive emotions are.

If we shouldn’t obsess about happiness, should we still pursue it? Indeed, as Willem Alexander said: “one cannot force happiness. It is elusive. It comes suddenly”. In that vein, should we still wish each other a happy New Year?

Here the King’s Speech (in Dutch). The part on happiness starts around 3:00.

Have a Flourishing New Year

I think it’s still worth wishing each other a Happy New Year – it is an easy term and everybody has an image of what ‘happiness’ means. But we can also do better: in a way, ‘happiness’ is a lazy term. It is easily used incorrectly, and we have better, more precise alternatives. Many of them have been mentioned on the blog: well-being, meaning, life satisfaction, and flow.

Maybe the best one, though, is ‘flourishing‘, as described by Martin Seligman. A person that ‘flourishes’ doesn’t merely experience happy moments (and certainly doesn’t obsess about them!). Instead, he or she is doing well in a broad sense: positive emotions  and meaning to live well, but also resilient in face of the dark days that inevitably will occur during the year.

Beyond happiness, pursue flourishing

Let’s cheer to a year of flourishing. But how do you pursue flourishing? A start point might be to pursue a healthy life style. The example below is taken from Arts en Leefstijl (Doctor and Life style) in the Netherlands. They recommend to pay attention to six factors to develop a healthy life style: nutrition, your social life, relaxation, physical activity, meaning, and sufficient sleep.

On some you will already perform well. My examples here: I get my eight hours of sleep, I am grateful for what is good, I try to be friendly and interested in others. Some will be more challenging: I can definitely reduce phone time and do more sports. Others will be in between: my eating pattern is overall fine, but I can sure do more to reduce sugar and get enough fruit and veg everybody. A healthy life style finds a right balance on all of them.

With that, let me wish you a Flourishing New Year, full of positive emotions, a healthy life style, and resilience. Go beyond happiness, and pursue flourishing.

 

The wheel of flourishing. Source: adapted from Arts en Leefstijl, www.artsenleefstijl.nl

The wheel of a healthy life style, contributing to flourishing. Source: adapted from Arts en Leefstijl, www.artsenleefstijl.nl

“Happiness is a warm kitty”: the joy of pets

Three months ago, I found myself facing an important question: did I want a cat?

My sister-in-law found a poor kitty on the street, without a home and a wounded tail (aaah…). After a day of reflection and rushed research in the question how to take care of a kitty, we decided to take him in. Since that moment, we are proudly housing Rembrandt – I negotiated the right to name him and to pick a Dutch name. We hope to do so for the next fifteen odd years.

Rembrandt a few days after arriving, with still a wounded tail.

Rembrandt a few days after arriving, with still a wounded tail.

Rembrandt is a pretty social kitten. He likes to lay on the couch with us and enjoys to play. He has grown tremendously in the short time he has been with us. If only we figured out how to teach him to leave the plants alone…

As a happiness blogger, I am not just going to share cat pictures or cat memes, though I take it that’s one of the main functions of the internet. So let me face these questions: do cats, and other animals, make us happier? And a more complicated one: do animals themselves experience happiness?

Is happiness a warm kitty?

Amazingly, almost every single question about happiness I could come up with has been answered by a scientist. To answer whether animals make us happy, I looked at the result of a small study published by Bao et al. under the title “Is Happiness a Warm Puppy?: Examining the Association Between Pets and Well-Being”. Based on a survey under 263 people, among which 94% pet owners (of which 53% dogs and 41% cats), Bao et al. find a slightly higher level of life satisfaction for pet owners.

Although the survey numbers may be too small to draw strong conclusions, intuitively the findings make sense. Human beings need both social relations with other beings and a purpose to feel happiness. Having a pet could enrich human lives in both ways

Bao et al.’s study also looks into a trickier issue: cats or dogs? Dog owners were found to be happier than cat owners, and again, intuitively this makes sense. Cats are more isolated and independent animals, while dogs display a lot more affection. Also, dogs require to be walked, and people with more active lifestyles and time in nature are happier. The study – again, based on a small sample – even found higher levels of conscientiousness in dog owners and higher levels of neuroticism in cat owners. Scientists have found neuroticism to be a personality trait that is correlate with lower levels of happiness.

Do animals experience happiness?

And what about animals themselves: does Rembrandt love me? Does he experience happiness when he’s purring on my stomach and I am petting him? We are always warned not to project human emotions upon animals, but that does not mean animals do not have feelings. Even Darwin already asserted that animals have emotions.

To measure human happiness, scientists use surveys as well as brain research. In case of animals, surveys do not make sense – I cannot ask Rembrandt to fill out a questionnaire asking him to value his health, social relations, quality of food and shelter, and overall life satisfaction. Brain research in animals has confirmed that animals have broadly similar cerebral systems. Even the frontal cortex, said to be the determining factor in human progression over animals, may not be as sacred anymore.

Indeed, the more complex animals’ brains are, the less their behaviours are hard-wired in intuition, and the larger and more complex their brains are, the more space there is for emotional systems to influence animals’ behaviour. We can watch animals – including Rembrandt – and observe their behaviour, and infer something about how they feel.

As Carl Safina says in his TED talk “What animals are feeling and thinking“,

“attributing human thoughts and emotions to other species is the best first guess about what they’re feeling”

As such, I can be confident that Rembrandt feels positive emotions – be it calm, pleasure, or even happiness – in my presence.

 

And Rembrandt now, ready to join on a trip!

And Rembrandt now, ready to join on a trip!

Proudly presented: the For A State of Happiness Blue Monday Quiz!

Blue Monday is definitely a thing now. Dreamt up by marketeers and bogus scientists in 2005, the term has entered the public discourse by now. Media are full of tips to prevent Monday blues, and marketeers take it as a change to drive holiday sales and shopping in an otherwise dull January month. One could call it fake news.

And actually, I’ve also jumped on the Blue Monday bandwagon myself. Even though Blue Monday itself is bogus, there is such a thing as a winter depression, and January is still well in the dark season. Just as we meet family around Christmas, it’s sensible to meet up with friends around Blue Monday for celebration.

Since a few years, my wife and I tend to organise Blue Monday Eve drinks, inviting some friends to ensure we enter Blue Monday with a jolly feeling instead. We try to make it feel different from an ordinary house party; inviting friends on a Sunday instead and playing games (we still procured some wine though).

This year, we also played a happiness quiz with our guests, and on special request I post the questions and answers of the For A State of Happiness Blue Monday Quiz here – maybe you want to use them next year, or at a last minute Blue January event? You still have a week, and if not, February can be pretty blue too.

 

The For A State of Happiness Blue Monday Quiz 2019

What is the happiest country of the world?

According to the 2018 edition of the World Happiness Report: Finland.

What is hygge?

Hygge is a Danish concept that roughly translates to ‘cosiness’, typically felt sitting in front of the fire place with a hot chocolate during a storm. It stands for comfort, togetherness and wellbeing, according to Meik Wiking, author of a book on Hygge and director of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute.

What are the four elements making people happy at work, according to Pracuję bo lubię?

Energy, flow, purpose, and positive emotions. For more detail (but slightly different naming), see my post after sitting down with Aleksandra Grabska from Pracuję bo lubię (‘I work because I like it’).

Who are happier: people with cats or with dogs?

My post on this is not online yet, but the (unsurprising to most) answer is: dog owners tend to be happier.

Does the weather influence our quality of life?

This is the one many people get wrong: no, it doesn’t. Why not? Two psychological process explain why: ‘focus illusion’ and adaptation.

Which country invented Gross National Happiness?

Readers of my blog will know: Bhutan!

What ranking does Poland have in the World Happiness Report for 2018, out of 156 countries?

The answer is: 42, a bit higher than Poles would suspect. Compared globally, quality of life in Poland is pretty strong, and it has seen major improvements in the last 25 years. Still, Poland is a country where one has to find happiness in unhappiness.

When is the International Day of Happiness?

In 2012, on Bhutan’s initiative, the United Nations decided to institute an International Day of Happiness. It is celebrated each year on 20 March.

Name six positive emotions.

Naming six positive emotions may sound like a lot, but researchers identified even more of them. At Warsaw University, they listed ten: enchantment, love, inspiration, pride, amusement, hope, interest, calm, gratitude, and joy.

What motivates our behaviour more: positive or negative emotions?

Again, a question based on lectures at Warsaw University. While negative emotions can trigger strong responses to difficult events, ultimately positive emotions have a stronger impact on our actions than negative ones.

Character 'Sadness' from Inside Out - she is blue for a reason.

Character ‘Sadness’ from Inside Out – she is blue for a reason.

My new year resolution: a year of happy birthdays

When I was a boy, my grandparents had a birthday calendar in their toilet, just as many Dutch families do. On twelve pages – one for each month of the year – the calendar listed when their (grand)children and friends had their birthdays. As the calendar didn’t mention the days of the week, my grandparents could use it year after year.

Next to it, they had a print of a rhyme by Toon Hermans, a Dutch comedian and poet. It went as follows:

Vandaag is de dag

Hij komt maar één keer

Morgen dan is het

Vandaag al niet meer

Niet zeuren, geniet

van het leven, het mag

Maar doe het vandaag,

want vandaag is de dag.

 

Today is the day

It comes only once

Tomorrow it won’t

Be today anymore

Do not complain,

enjoy life, you may

But do it today

cause today is the day.

 

Birthdays and happiness

While I do care about my friendships, I am terrible in remembering birthdays. Even Facebook’s notifications – where every birthday becomes a number in a red box next to a bell, asking for your attention – do not help me. I am not as intimated by red numbers anymore as I was when I first got Facebook and a smartphone.

I think birthdays are important: it’s worth celebrating life, and it’s worth celebrating others that are important to you. Humans are social animals, and we need others to be happy. A birthday offers the occasion to have a small celebration, to appreciate the year that has past, to spend time together in pleasant company, or just send our good wishes. I’d imagine there to be a positive correlation between sending and receiving birthday wishes and happiness (though I didn’t come across any research on birthdays and happiness – I suggest this to be subject of further research).

I thus believe it’s a worthy goal to change myself, and get better at birthdays. Therefore, one of my New Year Resolutions this year is to remember my friends’ birthdays. Reminiscing about my grandparents’ birthday calendar, I set out to get the best tool I could think of to support me in meeting this resolution: an old-fashioned birthday calendar. I even managed to get one with the very poem lighting up my grandparents’ bathroom.

So I hope that 2019 will be the year of remembering and celebrating birthdays. Because many days this year, it will be “today is the day” for one of my friends. And I hope these birthdays will be happy ones.

IMG-4943

Daily tips to do good in December

It’s the first of December again. Tomorrow I’ll light my first advent candle, and Christmas parties with friends and at work are less than two weeks away.

December is a month we spend with others. Focusing on what happens around us, is not only good for others, but also for ourselves. Positive relations are a key element in happiness, and there’s research indicating that performing regular acts of kindness strengthens happiness.

Like last year, I’d like to share the Kindness Calendar developed by Action for Happiness.

Dubbing the months ‘Do Good December’, the calendar provides inspiration on how to help others and feel better yourself. Some of my favourites:

  • 4 December: listen wholeheartedly to someone without judging them. This is a difficult one: when hearing about problems friends are facing, we are quick to offer advice, and in doing so, sometimes try to impose our views.
  • 7 December: be generous. Feed someone with food, love or kindness today. And feeling happier is a great collateral benefit.
  • 10 December: count your blessings: list the kind things others have done for you. I’ve written it often before: gratitude is an important factor in happiness.
  • 17 December: thank people who do things for you but you may take for granted. It’s very easy to take things done for you for granted – by spouses, parents or friends. A friendly good morning or thank you in a shop or store or to the bus driver doesn’t hurt.

Have a great and good December!

Action for Happiness’ Do Good December Calendar (click to enlarge). Found on http://www.actionforhappiness.org/do-good-december

Action for Happiness’ Do Good December Calendar (click to enlarge). Found on http://www.actionforhappiness.org/do-good-december

The art and happiness of travel

A few weeks ago, I spent a few days in Varanasi, India.

A depiction of Vishnu, the sustainer, one of the main gods

A depiction of Vishnu, the presever, one of the main Hindu gods

It wasn’t the easiest place I have visited. I was confronted with a sweltering heat, pollution affecting my breathing, occasional smells of cow dung and rotting garbage, and a cacophonous concert of auto-riksha horns that resounded in my head long after I returned to the calm of my hotel.

At the same time, it was the most mind-blowing of all the places I had the fortune to visit. Varanasi is so different from any other place I have visited. I enjoyed visiting the temples, and learning how Hindu Gods are portrayed. Did you know that Hindus have 330 million Gods? They are not only above us, but everywhere around us.

I was fascinated to walk past the Ganges, the holy river, and witness how pilgrims came here to bath in the river, wash their clothes, and drink a few sips of holy water. On the riverbank of the Ganges, a few sets of stairs are used for the cremation of those who are lucky enough to die in Varanasi. According to Hindu mythology, if someone dies in Varanasi, their soul escapes the cycle of death and rebirth. Hence the streets are lined by pilgrims, among them many long-bearded men dressed in orange, waiting for the moment to liberate their soul.

The unique spirituality of the place, in my opinions, far outweighs the discomfort. And it perfectly illustrates why we travel in general, and why our travels can generate such moments of happiness.

Palace towers, temples, stairs, and the brown water of the holy Ganges

Palace towers, temples, stairs, and the brown water of the holy Ganges

Why we travel

The question ‘why we travel’ seem simple, but is not that easy to answer. For me, travel is a complex art of relaxation and adventure. Overall, I think there are five important reasons:

– to relax: to gain new mental and physical energy, or enjoy lazy days with sea and sunshine

– to learn about the world around us: experience different ways of living in other nations (people already have been doing this since the Roman times! A geographer named Pausanias even wrote a travel guide to Greece in the 2nd century AD).

– to admire beauty: to experience the beauty of nature, art and culture

– to meet new people: to gain fresh perspectives and ideas by meeting people from different cultures or in different settings than home

– to escape our comfort zone: while we need stability, we quickly adapt to our daily reality and bored. Travel helps us to break routines (and boy, did I do so in India!)

The Taj Mahal, the jewel of Indo-Islamic architecture and a monument of love

The Taj Mahal, the jewel of Indo-Islamic architecture and a monument of love

Travel, for a 2% happier life

Travel creates many moments that could experience happiness: relaxation, learning, beauty, and social encounters. At the same time, travel can also lead to difficult and stressful situations.

Altogether, there is only a small net positive effect of travel of happiness. Compared to people who do not go on vacation, people who travel have a slightly higher level of subjective well-being. According to this PhD study on leisure travel and happiness, holiday trips account for about 2% of the variance in life satisfaction. Probably, the effects are limited due to the simple fact that a vacation ends pretty soon. A few weeks after, sweet memories disappear to the back of the mind and daily routines take over again.

Nonetheless, there’s a clear stream in research suggesting spending money on experiences – which would include travel – rather than material goods is the way to go. While the novelty of a purchase wears off, triggering memories of the holidays through souvenirs, pictures or reading journals helps to keep the experience.

I think I’ve those boxes ticked: I write this on the couch next to pillowcases with elephants bought in India and lighted up this post a few pictures. And describing my experience in Varanasi at the start of the post almost made me hear the chaos of riksha traffic and admire the sunrise from a Ganges boat again. It is as if I haven’t left India yet.

It is worth to get up before 5 during the holidays - for a sunrise on the Ganges

It is worth to get up before 5 during the holidays – for a sunrise on the Ganges

 

Five years on the road

This Sunday – 30 September 2018 – marks the fifth anniversary of For A State of Happiness.

On 30 September 2013, I quietly set my first step  outside my door, into the wide world of blogging about happiness. As I then wrote, the blog is a travel journal, recording impressions and findings about what makes people, countries, and workplaces happier.

My journey so far

My journey has brought me to wonderful places. It has brought me to conferences in Bhutan, Mexico and Turkey and to visit the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. It allowed me to do book reviews, give  workshops, and talk on radio shows. I’ve had the chance to speak to researchers, journalists and inspirational speakers. I got to research pizza robots and the benefits of high taxes, to ponder about money and art. I even (after a few drinks) spoke to women about happiness during my very own bachelor party (no, there is no blog post about that…).

Happiness is easy, and it is not

My perspective on happiness hasn’t changed massively since my explorations began. Like I did then, I believe happiness often arises from small things in life: pleasant interactions with close friends or family, enjoying a home-made curry or a shared cup of coffee, being astounded by the beauty of a new landscape, or made to think by a piece of art. The art of life is to take notice of the happy moments we experience. Happiness is surprisingly easy.

I still believe we often act against our happiness, even wittingly doing so. We fail to step back in the face of stress. We allow modern technology to encroach on our use of time and attention. We stick to habits that bring about neither ephemeral happiness today nor strengthen our quality of life tomorrow. Happiness is surprisingly difficult.

Why I do what I do

When asked why I am writing this blog, there are generally two types of answers I give, depending on the occasion. Sometimes I say that I write about happiness because I learnt everything that is important in school, with the exception of how to be happy (fortunately, nowadays there are more and more educators that ‘teach’ happiness). And as happiness remains mysterious enough, I’ve reason enough to keep going.

The other answer is that I wanted to write a book about happiness, but figured a blog would be simpler. If you regularly write blog posts for a few years, all you basically have to do is bundle and print them, and you kind of have a book. Evidently it isn’t as easy as that, but there’s a lot of material here and in my head that would make a fine book. Sometimes an unfulfilled dream pushes you forward.

Both answers still apply as much today as they have over the last years. Today, they give an answer to the question “why do you do what you do?”, and hence the journey will go on. I am enjoying every step in the pursuit of happiness.

And I hope, dear reader, that you are enjoying the journey with me. Happy anniversary to you, too!

Image found here: https://www.amindonfire.com/road-trip-movies/

Image found here: https://www.amindonfire.com/road-trip-movies/

What would a once-per-50-years newspaper say on happiness?

I recently came across a brief podcast by the US National Public Radio (NPR) with an intriguing question.

Some of us have quit reading the news, as the endless updates about conflicts, natural disasters, political in-fighting, and abuse scandals make us depressed. (Sports news could balance it down a bit though, depending whether your team wins or loses).

The news is about what is uncommon – hence it is news – and often these are bad developments. In a time of online news and push notifications, we can get ‘new’ news in the time it takes to load a few tweets. As a result, we are a lot better informed about conflicts and disasters in many places we otherwise wouldn’t have heard about. But it might also make us lose the big picture on what is going well in the world.

That’s why the NPR jumped on an idea of Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie. The two are affiliated with Oxford University, and run a number-lovers’ paradise: Our World In Data. They came up with the idea: what would a newspaper consider as headline news if it appeared only once per fifty years?

 

The 50-year newspaper

The newspaper the NPR and Our World In Data made appeared on 1 January 2018, exactly fifty years after the previous edition of 1968.

It contains some bad news…

  • Is It Just Me, Or Is It Hot In Here? (on climate change, as human-induced greenhouse gas emissions rocket)
  • Humans to Animals: Drop Dead! (on biodiversity loss; the number of terrestrial animals declined by 60%)

… but also shows some of the great progress made in the last fifty years:

  • Poor No More (on poverty, which feel from 60% to 10% of the world population)
  • Child Mortality Plummets (in 1968, 1 out of 6 children died before their fifth birthday. With healthcare improving, it now is 1 out of 22)
  • Blame It On The Grain (on undernourishment; the population share with hunger fell from about one third to 12%)

 

What about happiness?

But what would the headline on happiness be in the paper of January 2018?

Fifty years after 1968, these are the headlines the newspaper should run:

  • Have You Jumped Out The Rat Race Yet? (on the growing awareness of people that they are in charge of their own well-being, but that they need to make important and difficult life style choices to achieve it)
  • Emerging Economies Show Massive Happiness Gains (the progress in fighting poverty, child mortality, and undernourishment across developing countries comes with a happiness dividend)
  • Free At Last! (on the transition towards democracy and self-determination in many countries, mainly in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and former colonies)
  • Politicians and Bosses Say: Your Happiness Is My Command (on the growing attention for happiness and well-being as a policy issue for the state, and corporations increasing attention to happiness at work)
  • Materialism Out, Experiences In! (on the gradually changing habit of people to value and spend money on experiences such as trips or time with friends, and a lesser emphasis on consumer goods)

 

Bonus: what the 1968 papers actually said about happiness, referring to a creepily titled Beatles song.

american-rifleman-happiness-is-a-warm-gun_01-1

 

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