the virtues of being happy…on purpose

Last night I was shot.

It had been overdue for a while now, so I guess I should have expected it.

Ever since I can remember I have regularly experienced a very vivid, recurring dream. I assume the role of perky (but sadly cape-less) side-kick to a super hero, who inevitably throws an Anakin Skywalker and decides his next move will be to destroy the world. The majority of the dream is taken up by my valiant efforts to save the Earth from the apocalyptic wasteland it is due to become at the hands of this Harvey Dent wannabe. SuperheroSometimes I succeed, and sometimes I get karate chopped into submission by this dude’s honchos in a setting that can only be described as the dry riverbed from the drag race at the end of Grease (that was last month). And last night, after not having had the dream in some time, I took five bullets (3 in the torso, 1 in the arm, 1 in the leg) in trying to stop this asshole leaving a wooden cabin (for reasons unknown).

Luckily, a black helicopter was stage left, waiting to whisk me away to safety. Thank shit for that. Climbing aboard, I notice my mother is sitting on one of the far rows of seating by the window (this helicopter is quite a bit larger than it should have been on the inside). She is rifling anxiously through her bag (perhaps looking for tissues to dry her tears of concern about my wellbeing, I opined) with her head down, unaware of my presence. I remember swallowing deeply, trying to be strong and push away the pain as the scarlet blood gushed angrily from my war wounds; I didn’t want to scare her. But my resolve broke as I traversed the aisles – as I slid down into the seat opposite I managed to feebly croak out ‘Mum – I’ve been shot!’. Hands still deep in her purse, her emerald green eyes flickered up to look at me just long enough to affirm that I had, in fact, absorbed some rather serious hardware, before returning to her plight in finding whatever it was she was looking for. ‘Mmmm,’ she distractedly said, ‘oh dear’.

Erm, Mum? I don’t think you heard me. I said I’ve been fucking SHOT

Now, I’ve spent almost 26 years successfully shunning superstitious conspiracy theories, avoiding questions about my horoscope and ‘what I think that means for me’ and other ridiculous bullshit that just isn’t true (like the idea that all three of Katie Price’s marriages were spawn out of love and respect for her long-suffering husbands). But I think I’m being pretty balanced in saying that the undertones of these periodic subconscious wanderings unequivocally call for a visit to the Dream Dictionary.

What does all this shit mean?

Firstly, to quieten any ‘mummy issues’ theories, I’m pretty certain this has nothing to do with my mother. We have a wonderful relationship, and, to put it bluntly, she’s a nurse – professional curiosity (if nothing else) would have have got us further than a subtle nod with those juicy bullet wounds in play. So, here are the results of my highly scientific internet research:

  • To dream of a friend that the dreamer does not really have in real life implies that the characteristics of this fictional friend are also those attributed to the repressed or hidden side of the the dreamer (source: My Jelly Bean)
  • To dream that it is the end of the world suggests that the dreamer is under a tremendous level of stress (source: Dream Moods)
  • To dream that you are saving the world signifies that you have a positive perspective on life and in where you are headed (source: Dream Moods)
  • Being shot represents a form of self-punishment that you may be subconsciously imposing on yourself (source: Dream Moods)
  • Being ignored during some great crisis is symbolic of the dreamer looking for help and support (source: Uncle Sir Bobby)

There are a lot of conflicting ideas in there (slightly squeamish at the thought of confident self-punishment, sounds painful) but there are a couple of notes that, I begrudgingly admit, do ring true. There are always a few corners of everyones life that cause a ‘steam coming out of the ears’ situation, and whilst I consider myself a positive person who gets down to business by pushing good vibes out there, things can occasionally wear you down. Perhaps from time to time I’m loathed to ask for help when I need it, but as a close friend recently noticed – when your demeanour is by definition unwaveringly cheery, others can become thirsty for the constructive impact you have on their lives, reacting selfishly when you yourself are in need of support. Mentions of challenges or issues can be met with (accidentally) dismissive comments such as ‘ahhh, it will be fiiiiiiine‘ or ‘you’ve got a lot going for you, I wouldn’t worry about it’. This doesn’t feel so great. The negative feedback cycle spirals out of control culminating in a Jean Grey Xmen: The Last Stand scenario – aforementioned ‘bitch alter-ego’.

Which would logically lead one to put the following question out into the ether: what’s the fucking point then? Why exert energy on a daily basis in making sure the sun shines down on everyone around you, when the supposedly omnibenevolent karma train continues to mercilessly whizz past your platform, two monkeys not given? For the longest time you think you’re floating on a fluffy cloud, not unlike Katie Perry and her cupcake bra in California Girls…until the rose tinted glasses shatter and you realise the cloud is a plank and your friends are angry pirates, prodding you off the Jolly Roger and into a swarming sea of happiness-eating sharks below.

So – is there any benefit at all to being life’s perkiest cheerleader?

Consider the following (data collected from World Happiness Report 2013)

  • Recent studies have shown happiness has material health benefits, including a stronger heart, faster recovery from injury or illness, increased life span (mortality rates have been shown to drop 35% in a test group of positive vs. less satisfied elderly survey participants) and a higher propensity to eat well and exercise.
  • Individuals with a positive outlook have also been shown to be more productive, enjoying higher levels of entrepreneurship, a better ability to collaborate in a team and a stronger likelihood of earning more in the future (happy 22 year olds earned on average 70% more than their ‘neutral’ counterparts by the time they were 29).
  • Elevated life satisfaction has additionally been linked to social benefits, such as the willingness to meet long term goals, the ability to achieve re-employment, a focus on generosity (time, blood, money) and higher quality interactions when socialising (happier individuals spend 25% less time alone and 70% more time talking when amongst others).

And to my point on driving collective gaiety – scientific data suggests that happiness extends up to three degrees of separation with individuals who are surrounded by happy people are likely to become happier in the future.

Hence, if nothing else, you really are doing those miserable bastards a favour

Assuming that you and I are now both agreed on the topic that being a jovial so-and-so really is good for the soul (and the souls of those around you), what can we do about it?

I want a big slice of the happy cake, please

Similar studies to those mentioned above conclude that the appointed leaders of our Earth could do a bit to pick up the slack on a global basis here – human development drivers such as improved education, better management of resources and a reduction in crime are thought to overlap significantly with the factors that explain happiness across the world.

This feels a little intangible to me. Let’s think small picture.

Elyse Gorman (of Notes on Bliss) has a heart wrenchingly awesome portfolio of thoughtful articles containing actionable steps readers can take right now towards being as happy as Amy Adams perpetually looks and Pharrell Williams says he perpetually feels. Some of my most thumbed-through posts include 48 Little Things You Can Do To Make Yourself Happier Now, 10 Things Happy People Do Differently To Achieve Their Goals and How To Deal With Negative Thoughts. Her words are gold, read them.

Another of my favourite distractions from work / studying / brushing my teeth are the musings of writers at Tiny Bhudda, current obsessions being Lori Deschene’s 10 Ways To Deal With Difficult Or Negative People and Brigid Elsken Galloway’s 4 Strategies For Practising Compassion When You Feel Wronged.

These ‘life adventurers’ do a good job of putting all the bullshit in perspective, and God knows we could all do with a spoonful of that from time to time (well demonstrated by that fact that I have just spent the last 1446 words convincing you that the world, does in fact, revolve around me). These articles underline the idea that it is in fact not the cards you are dealt that define your state of mind, but the choices you make every every day. It’s comforting to be reminded that despite the long, luscious-looking, emerald green grass that apparently grows in everybody else’s garden save for your own, those shoots didn’t just sprout for no reason and appear one day – people actually had to work to achieve happiness.

People choose to be happy on purpose

And that’s ok. We’re all friends here.

But isn’t it mind-blowing that things can instantly get better for you just by you choosing for it to be so?

I spent a lot of time in the bath thinking about that one

So, in school assembly style fashion, I conclude with the following message:

Fuck the haters. Decide to live your dreams


References

Lawless and Lucas (2011)

Davidson et al. (2010)

Chida and Steptoe (2008)

Steptoe and Wardle (2011)

Garg et al. (2007)

Krause (2012)

Baron et al. (1990)

Barsade (2002)

Carnevale (2008)

Forgas (1998)

De Neve and Oswald (2012)

Ifcher and Zarghamee (2011a)

Krause (2012)

Morrison et al. (2012)

Cunningham (1988a)

4 thoughts on “the virtues of being happy…on purpose

  1. Mum

    As I a member of the glass half full brigade, I loved this and i am feeling boosted and inspired to count my blessings and spread the happiness! (A bit like a Dolly Parton song!)

    Like

  2. littlemissobsessivesanatomy

    wow thats one hell of a post..nicee..weird recurring dreams? huh…sounds totally me…
    I have more than once had 3D inception / Insurgent/ Sucker Punch kind of dream…and im like Katniss everdeen only i have cool gadgets instead of a bow and arrow…

    Its like if you are in a classroom, happiness is that one kid who is always on leave…

    i find there is no end to haters…so why waste time in them when we an dance the dance of happiness by doing things we love…i recently have started doing everything that make me happy because truth be told there would always those that i cant do…

    P.S i superlike the conclusion line…

    Like

    1. brit • in • nyc

      I LOVE Katniss Everdeen, I want her to be my friend and come to the movies with me…

      I love what you said about doing things that make you happy – I totally agree. Happiness comes from within; once you start allowing yourself to be happy by not relying on other people to validate you life becomes so much easier and way more fun! The hurtful words and actions of others are a reminder to us ‘happy people’ that we are lucky to live a life of consciousness that allows us to create our own joy, and inspire others around us to do the same 🙂

      I really like the way you look at the world; I hope we ‘meet’ again soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. littlemissobsessivesanatomy

    going for a movie with Katniss Everdeen? I so very much like that……wouldn’t that be awesome…in fact if Katniss was my friend I think i wouldn’t even care which movie we are going as long as we are making movie plans…
    You know who else I would want to make friends and go for a movie with? Beatrice Prior or Hazel Grace Lancaster…any of Shailene Woodley’s character would do… 🙂
    I never thought about it before…but now that you said it, i believe i have a really long list of fictional people i would like to be friends …. 😀

    Like

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