Gross National Happiness

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I went to an incredibly inspiring conference last week. The conference was about ‘Happiness and What Makes a Good Life’ and featured many acclaimed speakers, psychologists, musicians and humanitarians. I was moved and motivated by just about everyone but the highlight for me was Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.

Matthieu talked about cultivating altruism as a path to happiness. He explained how altruism and compassion are a win/win for happiness and wellbeing and how selfish happiness doesn’t work. In fact selfish happiness is really just another form of narcissism. He discussed research, which has shown that increased consumption leads to a reduction in one’s number of friends and one’s own happiness.

Matthieu focused on the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and how currently many governments only focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He talked about the three states for GNH, which include not only improved economical wealth but also improved social and environmental health. Unfortunately the latter two are seen as bad for the economy by many and therefore the focus remains on GDP while our other obligations as humans are left to the caring few who try passionately to ensure equality and support for those less fortunate as well as the future of our planet.

Given the timing of this message and the recent Australian budget I could not help but reflect on how poorly our, and many other countries, fare in the goal of social and environmental wealth. I wonder what good it does to purely focus on financial stability when people are left in poor health, bad housing situations and few opportunities for a good education. How can these people make a difference in the world if they are not provided with the opportunity to learn and grow and share their ideas?

Further, what good will this strong economy be if in fact our planet is dying around us. How can there be a future for anyone if we don’t take action to ensure the safety of all species, not just our own.

Most people I know have empathy for others who are less fortunate but Matthieu made an interesting comment based on his research, which shows that empathy without altruism leads to burnout. This suggests that just by feeling sorry for others, little will change and we will eventually stop caring so much. To me this just means that more of us need to do more to help. We need to put aside our individualistic attitudes and think about our connection to others and the world around us.

We all know how good it feels to help others and do the right thing and often we put our own needs aside to show care for those we love. Unfortunately though this may not be enough. We need to extend this altruism to the wider community and to future generations. I heard many of the conference speakers tell stories of what they, as individuals, had done to make a difference. People such as Jane Goodall and the amazing Anna Rose, these ladies made me realise that if they had been able to make such a difference through their own passion and hard work then imagine what amazing changes could be made if more of us took a stand and fought for what is socially and environmentally right.

So I’ve started thinking about ways in which my actions and choices can impact the future in a positive way. I’m going to be smarter in my purchasing decisions, I’m going to consider where my food comes from how it got to me and encourage others to do the same. I’m going to continue to focus on how I can help others and fight for those less fortunate. Whilst this latest budget does not bare a great impact on me I know it creates a greater imbalance in society and even though I don’t have my own children I’m going to ensure that my actions, the choices I make and the words that I use contribute to a better future for all.

What goes down….five easy tips for getting back up again.

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I’ve just had the most amazing two weeks. No really, AMAZING! It’s been adventurous, rewarding and fulfilling. I’ve laughed, I’ve danced, I’ve hugged, I’ve loved, I’ve seen my city through new eyes and I’ve made some lovely new friends. But three weeks ago I was feeling quite the opposite. I was lonely, a little depressed, stressed, unfulfilled, vulnerable and a bit scared.

Isn’t it crazy how life goes in circles like that, how one day all can be wonderful, and yet other days it all sucks? But I guess that’s what it is all about. There is a belief out there that true happiness means that we should always be happy no matter what, but this, I believe, is just a fallacy. I think the answer to true happiness is being able to deal with these ups and downs, understand that everything isn’t always great, but be aware that you have the power to handle situations as they arise and take positive steps to deal with the tough times.

By focusing on the good things in life we can better handle the bad. Research shows that people, who focus on brief, joyful moments, rather than focusing on the small, everyday negatives, tend to be happier overall. They don’t deny that there are peaks and troughs in life but by concentrating on what goes right rather than what goes wrong they set themselves up for longer-term contentment and greater resilience when dealing with negative events.

So how can we do this, how do we get ourselves out of the ‘funk’ and back in the game? Here are my five top tips for getting your happy back on:

1.Be grateful:
When you are feeling sad and unhappy it’s easy to focus on the negatives in life. To counteract this start a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a place where you can list five things a day that you are grateful for. It could be something as small as a delicious meal, or as big as an amazing friendship.

2.Get outside:
Take a walk, explore your surroundings, and start noticing the little things that you miss as you walk swiftly by. The photo in this post is something beautiful that I discovered whilst just walking around my neighbourhood (who would have thought that St Kilda has canals?).

3.Remember that with the downs come the ups:
The ups wouldn’t be nearly so good if the downs didn’t exist so remind yourself that this time will pass and you have many happy, exciting times ahead.

4.Talk to someone:
I’m one of those people who others tell their problems too, not so much the other way around. Often I forget that there are people out there who can help me simply by listening, or sometimes providing advice. Remember that you can reach out. It might be a friend, a mentor or a therapist. Just know that you don’t have to do it all alone.

5.Stop thinking, start doing:
Yep start doing all those things you said you were going to do. Harness your energy, build momentum. Once your brain and body get active you will find that things will really start to roll.

So next time things don’t seem to be going your way try a couple of these out, you’ve got nothing to lose and heaps to gain. The most important thing to remember when life gets you down is that the feelings, the emotions, the pain, will pass, but by making a concerted effort to change your mindset you may just find that they pass more quickly!
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