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Happiness makes up in height…

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Happy International Day of Happiness! Today, I encourage you to put on your happiness soundtrack and feel good about your life – no matter what you are going through. Think Pharrell and ‘Happy’; if you are an old soul like me, perhaps a little Motown – whatever song puts a spring in our step and gets your heartbeat up.

Ever since I read Robert Frost’s poem ‘Happiness Makes Up in Height For What It Lacks in Length’ I think I’ve been a little obsessed with happiness. In the poem, In the poem, Frost talks about how people often remember the rare moments of happiness among the much more common chaotic and worrying state of mind. Comparing happiness to a perfect day, reminiscing on the memories of that day long gone, there is a feeling of nostalgia which also brings to mind perhaps recollections of a perfect day may yet be flawed as we often look back on days gone by through the rose tint of memory.

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Then again, the poem also contains as much hope for the future as longing for the past. The poet reminds us that their memory of a perfect day gives hope for other perfect days to follow, giving us the hope and strength to carry on through the darker days – and in essence, the title says, it all, high of those cherished moments of happiness make up for their rarity.

I think growing up, we all want to be happy – and we are constantly fed a diet of foolish thoughts that happiness is a state to aspire to, which it isn’t. Contentment perhaps is that state, but happiness isn’t. Robert Frost was right; happiness is those rare moments. The highs you get.

In ‘Happiness (Reconsidered), another poet, Judith Viorst outlines the difference between happiness and contentment, the youthful illusions of what happiness should be, and the adult realisation of what it truly is – “a clean bill of health from the doctor”, “not being audited, overdrawn… in a lawsuit or in traction”,  “and no one we love is in serious trouble or pain” as she rounds off with “It’s not what I called happiness/ When I was twenty-one,/But it’s turning out to be/ What happiness is.”

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Like Viorst, Mo Gawdat, Google’s chief business officer, also has a problem with expectations, and like Viorst, he’s also spent some time reflecting on happiness – in fact so much so that he’s noted down as many data points as he could about what makes him happy, plotted them on a graph and come up with the formula expressed in his book Solve For Happy.

Despite his high-flying job, high income and happy family unit, Gawdat had been miserable for several years in his twenties and thirties and it was this desolation that led him to create his formula. A couple of years later, he put this to the test when his 21-year-old son Ali died unexpectedly in what should have been a routine operation.

“It basically starts with a simple assumption — which is incredibly eye-opening — that happiness is not outside you; you don’t strive to attain it. Happiness is … within you,” Gawdat says.

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Until your basic needs are met, every dollar more that you earn makes you happier of course… But once you get your basic needs met more money doesn’t make you happier,” Gawdat explains. “The minute you got it, you started to pause and say, ‘OK, where’s the next goal?’ carrying in the vicious cycle of a hedonistic treadmill.

As Gawdat charted out his moments of happiness he realised it was the simple things that made him happy. “My list is not much different than that of others. It contains simple moments … I feel happy when I have a good cup of coffee. I feel happy when my daughter, Aya, smiles. I feel happy when I learn something new. I feel happy when I achieve something of impact or I feel happy when I am with people I love.”

His happiness formula is: happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life, minus your expectations of how life should be.

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“It’s not the events of our life that make us unhappy, it’s the way we think about them,” Gawdat says. Finding happiness, then, requires changing your perceptions, according to Gawdat.

“We need to start by understanding that true happiness is not reflected in the modern world’s view of it being fun, elation, or laughter. Happiness is finding peace and being OK with life exactly as it is,” says Gawdat.

This sounds a solid formula of happiness as possible. Perhaps we’d be happier if we realised much sooner happiness is not a destination – a luxury flat, a supercar, a glossy designer bag, or a private island; it is a state of mind, of contentment, of resilience, of gratitude. It is waking up every day with a sunny disposition and committing to the course of being happy whatever life throws at you.

On International Day of Happiness, I hope you can stop in the pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

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