with The Shrieking Violets, my book club

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Can you boost happiness?

I have been reading the proceedings of the conference on 'Happiness and its Causes' and am amazed to find out that life events account for only about 10% of the variance in people's subjective happiness levels. 50% is probably inherited and 40% is 'intentional activities'. This is based on over 20 years of research - it's fascinating. It seems we have a genetically predisposed 'set-point' of happiness (Andrew calls it the 'happy-hollard-leaving-the-door-open' thing with me). Just FYI the 6 key characteristics of happy people are:

investment in family and friends, helping others, practising optimism, savouring (see below), physical exercise and life-long ambitions. By manipulating three conditions researchers found they could boost subjective happiness: 1. 'count your blessings 2. perform random acts of kindness 3. cultivate optimism. This is from Sonya Lyubomirsky and extends the work of Martin Seligman who we all met in the seventies at Uni –

remember 'learned helplessness' or you can have a look at happiness.com!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

beautiful beaches

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Bondi to Coogee walk with the Sydney French language group

Beautiful day for a walk…running late as usual – parked in Coogee and got a cab to Bronte as I thought I'd miss the start of the walk. Thought I'd walk towards Bondi until I came across people jabbering in French. Look who I found!

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This (savouring) life

I have just learnt that the secret of happiness is to know how to savour. Happiest are those who take pleasure in the smallest details of experience, people who don't rush through life but who truly stop to 'smell the roses'. When I say I have just learnt, I mean that I have read it in a book, actually a fact sheet on Happiness from the Black Dog Institute where I'm working. Apparently now there is a science of happiness, which seeks to redress centuries of neglect while psychologists have been distracted studying the science of melancholia. Of course, I have always known this secret in my heart. From a young age I had only to observe my father as he inhaled freshly ground coffee beans or slipped us a 'tasty bit' of roast lamb as it was being served up. (My mother slapped our greedy fingers). My aunts, too, taught me to savour. One of my favourite aunts, eleven years older than I, invited me to a 'dinner party' – how grown up - when I was only sixteen, with my new boyfriend. She cooked carrot soup so delicious I still remember it thirty-three years on. We scraped out the carroty saucepan at the conclusion of that sophisticated evening. Another aunt served iced chocolates with real swirls, when everyone else's aunts plonked milk or cordial on the table. This particular aunt, yes, forty years on, is the envy of all my colleagues now; when I announce that I'm 'just off to her place for dinner', the jealous groans echo through the building. Somewhere along the line I must have learnt, too, to savour the freshness of fruit; my husband recalls a moment early in our relationship where he thought I must have had an orgasm biting into a fresh nectarine. The juice dripped down my chin and…well the rest is history…! The aunts taught me to savour moments too, it wasn't just food. Moments in life, in literature, in gardens, in relationships with their children, (my cousins, though much younger than me because of this half-generation thing). Moments of musing and contemplation and moments of great emotion, tragedies as well as blessed, wonderful things. I do wonder if this ability to savour can be a handicap, as well as bringing you the deepest of satisfactions in life. Surely the ability to experience fully and intensely works both ways. Almost twenty years ago, after I lost my first husband in an accident, and not long after our family had also lost a brother and son, I remember another 'aunt', actually a dear friend of my mother's, holding me and telling me that I had experienced something that no-one else in my circle of friends would ever quite understand. It could have sounded callous, as if to somehow top someone's else's personal tragedy was the game. But I knew what she meant. It was as if she understood that I had travelled to the furthest reaches of sadness, a double whammy that won the bad luck lottery, and that somehow as a result, I might one day be a more compassionate person, able to return understanding when it might be needed.

That was a while ago now, and I have learnt that happiness is not the exclusive domain of those who have never suffered. And to all those aunts, I am grateful (bless their cotton socks). Thank you for passing on this ancient art. I hope to pass it on to my own…