The Role of Happiness

26 February 2015

The Role of Happiness

A wise and wonderful friend recently gave me a copy of ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin.  Just as Gretchen herself reflects, it is easy to exist in a state of general equilibrium without ever really stopping to reflect on either the things that currently make us happy, or what it would take to be happier.  Gretchen’s work on happiness is very thorough and detailed, and there are a number of things from her book that have resounded with me, both in relation to work and my personal life.

Gretchen decided that for her, happiness requires her to “look at my life and think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth” (pg 282).  She talks about the countless responses she had to her project that reflected a belief that focusing on one’s own happiness is self-indulgent and unlikely to create any significant change in others.  With some embarrassment, I remember my own cheerful declaration as a young person, that being truly happy must somehow reflect a lack of insight into the vast injustices perpetrated by the human race.  I was seeing pure happiness as having more to do with sheer ignorance than deliberate effort.  This was probably a strange sentiment to come from someone whose reputation was for being cheerful, happy and always laughing.  I can only attempt to explain it via the arrogance of youth and a perception that misery and angst are far more interesting than happiness.

Robert Louis Stevenson is quoted in the book as saying that “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” This strikes me as an interesting thing to ponder in relation to support work.  What is our role in relation to bringing positivity with us into people’s homes and lives?

Rubin’s idea that happiness involves ‘feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth’ could be a helpful guide for us when working with people. One of our great challenges is helping people to be themselves even though people with disabilities may have experienced everything to push them towards compliance and away from self determination, and people in receipt of aged care or medical services may find themselves encouraged in a similar direction.

At times, I think we can be guilty of focusing solely on what helps people to feel good, forgetting that for most of us, there are things which can be anything from mildly irritating to acutely uncomfortable/ unpleasant, that we may still consider necessary parts of feeling right.  I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, cleaning or tidying up, yet having spent 2 weeks away living in hotel rooms, eating delivered food from limited menus, I realise there is something to those domestic duties that contribute to me ‘feeling right.’  Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely wary of people postulating that people “need to do their bit just like everyone else,” even if it leads them to have to communicate dramatically with their behaviour that it makes no sense to them.  I do wonder though if there’s more we can be exploring in relation to this, so long as we keep it in the context of what’s important to people and how best to support them.

I think active support gets people thinking about the atmosphere of growth, but too often the focus remains on domestic tasks, rather than real questions of what opportunities can be explored to truly support personal development.

I’m curious to know what others think about using Gretchen Rubin’s notion of ‘feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth’ to look at how we’re doing in supporting people.  (Mind you, the physical growth of my body and my baby feels just about as much as I can deal with right now!)

Leave a comment or email me your thoughts about how we could be using this.

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