Khulisa Voice: Happier Together

This month we are celebrating International Day of Happiness and the theme for 2020 is ‘Happier Together’, with a focus on the things we have in common, instead of the things that make us different. In this blog, our Regional Lead for the North of England, Sonia Dixon, reflects on the ways we can increase our happiness individually and together.

Biochemist, turned Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard said “no one wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘may I suffer the whole day’. Which means that somehow, consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or the long term; whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream; somehow, is related to a deep, profound desire for well-being or happiness.”

How wonderful a thought, that despite our individual differences, we each have this innate desire to be happy and are united together by this.

Happiness as an inside job.

A study of 15,000 people by scientist Matt Killinsworth, which measured 650,000 real time reports of moment by moment happiness, showed that, we are most unhappy, when we are mind wandering. In fact, it showed that we spend a staggering 47% of our time mind wandering and thinking about something other than what is happening right now. The study also revealed, that for the most, we rarely allow our minds to wander about things that bring pleasure, but instead tend to wander, in our minds about the things that we are worried, anxious or feel regret about.           

A survey conducted in August 2019 by The Children Society, revealed that happiness, as a measured indicator of wellbeing, was at its lowest ever level in children and young people, since 2009. The Good Childhood Report also found that a third (33%) of 10-17-year olds have concerns about whether they will have enough money in the future, with more than a quarter (29%) worrying about having a job. The report also said that “Today’s young people are becoming progressively unhappy, burdened with fears ranging from, worrying about the future, not having enough money, to not feeling safe at school and bullying.

It would seem, from the outcome of these two pieces of study, that there is a link between the things that we think about and the decrease in measure of happiness that we feel inside.

So, what can we do to increase happiness?

If our time spent worrying about the future is leading us to deeper unhappiness, maybe there is something to be said for staying in the moment?

At Khulisa, we have placed wellbeing at the heart of all of our work in schools, prisons and in the community, because we know that we are working with some of the most traumatised and vulnerable young people in the UK. We also know that for some of the people we work with, the reality of staying in the moment, may be an uncomfortable place to be, because the awareness they have of their situation, is constant and sometimes painful. For most, the idea of remaining quietly in their own presence is simply too difficult.

On our programmes our Facilitators create as many opportunities as possible, for our participants to feel safe enough to pause, to consider their emotions and for them to feel. They support our participants to be able to sit in a safe and emotional space where they are unjudged and accepted. This is a positive gateway for being more mindful and present, and is one which opens up new possibilities for increasing feelings of happiness.

Here are a few ways being more mindful and present can increase happiness.

  • More opportunities to be grateful for things we overlook, and gratitude we know greatly increases happiness. At Khulisa, we make time for this in one of our group activities called ‘sweet appreciation’. Once trust is established within the group and our Facilitators feel that the space is safe for our participants; a time of sharing positive acceptance and appreciation is facilitated, with each participant listening, while the group takes turns to affirm them. This simple activity improves self-esteem, self-worth and feelings of happiness.
  • More self-awareness, and more time to practice self – acceptance, as an act of unconditional kindness and compassion to ourselves, which engenders hope for seeking more of the same. Your very own happiness cycle!
  • More time for forgiveness towards ourselves, and being our own cheerleaders in life, celebrating the things we do well and the things that are good in our lives, which further increases feelings of wellbeing and happiness. At Khulisa, we know that the young people we work with find it hard, at times to recognise the things that are good about who they are. One art-based activity we do on our programmes is ‘hat-making’. Our participants create a piece of art, usually a hat, that represents the best person they can be, their truest-self on the inside, when shame and guilt are all stripped away. This piece of work represents them when they feel protected and courageous and is a positive piece of work that helps to celebrate everything good about themselves.
  • More time for being curious and adventurous, more time for spontaneous experiences and more time for play, which releases oxytocin and increases our feelings of safety, attachment and happiness.

Lastly, here are a few other tips for increasing happiness that you can share with others.

  • Look for opportunities to get time outside, where you can enjoy blue and green spaces, both of which have a positive impact on wellbeing and happiness, because the absorption of negative ions lowers levels of cortisol, but increases serotonin in the body.
  • Be more mindful and present, by reducing the amount of time spent viewing life through retweets, likes and shares on the internet. Spend less time on devices, and increase time spent, with people who celebrate you, and bring you joy and pleasure.
  • And finally, as we each, individually, and collectively create time to stand still and be more present, to smell the roses, and think about what we are each thinking about; let’s also consider the wise words of a much loved friend and bear… Winnie the Pooh, who simply says…
Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Happy International Month of Happiness, from Khulisa.

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