The Pursuit of Happiness

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By Jarred Parsons
A few years ago I returned to work after a well-earned break to discover I had a new manager and was about to be relocated to another office as a result of an internal restructure. I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the changes but being a ‘glass half full’ person I tried to make the best of my new situation. It didn’t take long to realise that not all change is good change and it certainly wasn’t for me on this particular occasion.

Shortly after the changes we had our first child. Unfortunately I was one of the unlucky 23% of parents who have babies that don’t sleep well. For the first two years our daughter didn’t sleep any longer than about 45 minutes at a time.

Things got really hard really fast. What followed was by far the most difficult years of my entire career. I was operating on no sleep, struggling to keep on top of increased expectations and extra pressures directly resulting from the new structural arrangements. I kept going as best as I could however I felt like I was on a train in a very dark tunnel with no light at the end.

I’m not sure why I never really thought to talk to God about it. Perhaps my mind wasn’t clear enough for such a logical thought. It was probably more that my world was so hazy that I didn’t really see my struggles. It wasn’t until I had a moment where things really felt like they’d hit rock bottom and I got so desperate that the only thing left for me to do was call out to God for help. That night was a real turning point as God released me from much of the burden I’d been carrying. 

It was a horrible season but with the benefit of hindsight I have learnt a lot from it.

During this season I had a friend who had been diagnosed with severe clinical depression. We weren’t quite sure how we could help but there was a session about depression and anxiety at the staff conference that year which I thought might help me learn more about it. The presenter put 16 symptoms of depression on the screen including not eating properly, difficulty sleeping, dramatic changes to your circumstances outside your control, feeling helpless, difficulty concentrating, loss of energy and loss of interest in daily activities to name but a few.

As we went through the list I realised I was experiencing 14 of the 16 symptoms right at that moment in time. It’s then I realised I was suffering from a mild depression. I’d always been known as ‘Mr Happy’ so it never occurred to me that I would ever experience depression myself.

I’ve reflected a lot on that season as we’ve been going through the latest restructure at work. In the midst of change depression and anxiety can sneak up on you. You may not even realise it’s having an effect on you. It’s worth taking some time out to honestly ask yourself “Is it possible that I’m currently experiencing depression or anxiety?”

It’s ok if you are. The vast majority of us experience a form of depression or anxiety at some point in our lives. If you ask enough people you will find others who have also had similar experiences.

One of the best things I did at the time, apart from praying, was to find a couple of key people in my life that I could talk to openly and honestly about where I was at. It was important that they were trustworthy, good listeners and that they could provide encouragement and wise advice where it was needed. Starting the conversation empowered me to start looking for the tools that helped find the lights in the tunnel.

If things don’t feel so good right now please talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Whether it is a trusted colleague, a pastor, a friend or even someone anonymous from a help line – it makes a huge difference.

I’m currently taking part in a leadership program where we recently explored a really interesting world-wide scientific study on happiness. Surprisingly many of the poorest countries rated among the happiest which really makes you think.

All things considered in the many countries across the world where the study was conducted, the scientists discovered there were three major factors that contribute to your happiness:

50% of your happiness is determined by your genetics. It’s predetermined and you can’t change it. For example – If you come from happy natured parents then you are likely to also be happy natured.

10% of your happiness is a result of your circumstances which includes what happens to you, your financial situation, your health, your job (including restructures), where you live and who you have around you.

The remaining 40% of happiness is determined by your intentional activities or decisions. This is where you have the greatest influence over your happiness. The research determined there were 12 main types of intentional activities that have a positive impact on personal happiness:

  • Avoiding over thinking
  • Social comparison
  • Practicing acts of kindness
  • Nurturing social relationships
  • Developing strategies for coping
  • Learning to forgive
  • Increasing flow experiences (Inspirational or adventurous activities requiring full immersion or concentration)
  • Savouring life’s pleasures
  • Committing to your goals
  • Practicing religion and spirituality
  • Taking care of your body through physical exercise and meditation
  • Acting like your happy

When you partake in any of these 12 activities regularly in a positive way they build up your resilience to negative influences on your happiness. They may not necessarily prevent you experiencing a period of non-happiness (for example if a close friend or relative dies you will still be sad for a period of time) but they do help lessen the negative impact and improve your general long term happiness.

Whether you are in a happy place right now or struggling with life, these 12 tools will improve your situation. With 12 proven tactics now up your sleeve, what can you do to increase happiness in your life?

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