2011: Thinking about Happiness
"The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.” Paul Simon Train in the Distance
“When I have been unhappy, I have heard an opera… and it seemed the shrieking of winds; when I am happy, a sparrow’s chirp is delicious to me. But it is not the chirp that makes me happy, but I that make it sweet” John Ruskin
"Happiness is not just jumping up and down
We who populate the ground level, who worry about what to wear to accommodate the fickle weather – do we have to dig deeper for our happiness than the blackbird who sings his heart out on the highest bough come rain or shine. I hear him now against the background of stormclouds emptying themselves into my summer garden.
Fay Avsec, 2007 (Fay read her poem at the Think in Kingston poetry event on October 13)
In 2011, Think in Kingston's month of discussions, activities and participative community events took place in October, and explored the theme of happiness, or well-being, from many angles: environmental, cultural, social, philosophical, economic, political, psychological, educational... See the full Think in Kingston 2011 programme in the Events Calendar.
It is an idea that provoked many questions:
What is happiness? Is it transient joy or elation, or long-term well-being and contentment? Is it about flourishing, or mindfulness, or maintaining mental health? Is it all of these? What does happiness mean to you? Can we seek it out directly or choose to be happy, or is it always a by-product of other elements in our lives? How does our militaristic culture affect the well-being of people in this country and across the world? In a world with so much poverty and destruction, is it possible to be truly happy? Is it possible to be happy if you know nothing of unhappiness? How much does working towards a worthwhile goal contribute to happiness? Are religious people happier people? Are unequal societies also unhappy societies? Is localisation and a human-scale, ecological economy the route to happiness? Is happiness a sensible objective for governments? If it's impossible to measure well-being accurately, might less than accurate measures still be useful? Are human rights the basic ingredients for happiness? Does being happy imply being complacent? Can we teach happiness? Does self-fulfilment bring happiness? Are experiences such as an evening of comedy or singing or a walk or a good read or a conversation over a cup of tea the key to personal well-being? Are good social relationships the most important factor? Are we more likely to become happy when seeking the happiness of others rather than our own? Is the answer simply to stop looking for it?
Many useful practical ideas based on happiness research were provided by speakers at events during the festival. Some examples include: Can we teach happiness in schools? (Kevin Hogston) and Can we teach Happiness? (Prof. Yannis Georgellis). Advice from Action for Happiness and nef can be seen here.
There were also many good ideas from audiences, students at Kingston University and visitors to libraries and other local public spaces about free things that can make people happy, many of which coincided happily with the research data: most mentioned were friends and family, walking, and nature - see the collected suggestions in graph form here.
See Useful Links for more information about happiness as well as about the participating community groups and organisations.