Happiness, the pursuit of

Many parents/carers say their number one goal for their kids is for them to be happy. But pursuing happiness can be like a dog chasing its tail, and possibly just as successful.

As you know, in our wealthy country we have enormously high rates of mental illness and distress despite a lot of pursuing.

OK, so maybe what we want is at least to have more happy than sad. How to make that happen? We can pursue fun, excitement, novelty, pleasure. But we know those are temporary, though they can be extended by drug and alcohol use or any number of addictions (which lead back to sad).

Is continuous happiness out of reach? Frankly, yes. Do we easily turn the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune into personal bombs and bullets and make things even worse for ourselves? Yes again.

A newish psychological therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) proposes something different: it says accept our experiences, whether emotionally ‘good’ or ‘bad’, without fighting against bad feelings or running away from them. It sees suffering as normal, though obviously uncomfortable and difficult, but bearable.

ACT takes the focus away from being caught up in my ‘private experiences’ (thoughts, sensations, images, feelings, urges, memories) and towards doing the things that really matter to me. I commit myself and my energies instead to the things that make my life meaningful.

So another route to life satisfaction, as distinct from happiness, is to find meaning in our daily lives, even in the midst of adversity.

Even people living under a rock have heard of mindfulness and some of them have actually tried it. Being mindful is one of the ways we can acknowledge our thoughts and feelings without being taken over by them.

It could be as simple as noticing what you are thinking and then saying to yourself, ‘I am having the thought that…’ Immediately you’ve created some distance between you and the thought. You might wonder why that thought popped into your mind. With curiosity, rather than judgment or impatience, you might explore your current or usual thinking further.

To view suffering as a normal part of life has strong echoes in the Christian worldview where death and resurrection are intimately related. Dying (to false conceptions) is a prerequisite for rebirth (to a satisfying life).

On the school website there is advice on sources of information and support (Current families > Counselling).

Martin Graham
School Counsellor