FIND MEANING, NOT HAPPINESS

From politicians and scientists to chefs, writers and monks, the secrets of happiness can be found as much in the debate chamber as they can on a plate or in a design studio. We seek out the global gamechangers looking to uncover the truth about happiness…

The Politician: Ohood Al Roumi
Minister for Happiness, UAE

One of only eight female ministers in a 29-member cabinet, Ohood Al Roumi was appointed the Minister for Happiness in the UAE in 2016. Speaking at the World Government Summit in 2017 she called her work ‘the most important dialogue in the most critical of times”. Named one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in 2017, and the only Arabic and Muslim person on the list, she is also the first Arab member of the United Nations’ Global Entrepreneurship Council. Her position as Minister for Happiness has seen her introduce such initiatives as the UAE Year of Giving, as well as programmes to study the science of wellbeing and introducing reforms to help tackle issues such as gender equality, freedom of speech, and the rights of migrant workers. Championing a more holistic, but also practical, understanding of the meaning of quality of life, Al Roumi is passionate about the idea that the key to happiness is rooted in what she calls ‘enabling environments’ which empower people to choose happiness, and she looks to her role in government to create this. “Happiness is not a luxury for people – it is a fundamental human goal.”

The Writer: Gretchen Rubin
Author The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin shot to fame when her book – The Happpiness Project – was released on 1 January 2009 and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. A happily married, ex-lawyer, with a chic apartment in New York and two children, Rubin is perhaps the biggest example of the idea that money, marriage and looks aren’t a guarantee of happiness. She started researching happiness because she said she wanted to ‘appreciate more what I already have,” and discovered that the truth really does lie in being able to focus on the small moments and celebrate the life that you currently have, rather than searching for a future imagined utopia. Her book – and now her podcast, online courses, blog and an app – aim to share the small changes we can introduce that can make us happier – from getting more sleep and meeting deadlines to singing in the morning, reading classical literature, keeping a one-sentence journal and nagging your spouse less. Some of her findings are reassuringly predictable – decluttering, no sugar, making your bed every morning – but some are more revolutionary. She discusses how novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness, and posits the idea that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely, while extolling the virtues of charts and goals for every change you want to make. At her core though, her theory suggest that happiness is a life choice and a commitment to a lifestyle, just as much as anything else, and says that it takes work and self-love to achieve. “The belief that unhappiness is selfless, and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted. It’s about living in the moment and appreciating the smallest things. Surrounding yourself with the things that inspire you and letting go of the obsessions that want to take over your mind. It is a daily struggle sometimes and hard work but happiness begins with your own attitude and how you look at the world.”

The Corporate Expert:  Shawn Achor
Founder, Good Think Inc

 

Charismatic and passionate about this subject, Shawn Achor is a positive psychologist, corporate happiness expert and a favourite of Oprah Winfrey, with whom he now runs a 21-day happiness e-course. The founder of Good Think Inc, which runs talks and trainings for Fortune 100 companies, national sporting teams and even the White House, Achor is considered one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His focus on mindset as a path to happiness is inspiring and his Ted talk has had over 13 million views. He challenges the idea that our external environment has a big impact on our happiness, and says that in reality, the secret of our long-term happiness lies in our own minds. Achor explains that our current thinking is that if we work harder, we’ll do better, and if we do better, we’ll be happier. But, he argues, the way that we motivate behaviour like this merely puts happiness continually out of our reach. “It is scientifically broken, and backwards” he says. “Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades…you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to raise it. If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there.” For Achor, the secret to happiness is about rewiring the brain to see positivity and not negativity – and whether you do that through gratitude journaling, practical therapy or his courses, it’s a convincing argument.

 

The Monk: Matthieu Ricard
Buddhist monk and author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

A former biologist, specialising in cell genetics, who became a monk after moving to Tibet in 1972, Matthieu Ricard is famously known as the happiest man on the planet.  An expert on the way the brain works and processes emotion, he passionately believes that happiness, like anything, is something you need to work at. He describes happiness as a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment that underpins everything in our lives. Equating happiness to the ocean, he says, that while there may be waves, storms, or glitteringly calm sunshine days, the deep, still depths of the ocean remain, unchanged. This he says, is how to think about living with happiness. “A state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way.” Ricard is an advocate of the power of meditation and the importance of training the mind to deal with emotions in a different way – while protecting that happiness undercurrent. Essentially, his appeal lies in his deep understanding of human nature, as well as his humour and his warmth. Interviews with him show a funny, beguiling man, very much in touch with modern society, but who is still able to access a state of deep happiness and speaks with deep compassion for the human race. “Whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream — somehow, is related to a deep, profound desire for well-being or happiness.”

The Positive Psychologist Emily Esfahani Smith
Author of The Power of Meaning: The True Route to Happiness

 

Drawing on positive psychology, philosophy and her own personal experiences, writer Emily Esfahani Smith breaks down the persistent myth in our culture that in order to lead a fulfilling life we must pursue happiness. In her groundbreaking work, The Power of Meaning, she says that happiness is only part of the puzzle, and what we should be looking for in our search for happiness is in actuality a life with meaning. Smith has a formula for meaning, made up of four distinct ‘pillars’ – belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling – which she engagingly and compellingly conveys in her brilliant TED talk and her book. Smith was raised in Montreal by parents who ran a Sufi meetinghouse from their home. The impact of Sufism – a spiritual practise that emphasises the inward search for God and is associated with some of the world’s most beloved literature, including the works of Rumi – was profound. Sufism involved meditation, sharing of stories and, crucially, serving creation through small acts of love. “Looking back, I now realize that the Sufi house had a real culture of meaning,” says Smith. “The pillars were part of the architecture, and the presence of the pillars helped us all live more deeply.” For Smith, this journey towards happiness is misguided. Happiness is temporary, but meaning lasts forever, enriches our lives with fulfilment, and is also a uniquely human experience. “The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness, but not at all with meaning,” she says. “Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.”

The Mother: Jacqueline Way
Founder of 365give.com

 

When Jacqueline Way ‘founded’ 365give.com it was then just a simple way for her and her three-year-old son to chart their experiences of doing a good deed, each day. The aim was to give back to the world, to help family, community and the planet. Way, like many parents, wanted to teach her son about compassion, and to give him the tools she thought would help  him to grow up to be happy and kind. What she didn’t expect, was that, through this process, both of them began to feel happier in their own lives. “The greatest gift of giving is what you receive from it,” she says. “The look on someone’s face, or the first time your son picks up garbage to help the planet without any prompting.” Now, what started as a simple parenting project has become a global giving movement. 365give is national charitable foundation that encourages children to learn giving as a way to be happy. Over 8000 students in 25 schools in Canada have done the 365give Challenge, which has included them contributing thousands of dollars globally through donations and volunteer work. One teacher involved in the programme told Way: “My kids are understanding how their actions can make a better world. It’s connected them to each other and their community and most importantly it’s making my classroom happy.” For Way this connection with giving and happiness goes beyond the simple concept of give to receive. Because she focuses on acts that help both the community and the world, her organisation is teaching children that happiness and making the world a better place go hand-in-hand. “Together we can all start small and we can make the world a better world, a happier world, one give one day at a time.”

The Foodie: Dr Rangan Chatterjee
Nutritionist and author of The Four Pillar Plan

 

 

As our understanding about the links between physical health and mental health continue to evolve, no-one has committed more time and energy into sharing the importance of those links than Dr Rangan Chatterjee, whose important book The 4 Pillar Plan instantly became a Sunday Times bestseller when it was released in the UK. Chatterjee’s goal is to revolutionise the way we treat illness, to simplify healthcare and to encourage people to live calmer, happier and healthier lives. He focuses on the small changes that can make big differences, and has championed making sustainable health and lifestyle improvements to our everyday lives, while also taking time to explain how improving our mental health can also help our physical health.  “For me, true happiness comes from our connections with other people,” he says. “It comes from the heart. Our hearts are not just pumps that deliver oxygen around the body. They’re also those slightly magical things that poets, storytellers and songwriters have been waxing lyrical about for hundreds of years.” In his book he talks about things like how to breathe to feel happier and how to find and ignite your passions, as well as the importance of things like tea rituals, forgiveness and gratitude. As a doctor and author he is one of the first people to approach mental and physical together and to connect them in such a profound way. “I want to empower you to become the architect of your own health. Because when you feel better, you live more.”

The Organiser: Marie Kondo
Home organiser and author of The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up

 

 

Tidying up might not seem like the solution to the world’s problems with depression and anxiety, but when it’s presented as a lifestyle choice by the inimitable Marie Kondo, the concept of a clutter-free life and a clutter-free mind is quite convincing. The tidying expert who created and coined the KonMari method, Kondo believes that her method of tidying can be genuinely life-changing, and has less to do with belongings, and more to do with simply being happy. “Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder,” she says. For Kondo, the space in which we live should be about the person we wish to be in life, and the act of tidying it is a radical act of self-love and self-care. “From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life…the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most.” In a world when consumerism has reached an all-time high, Kondo is a reassuring voice of minimalism and simplicity, focusing on the concept of only having in your home the things which bring you joy. For Kondo, joy and happiness are deeply aligned, and she is clear that happiness isn’t simply about beautiful pictures or nice cushions, but about the clothes that you enjoy wearing, the filing system that reduces your stress levels, the kitchen drawer that is clear enough for you to find things and the bookshelf that has books on it that you recall reading with delight. One of her key traits, and something that makes her so different to other ‘de-clutterers’ – is how she looks not for what to get rid of, but instead for what you want to keep. “The best criterion for choosing what to keep and what to discard is whether keeping it will make you happy, whether it will bring you joy,” she explains.