The dark days of winter are upon us, folks, and as you know, wintertime has been shown to make many of us SAD. Luckily, experts in a variety of disciplines have been working feverishly to come up with strategies to stave off the blues and enhance happiness. Below, you’ll find a sampling of some of theories currently in vogue.
*Not long ago, a multidisciplinary team of experts in the UK compiled a list of 10 behaviors they claim have been statistically proven to promote happiness:
1) Plant something and nurture it
2) Count your Blessings – at least five – at the end of everyday
3) Take time to talk – have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
4) Phone a friend you have not spoken to for a while and arrange a meet up
5) Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
6) Have a good laugh at least once a day
7) Get physical – exercise for half and hour three times a week
8) Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least one each day
9) Cut your TV viewing by half
10) Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day
Some of these seem like practical suggestions. I can’t think of anything snarky to say about talking to a loved one, treating myself to something special, exercising, or even cutting my TV intake. That said, several of the prescriptions sound specious at best. Oprah has been urging people to “count their blessings” for years with negligible results. And how exactly does one go about “spreading kindness” exactly? This strikes me as something that might get you in trouble in New York–as does “smiling and saying hello to a stranger.” Call me paranoid.
As for the plant thing, the happiness doctors have made a faulty assumption. Not all of us have green thumbs. I have tried to “nurture” many a potted plant only to have it breathe its last gasp in my arms. This left me decidedly sadder than when I began, thus prompting me to renounce plant growing altogether. Does this destine me for a life of melancholy? Not so far.
I’m not wowed by this prescription. Are you? Fine then. Let’s move on.
*Perhaps a more methodical approach will suit us better. A British life coach claims to have come up with the “happiness formula:” P + (5xE) + (3xH)= Happiness.
According to the BBC, Pete Cohen stumbled on this magic equation after interviewing 1000 people. Not a huge control group, but hey, he’s a life coach. He knows what he’s talking about, right?
Here’s how it works: ‘P’ represents “Personal Characteristics,” which include “outlook on life, adaptability, and resilience;” ‘E’ represents “Existence,” the quality of which is apparently determined by your health, friendships, and financial solvency; ‘H’ stands for “Higher Order Needs,” like self esteem, ambition and humor.
If all of this is bringing back unpleasant memories of your high school algebra class, don’t dismay. Determining your happiness quotient is easier than it appears at first glance. All you need to do is rate yourself on the following questions, using a score of 1-10 (with 10 being “to a large extent,” and 1 being “not at all”):
1) Are you outgoing, energetic, flexible and open to change?
2) Do you have a positive outlook, bounce back quickly from setbacks and feel that you are in control of your life?
3) Are your basic life needs met, in relation to personal health, finance, safety, freedom of choice and sense of community?
4) Can you call on the support of people close to you, immerse yourself in what you are doing, meet your expectations and engage in activities that give you a sense of purpose?
To tabulate your results, add the scores from question 1 and 2. This gives you the value of ‘P.’ The value of ‘E’ is the score from question 3, and ‘H’ is the score from question 4. The closer you get to 100, the happier you are.
See, it’s easy. Except, wait: What happens if you don’t happen to be ‘outgoing?’ What if it takes you a while to recover from a setback? What if after several basket weaving workshops, a pottery class, and Ph.D. in linguistics, you find that a “sense of purpose’ still eludes you? Hmm. Problematic. I suppose you’d just have to work overtime, and get some more friends, thus pumping up your “Existence” score, and offsetting your tragically low personality score. If any of you try this, please let me know how it goes. (And don’t underestimate the power of “a positive outlook.”)
*For those of you unwilling to make new friends or reluctant to launch a full scale self-improvement campaign, might I suggest an alternative: move. Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist from the University of Leicester, has just completed the world’s first Happiness Map. White found that, despite what you were told as a child, Disneyland is not the happiest place on earth: Denmark is (at least compared to the 177 other countries on White’s roster).
So, there you go, all you need to do to be happy is relocate to Denmark. However, those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to have been born Danish or to have married a Dane may find the Danish government resistant to this idea. Fear not! You have other options. After reviewing the map, I’ve come up with a list of geographical do’s and dont’s designed to safeguard your happiness. For optimum happiness:
*DO choose a tiny country with a tiny population
*DO opt for the most homogenous state available to you
*DO look for a country with socialized medicine, an extremely high tax rate, and an elaborate welfare system
Appropriate options include:
- Switzerland (The 2nd happiest place on earth.)
- Austria (3rd)
- Iceland (4th)
- The Bahamas (5th. But let’s face it folks: the Bahamas are gonna get bum rushed. To avoid competition, choose a colder locale.)
*DON’T live in Africa
*DON’T be ruled by a despot, a potentate, or a tin-pot dictator
*DON’T not have socialized medicine. (I can’t stress this enough.)
*DON’T follow the crowds
Examples of the correlation between discontent and overpopulation: India (the 125th happiest place on earth), and China (82nd).
*ABOVE ALL avoid disease breeding grounds, and areas prone to famine and chronic underemployment (like Africa).
Not essential, but worth considering when honing in on a choice:
*Current and former world powers don’t rank particularly well when it comes to happiness.
- US: 23rd happiest place on earth
- UK: 41st
- France: 62nd
- Russia: 167th
I wish you the best of luck on your travels.