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Happy Happy Joy Joy!

Put a smile on that dial! Why? Because it’s happiness month here on Same Same. With the onset of bleak winter weather we thought it was not only the perfect time to ask the question “What Makes You Happy?”, it was also the perfect time to answer it too.

Last month I went to a two-day conference called Happiness & Its Causes. It sounded kinda naff at first– like something Anthony Robbins would run and charge a kazillion dollars for – only to deliver fake self-help. But I did my research, found out it was a legitimate conference dealing with the growing area of research lumped under the heading of “positive psychology” and off I went, press pass in sweaty hand for two days of mind-blowing lectures.

The sweaty palms were for two reasons. Firstly, I thought the conference would probably expose my gnawing black hole of neediness and unhappiness and I wasn’t confident of hiding that in front of 2000 social workers, scientists, psychologists and the like – not to mention handfuls of knowing Buddhists and other Tibetan inspired folk, due to the conference being organised by the Vajrayana Institute.

Secondly, I was sweaty palmed in hope. Part of me was hoping the conference would tell me that it was impossible for me, and indeed anybody, to be happy – and we could therefore be forgiven if we stopped trying. Mostly though, I was hoping that somewhere in the two days I’d be given the magic secret key to happiness and thereafter forever live in a state of rapture. Which of course I could then pass on to SameSame readers in a pithy sentence or two. Lofty aims, indeed!

What ended up happening was a little bit of both – so instead of a pithy sentence or two, I’ve got a range of things I think I can share from my experience. Some which may be especially relevant to our community.

The conference got off to a cracking start with Wendy Harmer introducing a guy called Professor Daniel Gilbert from Harvard – a man who has made his living researching how people predict their emotional reactions to future events. That is, how people judge what is going to make them happy. This lecture was probably the one that got the most mainstream media attention – I’ll be cynical and say it was because most journos only popped into the conference for a few hours and then left to file a quick story.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t brilliant – it was a great eye-opener and a good starting point for Happiness Month! His basic premise was that, to be blunt, we suck at predicting our own happiness, and he can prove it.

What makes you happy?

If you’re asked this question most likely you might come up with answers along the lines of money, relationships, maybe children. And you’d be mostly wrong.

The big issue first – money. All of the research on this is rock solid. Money only buys you happiness when you are buying the essentials in life – food, shelter, warmth. This really is a very low income point – even the dole can provide those three things in Australia. From there, every extra dollar you earn buys less and less happiness. To the point where surveys show that those lottery winners and mega millionaires are not at all much happier than anyone earning an average wage. It sounds wrong. If it’s true then why aren’t most of us lolling around on the dole enjoying life? It’s because our society has duped us into thinking that we need more and more material stuff. Your wants will expand to gobble up your income – no matter how much you earn. This helps sustain our economy – but doesn’t actually help in making us happy.

Now some people have already cottoned onto this idea, and so it will seem a bit obvious. But judging by the number of burnt out corporate types; the message hasn’t gotten through to everyone.

What about kids? This part of the research gives us a nice little argument if you want a reason to stay childless. Apparently people with kids think they are super happy. But when you rig them up with little devices to wear, and ask them at odd intervals every day to report right now how they are feeling, then the research shows they are pretty miserable.

The research showed happiness bought about by raising kids on a day-to-day basis ranks slightly above housework, but below watching TV or eating. Shocking facts. The lecture did go into detail about how we deceive ourselves otherwise about children if we do have them, but it’s not really relevant for most of us – although it’s very funny, so if you do have kids and want a laugh then let me know!

So what about relationships? Here the research did show that being coupled up is better for your happiness than being single. Not by leaps and bounds mind you, and once you take into account the supposed misery that children cause a couple, you could argue that perhaps being single is better than having kids. There is also quite a drop in happiness after marriage for any couple, so you could also console yourself with the idea that staying at your level of happiness single may be better than a huge peak and drop when you couple up and the honeymoon period ends!

And if any of this gets you down then don’t worry – in the weeks to come I’ll give you a number of ways to increase your happiness, regardless of relationship status!

Tell us what makes you happy.

Photos courtesy of Josephine Ki, Morgan Carpenter and Alison Bennett.

Other articles in the happiness series:
The Cheat’s Guide To Happiness.
Come On, Get Happy!
Goodwill Hunting.

Comments arrow left
Christian Taylor

Christian Taylor said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

What makes me happy? The unexpected stuff I guess. The less obvious things. A night at home with friends and a bottle of wine. Laughter. Instead of wanting to own property, I'm more inclined to NOT want to own it. I prefer freedom, flexibility... The little things. I've always loved this saying - 'the fool seeks happiness in the distance, the wise man grows it under his feet'. I think there's so much wisdom in that.


marly said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

Sorry but can somebody please pass the bucket. Think Id rather go to a "its cool to fail and feel like shit" workshop.


jasn_REMOVED said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

I'd be ok with the bleak winter if only we had a half decent summer :)

Myself, tend to aim for contentment rather than happiness.


robbie said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

I'm with you Christian.. it's certainly the aquarian in us.. I search for happiness in experiences, memories, not necessarily material things.

Tim D

Tim D said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

This is totally fascinating Jody, I look forward to reading the next few stories of this.

I truly think that the meaning of life if figuring out how to be happy, and then passing on how you figured it out to somebody else, be it children, friends, whatever.


DavidL said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

I think this is pretty interesting stuff! I remember reading bits about this in the SMH.

For me, I equate (long term) happiness with a sense of fulfillment. Knowing that I'm doing something that has meaning and purpose and that I'm making a difference to those I care about and the things that matter to me. It's discovering what this is exactly that's difficult. Jody, I hope you've got some answers!! :)


Thrawn04 said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this with us.


natejd87 said on the 3rd Jun, 2008

That was really interesting..

Anthony Mahera

Anthony Mahera said on the 4th Jun, 2008

What makes me happy?

1. Sex
2. Ice cream
3. Running in my speedo's/aussiebum in the rain
4. Sleeping in
5. Eating good food
6. Getting Flowers or Alcohole as a prezzie
7. My sisters
8. The Simpsons, south park, drawn together
9. Holiday's
10. ME!


darrard said on the 4th Jun, 2008

I suspect I belong to the whirling dervishes school of happiness. It's like looking for the most interesting corner on the circumference of a circle and then finding it feels good to be going in circles and forgetting why you started looking or even that you were looking. :)


sneakos said on the 4th Jun, 2008

wow - really interesting jody! u'v got me hooked waiting for ur next installment

iv been kinda obsessed lately that a relationship (or at least a change to the complex web i'm in atm) will b th solution

marty is back in south america and trying to get to australia but there's problems with immigration. the other option is going to NY where some of his family is, but there's problems for me getting a visa to th US - neways - thats a whole nother story!

but i'v been thinking that if he were here, everything would be ok

i guess what i miss is the simple stuff - liek curling up on a lounge when its raining watching a dvd, or a long drive in th country and pulling up near a river somehere for a picnic under a tree, walking along the beach in th moonlight under the moon and stars, breakfast in the coffee shop on a sunday morning

i so miss that stuff

and i'v kinda got hooked on th idea that it i will b happy when i can have that

th thought il b coming home to someone who wants to see me - and me them

iv got some cognitive understanding that happiness is what i can make it right here in the now

but that cognition is hard to maintain (for me) when the feelings take over

oh! and when he randomly sends me a bunch of flowers at my work for no reason other than to be random

that so makes me happy!!!!!

love the thread jody - looking forwrad to part 2 :)


kyle said on the 4th Jun, 2008

I am so happy to see someone in the gay scene is talking about the happiness conference. I did not go this year (not because I did not want to) however I went last year and was lucky enough to experience the Dalai Lama speaking for quite some time. I for one, found the conference live changing stuff, since last year I have completely changed my life, starting with how I make money and how I spend my money. I no longer waste money on stuff I think will make me happy in the short term. I realized that everyday we are pressured to spend our hard earned money on stuff that makes us unhappy and I now have more savings. In the last year I packed up all my belongings, sold a lot of it and am now living a dream in New York. At the conference I learned that we can all be happy, but we just have to put some effort and thought into it, for most of us happiness does not just happen everyday, we need to think about what will make us happy in the long term and not over complicate life so much, don't focus on the material things in life, we don't have to work long ridicules hours to be happy, we should spend more time with good friends and family and stop making excuses why we don't, don't feel guilty about doing things you love to do, do stuff that challenge’s you. By just being a good honest, compassionate person will bring you happiness, care for other people, live in the moment and don't worry about the small stuff, it will always work out fine, try and live a healthy life. As for relationships, I now feel like I know what I have to do to have a fulfilling relationship. I could go on and on with what I got out of the happiness conference. The happiness conference has played a big part on me being a happier person, so if you ever get the chance to go, do it! forget about what it will cost you, because what you will learn is priceless. I look forward to reading what Jody got from the relationship side of the conference .

Kyle (New York)