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Stop trying to be so happy

We focus on what quickly fades, when we should be investing in the long term.

Our concept of ‘happiness’ forgets half the equation.

There are two kinds of happiness – a fleeting kind we all chase and a lasting kind we often ignore.

When we think of being happy, experts tell us that what we commonly imagine is actually pleasure. It’s the taste of delicious food, the fantasy of winning the lottery or the fallacy that material things can fix our woes.

According to experts interviewed by The New Daily, research shows these pleasures soon fade. Instead, we should also be searching for meaning, a far more stable form of happiness.

“It’s not normal to be yellow smiley face happy all the time. In fact, they’d probably lock you up if you were,” Positive Psychology Institute founder Dr Suzy Green said.

“If you are focussed on that, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, at the very least.”


Quality Life Australia counsellor Dr Wendy Kennedy agreed that happiness, as most of us define it, does not last. According to ongoing Australian research, most of us are ‘happy’ only about 75 per cent of the time.

“The pursuit of happiness as an end state is not really realistic because it’s a fact of life that we’ll have ups and downs and that’s normal,” Dr Kennedy said.

“There’s a lot of confusion there, and sometimes an expectation that happiness is a state you can achieve and stay there forever and a day. As we well know from experience, it doesn’t generally happen.”

Rather than striving to experience this feel-good emotion all the time, we should focus on adding meaning – what Dr Kennedy called “life satisfaction”.

“Hopefully that is where most people spend most of their time.”

The solution

While pleasures fade, meaning lasts, Federation University psychology lecturer Dr Liz Temple said.

To find it, strive to give and achieve.

“Your accomplishments at work or in sport or family and relationships actually have more depth to them. While they may be harder and may not always make us ‘happy’, they add more to us over the long term,” Dr Temple explained.

Other examples include:

• building greater self esteem;
• doing selfless acts, such as giving your time or money;
• finding a job that fills you with pride; and
• investing more time in personal relationships.

Fun is still important


Pleasure, defined as ‘hedonistic happiness’ in research, should not be ignored, Dr Temple said.

But, as mentioned above, these things quickly fade. Thus, strategies to make them last should be used.

“If we are always focussed just on meaning, then we never have fun … but in the long run we do need to have those more meaningful aspects,” Dr Temple said.

Last year, The New Daily reported that money can actually buy happiness, provided you buy the right things. You just need to spend it wisely on worthwhile experiences, rather than shiny new things.

Savouring pleasure is also important, another expert said.

“We have one Tim Tam then we want another one and another one. You need to learn to really savour, which means to bring your mindful attention to any of the pleasures to try and get as much joy out of them as you possibly can rather than mindlessly engaging in them,” Positive Psychology Institute’s Dr Green said.

Do both

We should aim to savour our pleasures while also finding more meaning, University of New England psychologist Associate Professor Nicola Schutte said.

“I’m not sure if one can make a blanket statement that all people are better off striving towards one or another type of happiness,” she said.

“I think both types of happiness are valuable.”

 Jul 27, 2015 – Jackson Stiles – Life Editor

10 tips to stay mentally healthy

Enjoying mental health means having a sense of wellbeing, being able to function during everyday life and feeling confident to rise to a challenge when the opportunity arises. Just like your physical health, there are actions you can take to increase your mental health. Boost your wellbeing and stay mentally healthy by following a few simple steps.

  1. Connect with others. Develop and maintain strong relationships with people around you who will support and enrich your life. The quality of our personal relationships has a great effect on our wellbeing. Putting time and effort into building strong relationships can bring great rewards.
  2. Take time to enjoy. Set aside time for activities, hobbies and projects you enjoy. Let yourself be spontaneous and creative when the urge takes you. Do a crossword; take a walk in your local park; read a book; sew a quilt; draw pictures with your kids; play with your pets – whatever takes your fancy.
  3. Participate and share interests. Join a club or group of people who share your interests. Being part of a group of people with a common interest provides a sense of belonging and is good for your mental health. Join a sports club; a band; an evening walking group; a dance class; a theatre or choir group; a book or car club.
  4. Contribute to your community. Volunteer your time for a cause or issue that you care about. Help out a neighbour, work in a community garden or do something nice for a friend. There are many great ways to contribute that can help you feel good about yourself and your place in the world. An effort to improve the lives of others is sure to improve your life too.
  5. Take care of yourself. Be active and eat well – these help maintain a healthy body. Physical and mental health are closely linked; it’s easier to feel good about life if your body feels good. You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise – gardening, vacuuming, dancing and bushwalking all count. Combine physical activity with a balanced diet to nourish your body and mind and keep you feeling good, inside and out.
  6. Challenge yourself. Learn a new skill or take on a challenge to meet a goal. You could take on something different at work; commit to a fitness goal or learn to cook a new recipe. Learning improves your mental fitness, while striving to meet your own goals builds skills and confidence and gives you a sense of progress and achievement.
  7. Deal with stress. Be aware of what triggers your stress and how you react. You may be able to avoid some of the triggers and learn to prepare for or manage others. Stress is a part of life and affects people in different ways. It only becomes a problem when it makes you feel uncomfortable or distressed. A balanced lifestyle can help you manage stress better. If you have trouble winding down, you may find that relaxation breathing, yoga or meditation can help.
  8. Rest and refresh. Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day and practice good habits to get better sleep. Sleep restores both your mind and body. However, feelings of fatigue can still set in if you feel constantly rushed and overwhelmed when you are awake. Allow yourself some unfocussed time each day to refresh; for example, let your mind wander, daydream or simply watch the clouds go by for a while. It’s OK to add ‘do nothing’ to your to-do list!
  9. Notice the here and now. Take a moment to notice each of your senses each day. Simply ‘be’ in the moment – feel the sun and wind on your face and notice the air you are breathing. It’s easy to be caught up thinking about the past or planning for the future instead of experiencing the present. Practising mindfulness, by focusing your attention on being in the moment, is a good way to do this. Making a conscious effort to be aware of your inner and outer world is important for your mental health.
  10. Ask for help. This can be as simple as asking a friend to babysit while you have some time out or speaking to your doctor (GP) about where to find a counsellor or community mental health service. The perfect, worry-free life does not exist. Everyone’s life journey has bumpy bits and the people around you can help. If you don’t get the help you need first off, keep asking until you do.

If at any time you are worried about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one call Lifeline 13 11 14 or speak to a mental health professional.


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