Thursday, 1 May 2014

Happiness

Dear Henry,

You are a little young for this letter right now, but I hope in time it will become more meaningful to you.  I originally wrote a letter very similar to this one for Naomi's naming day as a present, but as I was writing it I realised how much I wanted you to understand the lessons within it.  

I hope that by the time you read this you understand a little more about your dad and what I do for a living.  I am a psychologist so I am interested, simply, in how people think and feel and behave.  I also believe these three things influence each other.  This is important and I will come back to it.

What I am not, is a particularly practical man - you will have realised this by now as every time something goes wrong we call Steve, Jamie or Granddad!  When Steve and Sarah asked for something personal for Naomi the best that I could come up with was ...happiness.

I need you to pay special attention now.  Are you listening?  Sitting comfortably?  No other distractions?  Good.  Then I will carry on.

Happiness is not something that just happens.  We are not passive recipients of some floating cloud that rains good emotion down upon us.  The Dalai Lama (very cool guy, look him up) has said that:
"Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions." 
We need to work at it and we need to use it.  If you do not it withers away and becomes harder to find.  If this happens you are less likely to feel good about life.  So my gift to Naomi, and now to you, is a collection of pointers on how you can ensure your own happiness as you grow and move through life.

I have another couple of important points that I need you to understand before I get to what I consider to be the practical bits.

Firstly, happiness is not about stuff.  It is not about possessions.  The positive emotion that can be found in things is, generally, fleeting and unsatisfying.  Secondly, happiness is made better by making other people happy.  If you do good, you will feel good.  This is something your parents do very well, although I am never entirely sure if they realise, or give themselves credit for, how good they are at it.  Watch them and learn from them.  Make people feel special and you become special and feel special.  Simple sounding, isn't it?

So this is what I would like you to do, to help you stay happy and healthy in life.

  • Do things for people, connect with them, pay them attention.  If you value others, you will in turn be valued.  Remember how important people are and respect them for their own humanity, not because of what they can do for you. Something you can do for yourself is to...
  • Exercise.  This may be a cliché, but it really is the most powerful way to feel good about yourself.  And while I am on the subject of feeling good about yourself...
  • Accept who you are.  Do not chase others' ideas of who they think you should be.  It is your skin and you need to live in it, so accept it and be happy with it.  You will not be getting another one! So don't worry about it and...
  • Try whenever possible to live in the moment.  Appreciate the things around you, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the touch, the taste.  Life is about experiences, a person is the sum of what they have seen and done, so appreciate them.  Strive to make those experiences positive and fulfilling.  To do this you will need to...
  • Keep learning.  We never stop growing as people.  If you allow yourself to stop, you stagnate.  Keep yourself occupied and trying new things and never be afraid to say "I don't understand". To do this you will need to...
  • Stay positive.  Optimism is one of the most powerful pieces of psychological armour you can possess.  You will experience setbacks, downs and lows.  But remember that is all they are and it is within your power to change things.  So much of life is based on how we interpret it.  Choose to interpret it positively and this will help to...
  • Ensure your life has meaning.  Look to involve yourself in something bigger than your own small world.  We are tiny specks in the sea of human experience, but enough of those specks together can move worlds and change lives.

I hope by now you have realised how important I believe attitude and the things that we choose to do are in helping us to live happy lives.  What I cannot do in this letter is tell you all the ways you can do this. If I am honest, I hope you don't need this letter as I plan on being around long enough to teach you these lessons myself, but you never know do you?  And at least if it is here, I know something will be passed on to you.  Something that I continue to need to remind myself is to treasure the good times.  This can be difficult when you are tired, and stressed, and in need of space - but it is those times when it matters the most.  If you find yourself slipping, stop.  Look around.  There are some many beautiful sights to behold if we just take the time to look.

I would like to leave you some lifework.  Start to write down the things that make you feel grateful, proud or happy.  Don't be afraid to think big (I live in a safe democracy) or small (I had an awesome meal today!), but do think and do record them.  This act alone will go a long way to keeping you happy.

I hope you come to enjoy, understand and appreciate this gift.  But, more than that, I hope that with or without this letter you lead a happy and fulfilled life my son.

With all my love, my precious boy

Dad

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