In my late teens, this was just a saying that one of my best friends had coined, when drunk, I think. As the years have progressed, however, it’s shifted from just an adopted phrase for simply being happy in the moment to a philosophy that I try and live my life by.
The basic premise is this: happiness is a choice. Yes, of course, that’s a simplification, and some will argue that happiness is an outcome and not a choice itself, but it’s semantics when you delve into it. We’ve all been through tough times, and I know that the “Tough Times Scale” is a broad and varied one; one that, if I’m being honest with myself, I probably only sit on the mid to positive side of, in the grand scheme of things. The equally scalable fact remains though that change in our situations is possible, and proven by so many whom we now hail as visionaries and heroes - with a positive belief that you can make things better, and the will and determination to take that step, so it will be.
It’s worth noting that this is not a selfish ideology, and it’s not even necessarily about having a lovely time. It’s always about choice. You preside over your own life, and the impact you have on those around you. To that end, I now consider it in three phases - a ripple effect, as I imagine it.
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” - Abraham Lincoln
In the beginning, it was a simple flow chart: am I having a Lovely Time? Yes? Carry on. No? Change something. In its simplest form, this is still the mantra. You are the epicentre of the ripple.
Sometimes life gets us down, whether that’s an individual event or situation, or seemingly a bitter concoction of a whole lot of things, big and small. A solution or relief can often feel beyond our grasp, but I assure you it’s there. Accept that you cannot control everything in your life. Things do happen to you, there’s no denying that. But you have a choice over how you deal with those things. Take responsibility for the choices you’ve made that have got you to where you are, good or bad; it’s an empowering realisation. Once you take on that responsibility you recognise that you have just as much power to pull yourself out of it.
Draw happiness from your resolve. In some cases, you might be actively making a choice which dampens your happiness. For example, sticking at a job that makes you unhappy, but doing so because it enables you to support loved ones, or you’re saving for something, or it’s going to get you where you want to go. Whatever it is, find happiness in the fact you have chosen that, and that it is as temporary as you want it to be. You are in control of that situation.
Finally, and most importantly, know that you’re not alone. Whilst happiness is a choice that only you are in control of, the journey to achieving it is not always simple or easy. I promise you, there are people who want to help you get there - you just have to let them.
Challenge: Think of something in your life that is causing you unhappiness, and consider what you could do that would positively impact that situation. Now try it and see what happens.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
In knowing that you do not need to undertake this journey alone, so it is that you can also be a valued support for those in your immediate circle of friends and family - they are where we can make the most direct difference.
Do not underestimate the impact you have on those around you both positively and, be aware, potentially negatively too. In a 2015 report commissioned by Public Health England, the two factors that people believe have the biggest impact on their mental wellbeing are relationships with family and friends (mentioned by 54% as one of the top 3 factors) and their job or work-life balance (chosen by 42%).
- The 2011 Edelman Health Barometer global survey showed 36% of participants think friends and family are the biggest influence on their nutrition, with 31% saying they distance themselves from friends who engage in unhealthy behaviour.
- According to Karyn Hall, Ph.D., director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, Texas, "A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health and happiness”; "When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone. There is comfort in that knowledge."
- A 2009 study found that our social bonds have been scientifically proven to help us live longer, possibly due in part to the healthy influences they have on our daily behaviours. Our friends can help us stop smoking, eat better and dodge loneliness later in life - all key components for longevity.
In a previous blog post I used a mosh pit at Glastonbury Festival as my definition for what collaboration means. Strangely, or not, I think there are a lot of lessons you can draw from a mosh pit. One of my favourite brands, Abandon Ship, released this Tshirt last year that I think sums up Phase Two pretty well.
When you see someone close to you struggling, give them your support. Scientific evidence aside, we can all recognise the benefit that our friends and family bring to our lives, not to mention how good it feels when you help out a friend in need. Pay it forward, pay it back, pay attention.
Challenge: Text a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while that you think would really appreciate it. “How are you doing? Just thought about you so wanted to say hi. It’s been a while.” You’d be surprised how far this little token gesture will go.
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
Looking after ourselves and our immediate circle is important, but how about wider society. Or the world, even? Whilst helping all of those around us to lead a positive and happy life, I believe that Phase Three in particular is about trying to help those for whom happiness isn’t such an easy choice to realise. What impact can we as individuals have on the social issues that affect our societies and planet?
Ironically, efforts in Phase Three can be some of the easiest to action but remain some of the hardest to commit to. As I’ve gotten older, my world has gotten bigger, as has my understanding of the impact I have on those around me. You travel, you see other cultures and societies, you meet different people with very different stories to your own - you grow. Being honest, it wasn’t until I’d faced up to challenges in my own life and had really supported my friends through their challenges that Phase Two formally came about. Phase Three remained an aspiration - my own understanding and exposure holding me in a state of naivety.
Researching articles and studies so I could best articulate this Phase was a much harder landscape to navigate than I had imagined. There are numerous opinions on where our focus should be as a society to effect the most good in the world; numerous, quite enlightening and relatable, articles on why people don’t get involved. What is encouraging, however, is that an ideal that I and therefore Twenty Pegs already hold dear is pretty unanimously cited as the biggest influencer - community. It's the most rewarding, positive, and powerful thing we do. An increased sense of community brings us closer to those around us, enables us to empathise with and understand each other and our challenges, and broadens our knowledge of the challenges faced even further out. It’s hard for individuals working alone to achieve much, and knowing this often creates a barrier against us taking action. In our immediate circles we can easily see and measure the impact we can have in a situation, but when the issue is national or global any action you take might feel like a drop in the ocean - a deflating thought to battle against. But as a community we can effect change, together.
So, what can you do to contribute towards Phase Three? My best answer is to do whatever you can, and I mean that literally and realistically. Sometimes charity remains aspirational because whilst we’d love to turn the world around and solve all its problems, we know as individuals we don’t have the power to do that, so more often, defeated, we do nothing. If you remember though that there is strength in numbers, you will always find there is something you can do. Time and money are the two main commodities you have, and somewhere between the two there is always at least a tiny bit you could spare. It all mounts up.
Challenge: Take a moment to consider a social issue or cause that particularly resonates with you. Got some time you could spare? Search online for a community or event you could offer that bit of time to. No time but got a little money you could spare? Search for where you could best donate. Got no time or money? I hear you, believe me. If you’ve had time to read this far into this article though, you’ve probably got just a couple of extra minutes to share details of an upcoming event or donation link through your own social media, with a sentence or two on why it means anything to you - help promote what they’re doing and raise awareness.
So, why is it still “I’m having a Lovely Time”, and not just “Have a Lovely Time”, or “Are you having a Lovely Time?” Because it starts with you. It has to. You might also be sitting there thinking that this is all easier said than done - and you’d be right. Let it be known that I am not writing this from a place of masterful enlightenment. Most of the time I’m still struggling with Phase One, to be honest. But this isn’t a linear philosophy - writing this article and introducing a few new policies for the company is me having a crack at Phase Three, whilst always working on Phase One, and trying my best to offer what I can to Phase Two. Just remember that you don’t have to go it alone. All for one, one for all.
Thank you to Jamie for coining the phrase in the first place; to Andrea, Kerri, and Matt (RIP, my friend), who in particular represent in my life what this philosophy is all about; and to visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Hawking and Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who show the world what a difference one person can make.
I hope you’ve found this article useful. Feel free to comment below, and keep an eye out for more news and how Twenty Pegs aims to help you and others in our community have a Lovely Time.