On this International Day of Happiness, it feels like a good time for us to reflect on what ‘happiness’ means to us, right now. In a time of great change for societies across the world, has our own understanding of happiness changed as well?

The focus of this year’s International Day of Happiness, co-ordinated by Action for Happiness is on three important calls to action: Be Happier, Kinder and Together. All very sensible and sure ways of being that we all might aspire to, but perhaps find ourselves wanting.

One way we could start our happiness journey is with an Action Calendar, which suggests a range of activities and pastimes we can all do in lockdown, or whatever version of lockdown we might experience in the future. Ideas such a ‘challenge your negative thoughts and look for the positives’, ‘shift your mood by doing something you enjoy’, or ‘share what you are feeling and be willing to ask for help’ are just some of the ways suggested of helping us to challenge our demons.

Most of these suggestions ask us to look within; to find out what we are made of, discover what our values are and think about how we can look after ourselves and each other. We have all had to do a lot of this in the last year. We have experienced collective trauma, one that will reshape society in so many ways. Individually and collectively, we have been forced to dig deep and find resilience in the face of great fear and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Have we changed as a result? Has the way we measure happiness changed as a result? No longer able to distract ourselves with holidays, socialising and spending money, we have had to look elsewhere for our fulfilment.

In my experience, there is no happiness without peace of mind. To be connected, relaxed and living a life true to our values is the foundation of happiness, which allows us to be open enough to let joy into our lives. Reading this, you may think ‘well, peace of mind is all well and good if you happen to have a stress-free life’, which for many of us is perhaps only a dream right now. In fact, we can see very clearly how the pandemic has served to widen the divides between us in terms of poverty, housing, access to education and healthcare. How can we find peace of mind while so many of us have lost so much, and are broken-hearted from grief?

In Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ he says “Everything can be taken from us but one thing:  the freedom to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

So how do we change our attitude? Perhaps from our experiences of despair and loneliness, or overwhelming stress and anxiety, we are forced to draw on our inner resources. We look at our capacity for resilience and learn from how we got through hard times in the past.

It may help you to ask yourself some questions. Where do you draw your strength from? How do you navigate your way through life? What is important to you, is it your family and friends, nature, music and art? What comforts you, is it your spiritual beliefs, where do you find meaning? What would you say to someone you love to help them through their dark moments?

In Julia Samuel’s book ‘This Too Shall Pass’ she looks at the friction between the desire for ‘predictability versus freedom – safety versus excitement’.   Right now we are in the process of huge change, a lot of which is out of our control, and safety and predictability is probably our preferred position. To pass through this though, we have to re-connect with that other essential element of happiness – hope.

Hope that our current struggles lessen, that we can share a hug with our loved ones again soon and that the world is a kinder, more equal, calmer and more peaceful place in which we can live, breathe and enjoy. Hope is sometimes all we can cling to when things feel so uncertain, but hope also gives us purpose, strength and a reason to feel alive and live each day as fully as we can, which can, in turn, help us to feel happier…which is what something we all wish for.

Written by Mandie Howard, Counsellor at Professional Help.