The Secret to Happiness

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Words: Nell Westbrook (she/her)

Happiness is elusive. A term we cannot quite define, but that affects everything we do. It connects ourselves to our goals and our goals to our actions and our actions to those around us. One way of measuring happiness is through well-being; increased well-being means increased health, which is directly linked to increased happiness. When happier, our immune system strengthens, we become more productive, our relationships improve, creativity increases and, to top it all off, we actually live longer. Arranged in an enticing list form, the repercussions of happiness seem all good and well. But the actuality of achieving happiness is quite another story, one that seems as if it were constantly just out of reach… That “feel-good” sensation always one vitamin D-filled walk or endorphin-releasing workout away, or one leafy-green, fibre-rich meal beyond. What does it mean to be happy? And from where can we draw the bubbling sense of joy we all so desire? Deciding that collaboration is key, I interviewed many different people from many different walks of life, attempting to debunk the incomprehensible secret to happiness.

My introductory spiel was perfect (kind of weird) and crystal clear (often unintelligible):

‘Hi… so, um, I’m researching an article for the Glasgow Uni Magazine about happiness and I was just wondering… what would you say is the, err, secret for happiness? Yeah, sorry, the secret to happiness. Just whatever makes your day better, I guess. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to haha, just trying to get as many different perspectives as I can, so you know… just anything you can think of really.’

A sense of appreciating the small day-to-day aspects of life seemed to be an essential ingredient:

‘Like when the green man has gone on just as you get to walking across the road’, my friend noted in between sips of tea, or ‘an evening when you have the next morning free.’

‘Getting into freshly washed sheets in a clean room, with my fairy lights on and my candles burning.’

‘Completing the mini crossword in a record time’ is, embarassingly, a quote from myself.

‘That water drink at 2am when you wake up’ a colleague lost in thoughts of last night’s post-drinks suffering commented.

‘A hug from my dad.’

A rediscovering of child-like wonderment we lost growing older. Daily experiences of awe. Holding on to everything supposedly small because that is truly all there is…

After a fair amount of friendly peer pressure, another victim of my questioning suggested the very real idea of ‘going for a run – but it’s really easy.’ The theme of being outside appeared from almost everyone, whether that be at the beach, in the woods, or simply ‘sitting in the sun and it’s on your face and you’re all warm.’  Sunsets, sunrises, and ‘waking up in summer and it’s light outside!’ seem to give us all an abundance of joy – I can hear the scientific studies preaching vitamin D intake whispering I told you so over and over and, honestly, I can’t blame them.

‘Good music. Oh, and beer.’ 

Eating and drinking things you enjoy, having nostalgic snacks, and cooking with others stood out as a way to fuel bliss in both mind and body. ‘Good food, probably’, or ‘the first home-cooked meal after being away from your parents for so long’, answered by a cashier in Boots, albeit slightly hesitantly. My sister reminisced about happiness being found in ‘the first sip of a cup of tea’, and another recalled ‘when you’ve had dinner and you’re just chatting and all full and content.’ My manager landed on ‘having a cheap cold beer in the sunshine somewhere’ as he ran such drinks to tables, obviously dreaming of holidays and not long hospitality days. One person even suggested that ‘having a ganache on hand’ was the ultimate solution to finding contentment. I hope, dear reader, that you are taking notes.

However, while responses differed in content, there was an unmistakable pattern in tone: every single person I interviewed unanimously ummed and ahhed over the question. Mulling over whether they should reveal what lies in the deep crypts of their being, or mumble a run of the mill response which would set them nicely in the middle of the crowd. I got myriad variations of ‘I’ll have a think about it’, as well as a handful of sneaky subject changes before an answer could be procured. Perhaps they shied away from my eager approach; sometimes I’m sure stranger status was to blame; and occasionally, it could have simply been a case of the all too familiar blanking of the mind. 

I can only hope that this reaction wasn’t a desire for the interviewer to remain locked out of the secret of happiness. Rather a response that stemmed from a mixture of the uncertainty of what they truly thought, and the knowledge that revealing such answers also reveals their truest self. The anxiety of transparency, of laying out the habits and joys and desires and guilty pleasures that create the foundations of what makes us us, is daunting – especially in a society increasingly well-versed in the art of concealing one’s vulnerability.

The conclusion to my pseudo-scientifically-conducted research is that the secret to happiness is simply letting yourself enjoy the small things which make you genuinely happy. What causes you to smile in a room, where smiling serves absolutely nothing but your body’s response to being happy? Finding happiness is finding what you are drawn to do when you are in your most unguarded form – stripped of all expectations, utterly selfish in your choices. Happiness takes on the quality you give to it; the variation in interview answers confirms this. Being happy is both intensely personal and a universally shared experience – the secret to happiness may not be as much a secret as it is a function built into all of us, simply waiting to be awoken.

Now let me ask you, what brings you joy?


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