I just returned from a long weekend in NYC where I attended a conference entitled Women and Happiness: The Give and Take of Joy. I was inspired to go by a few things. If you read my blog, then you know that I am in the midst of career shift that has required me (and continues to require me) to practice courage and mindfully tolerate uncertainty. In the name of maintaining my own momentum, I thought it would be good to attend this conference to inspire me personally. Working primarily in the area of women’s mental health, of course, I was also intrigued to hear research and ideas on how women can achieve and sustain a joyful life that might be helpful to my clients. Last but not least, my favorite social worker/researcher/story-teller, Brene Brown was one of the featured speakers and I felt like I could not pass up the chance to hear her talk in person! So, I asked a few friends to meet up with me there (one of which is also in a career transition) and away we went to the Big Apple!
All of the speakers were deeply inspiring. They included Geneen Roth, Brene Brown, Loung Ung, Gretchen Steidle Wallace, Elizabeth Lesser, and Carla Goldstein. The overall message of the conference was not necessarily “new” but to hear the message in different ways from each of the speakers was a powerful reminder of the factors we meed to prioritize to make our lives more happy. The research presented on happiness (I love that so many people are researching this now!) essentially can be summed up by the following:
1) Make it a priority to cultivate, sustain, and maintain loving relationships. It doesn’t matter if you focus on a partner, friends, family, or pets.
2) Get to know yourself. It takes work to get to know yourself, and then to take responsibility for who you are. Under this umbrella of self-awareness, it is also important to practice what they called at the conference “non-comparative consciousness” – not comparing yourself to others, or to who you “used to be”.
3) Know what is enough. Dr. Brown talks about how in the U.S. we live in a culture of “scarcity” which is, of course, so ironic because empirically we live in a country of great abundance. Her point is that we never feel like we have enough – enough money, clothes, power, etc. or that we are enough – thin enough, smart enough, good enough, etc. It is important for happiness to practice gratitude for what we have. I think it was Socrates that said, “he who is not happy with what he has, will not be happy with what he does not have”.
4) Find your calling. It is important for each of us to have a hobby, a cause, or actual paid work that we find fulfilling and that gives us purpose.
5) Practice generosity. Researchers are not sure, but some have speculated that human beings have an “altruism gene” but whatever the reason, helping others makes us happy!
One last point I wanted to share that Dr. Brown made in her talk was that it is actually quite dangerous to our mental health to “stand back and wonder what it would look like to show up, and be seen in our own lives”. Though being truly present and visible to others can also be scary for many of us, the costs of avoiding this are too great because it leads to anger, resentment, and depression. The five factors listed above I think are part of the work that we can do to “show up” for our lives. Some of the five are inner paths of self-exploration, while others are more active and part of the choices we make about how we conduct ourselves in our communities.
I left the conference with a renewed commitment to a daily practice of things I know will make me more happy, and a commitment to practicing the courage to do the things I need to do to be more present in my life.<