How did Growing Happy start?
I remember standing up at the end of my primary school leavers assembly, both shaky and self-important (teachers, priests and family looking on with some fear and disapproval), and saying “whatever happens in my life, I’m going to be happy”. Not I’m going to be rich or successful, an astronaut or the next Prime Minister, but I’m going to be happy.
20+ years on I think the project’s still the same, only today I realise my 11 year old self didn’t know how hard it was to achieve. I’ve had a great life and do feel very lucky, but achieving happiness is hard, sometimes really hard. Just when you think you’re there, something comes along to say “don’t be so stupid, take that smile from off your face (great Oasis line) and try dealing with this....”.
What’s it all about?
Happiness in one form or another is big business now from Gretchin Rubin's The Happiness Project, to Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within, Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors and The Four Hour Work Week and Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. Everyone has a view on what makes you happy, even if it’s by not focusing on happiness at all (I would recommend investigate all of the above further...).
Some people probably rightly say this obsession with happiness is a luxury past generations didn’t have and “you should roll your sleeves up and get on with living you silly fool” (may or may not be my Mum). But for me Growing Happy just feels right, it means I can now concentrate on doing something important; something that can make a real difference.
In the past 4 months alone I’ve met such an incredible mix of weird and wonderful people: from Tibetan Nuns and Buddhist teachers to neuroscientists, psychologists and Lady Gaga’s former yoga teacher; all of whom have important lessons to share when it comes to Growing Happy. I will never claim to have all the answers, and I may make a fair few mistakes along the way, but I want to bring you a wide range of strategies, practices and philosophies that improve your mental and physical health. As it says on our About page, we want to cut through the noise and bring you simple, robust tools all in one place without any of the fuss: a rational, action-focused approach to wellbeing.
Something that may be of use is the way we have distilled and dissected the best of the eastern and western philosophies to come up with 4 core pillars that can act as a meaningful framework to support your overall well-being:
Often undervalued as a core principle for living well, commitment is crucial to building meaningful habits and developing healthy routines. People say you can’t change unless you want to change, but I think it’s much more important to commit to change. There are lots of things I want to do, but unless I commit to them (deeply and decisively) then they rarely stick.
For me commitment is a muscle that you grow, slowly and sometimes painfully over time. I’m writing this in a coffee shop, having given up caffeine for the month of January; the smell of roasted beans wafts gloriously through my large, round nostrils, and I really want an Almond Cortado (eye roll for the choice of pretentious non-dairy coffee), but I won’t have one until at least February 1st, because I’m committed. I want Growing Happy to give you the ability to build that muscle, slowly change your focus and commit to new practices that will support your mental and physical growth.
Jim Rohn said that “we are the result of the 5 people we spend the most time with”. I think that’s partly true, but far more important is the quality of that time. We can have connections with lots of different people and actually to a certain extent our work, hobbies and pastimes, but growth and happiness come from quality connections.
On bad days, I feel like my life is very transactional; chatting with that person, writing that email, buying that new thing, all done without properly engaging with any of it. On the best days, I connect with my family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers in a very different way. The feeling is energising; warm and somehow important. I think people want to have those interactions more often and I hope Growing Happy can help facilitate them.
I see the potential contradiction of encouraging all this online and through an app, but I want Growing Happy to be about building relationships and connections at a whole new level. Growing our own community that builds you up, supports you, and helps you grow with massive benefits to your mental and physical well-being.
Giving & Generosity
I rarely feel as happy as when I’m doing something good for someone else. I think we must focus on helping others; and by helping others, really helping ourselves.
This is so powerful, because it reduces the focus on yourself. When feeling low or depressed it’s so easy to concentrate on what you haven’t done, can’t do, or are scared of doing, becoming stuck in a downward spiral of misery and despair. By changing the focus slightly and shifting your perspective to concentrate on someone else, you can release that pressure and start rebuilding your own confidence by helping others.
Reflection & Gratitude
I want us to learn an outsider’s or meta perspective when it comes to approaching our thoughts, feelings and relationships. Some may call it presence or improved self-awareness; I really mean the ability to objectively investigate our emotions accepting both positive and negative, before committing to actions and principles that are likely to lead to a better future.
My evolved brain is always whirring with hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties; I feel overwhelmed and out of control. I make a mistake or get shouted out and feel my cortisol levels surging and my ability to think, learn and smile fade away (among other more damaging side effects, I’m not immediately aware of). When I use reflection techniques (that include meditation and gratitude) the impact is reduced and sometimes eliminated altogether.
Again, it’s a skill I have to learn and a muscle I have to grow and sometimes it’s annoying and frustrating. However, the more I practice, the easier it becomes to accept the bad news, the anger, pain and worst-case scenarios, while refocusing on the ‘good stuff’, the new opportunities and the beauty of the present moment. Without sounding too woo or spiritual (I’ll save that for another post), I want these to be tools you can try, techniques you can learn and muscles you can grow. Hopefully, Growing Happy can offer you one way to explore some of this and find out what works for you.
So what do I ask?
Give us a chance. We live in a very cynical, reactionary and distrustful age when too much time is spent criticising and destroying, rather than celebrating and rebuilding. Let’s create a place where people can learn about new things, present ideas and try out different practices with a community of people who want to support your growth and improve your happiness. And together we might just have a better chance.