You Can't Force Happiness... But Maybe You Can Ask It Nicely Into Your Life
Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you.
Twenty years before the dawn of the age of social media age, a year before Mark Zuckerberg was born, The Police wrote the perfect Facebook song.
Every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay, I'll be watching you.
Yes, yes Sting, we got it. But as a way of spending your day, it wasn’t exactly a recipe for a happy life.
Still, having realised how miserable this manifesto for stalking was, a few years later saw the King of Pain concoct a perfect antidote (as he called it) with the significantly more joyous solo single Love is the Seventh Wave.
As the song fades out you can hear Sting knowingly murmur “Every breath you take, every move you make, every cake you bake…”
That’s better, Sting, much better.
We all want to be happy. We’ve just forgotten how to go about it.
As we mark International Day of Happiness, it may seem that modern life is rigged to make us unhappy. But misery is very often self-inflicted.
We are far more likely to be, by choice, fuming on social media than, say, baking a cake.
Our senses are constantly being bombarded by cues imploring us - no, telling us - to be happy.
But there is no on and off switch for happiness, and any hackneyed calls to “just cheer up” ignores the unimaginable hardships and mental health issues that silently haunt so many people.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, his 1854 manual for a transcendental, happier existence. Throw in women as well, and you have an eloquent summation of 21st century life.
Happiness is not something that we choose to have. And it’s certainly not something we choose to reject. It is mostly beyond our control and a slave to circumstance.
What you can choose to do - and at the risk of sounding like some inspirational quote on Instagram – is improve your chances of happiness.
What you listen to, what you read, who you engaged with. These are all factors within your control.
Music is as close a guarantee to happiness as you can get.
In 2017, CNN reported that Australian researchers at Deakin University in Victoria found that – surprise, surprise - there was a link between their subjects’ music consumption and happiness levels.
Apparently dancing and music concerts, too, make you happy. Who knew?
The happiest songs, like Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys or Near Wild Heaven by REM, cannot help but improve your mood, though you’d do well to beware Happy by Pharrell, a song so irritating it comes close to doing exactly the opposite of what it say on the tin.
Similarly, there are links between reading and happiness.
Many reports, including a recent one from the University of Liverpool, which studied the reading habits of 4,000 adults, found a direct correlation between reading and wellbeing.
The literary world is full of books claiming to know the way to happiness. But why read books about how to be happy, when the very act of reading itself intrinsically makes us happy?
Finally, there is social media, the enemy of happiness, a world that feeds on anger and jealousy and envy.
It barely needs university research to link social media to depression. Again, it’s a matter of choice.
Delete Facebook from your phone, ignore Instagram’s mindless positivity and don’t engage trolls on Twitter, and watch your wellbeing soar almost instantly. That’s the seeds of happiness being sown.
The fact that we even need an International Day of Happiness, just like we need an International Women’s Day, a Mother’s Day and many other capitalised Days, is proof of misplaced priorities.
Don’t force happiness. Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.
Switch off, listen to music, read a book. Or, as Sting suggested, just bake a cake.