The measure of happiness and the power of vulnerability

Posted on: 10th April 2013

Thanks to our Adult Service intern Tom for this blog…

In the current culture of austerity and budget cuts, I think it’s fair to suggest that we may have lost sight of an intrinsic measure of social good and wellbeing, that of happiness. Surrounded by such economic hardship, we’ve become increasingly obsessed by defining measures of neo-liberal economics as the be all and end all.

Perhaps, the pervasive austerity culture we find ourselves in dismisses social and psychological factors such as happiness, because we can’t measure these by numerical calculations and projections of economic growth? But if there is one basic human right that we are all entitled to, regardless of the state of our economy, surely it is the right to pursue and achieve a state of happiness and wellbeing.

On the 20th March this year, the UN asked us to take a moment to appreciate and recognise this pursuit, in celebration of the first International Day of Happiness. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed, the world “needs a new economic paradigm” where “social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” In light of this, and to help readdress the need for a more nuanced and inclusive approach to economic growth, I thought it fitting to bring this inspirational TED talk to your attention:

Social researcher Brene Brown has spent years exploring the connection between happiness and vulnerability. Brene believes that these two emotional states are intrinsically linked, because they allow us to feel emotionally connected. The state of emotional connection is what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives – in other words it is what brings us happiness. To be happy, is to experience positive emotions, such as amusement, hope, courage, pride, inspiration, love, and authenticity. These emotional states fill us with a sense of belonging and purpose, but above all they enable us to feel worthy of ourselves, to love ourselves for who we are.

Brene looked at those who had a “strong sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging” and she found that they were separated from those who didn’t by their ability to “believe they’re worthy of love and belonging”. They believed quite simply. They had “the courage to be imperfect… to let go of who you think you should be and be who you are”. Importantly, they felt “what made them vulnerable made them beautiful…the willingness to do something when there are no guarantees”.

I think Brene’s message is so important because it says something universal and so intrinsic to the human condition. Those who appeared to have happiness, were those that found solace and peace in themselves, whatever their imperfections. They acknowledged that to feel vulnerable was ok. In this age of economic austerity, I hope that the current government and those involved in public policy take a second to consider the work of Brene Brown and others, in an attempt to understand happiness, just a little bit better.

As Chanakya once said in the true definition of austerity, “there is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment”. I hope as global citizens, we can all begin to recognise and realise our unalienable right to feel happy, to feel connected, and I hope the work of Brene Brown and initiatives such as the International Day of Happiness, can bring us all a little closer to achieving this goal.

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