Back in January I went to another Action for Happiness event, having previously blogged about my take onHenry Stewart’s Happy Manifesto back in November.  This time, it was new economics foundationstatistician and Happy Planet Index guru Nic Marks.

I don’t want to tell you all of what Nic said: he does this very well for himself on TED. Also, it struck me at the talk that I had heard much of what he had to say before – in a good way! – thanks to my involvement in the Happy Museum project. Nic’s ideas have strongly influenced the Happy Museum Manifesto, and I have been discussing their application in museums with my colleagues for a while.

What I want to tell you about is what happened to me at Nic’s talk, and how it proved that Five Ways to Well-Being really can make someone happier, instantly. That someone was me.

I arrived at Nic’s talk in a deep personal gloom. I sat in the lecture theatre, waiting for the talk to begin. There were perhaps 200 people there, and the bright room was full of noise and chatter as people spoke to friends or strangers. I was silent, insular, disconnected (and I’m really not like that normally!). I wanted to build on the thinking from the brilliant Happy Museum Symposium the week before, but I was seriously notin the mood.

The context for my black mood that evening was the current state of the museum sector, and my place in it. I don’t wish to revisit my gloom from that night, but at the time I felt like a microcosm of current issues that affect many museum colleagues around the country: uncertain funding, certain cuts, my contract running out like sand through a timer. I love my job and I manage a team of wonderful people (many of whom are in the same boat), so my individual jitters were mixed up with a sense of responsibility and frustration about the future of our work.

I should say that I had consciously booked this event to give me something positive to do, knowing that I would be having low points this year due to my situation. Similarly this year, I’ve made time to speak with a career coach, done more exercise, and other constructive or relaxing activities; I want to stay useful – and polite! – to the people around me. All of this is me instinctively using the Five Ways to Well-Being? but before Nic’s talk that wasn’t working for me at all.  Nic then ran a very simple game that helped me find my happiness.

You might have come across this game before. Ailsa and Vicky from Manchester Museum did something near-identical at the Happy Museum Symposium, so it wasn’t even fresh to me.  But it worked.

We each had a piece of paper and pencil. We had to turn to the person next to us, make eye contact and draw their portrait? whilst only looking at them and not at the paper. Hilarity ensued. Then, introducing ourselves properly, we gave them the portrait – no matter how bizarre – as a gift, and they returned the favour.

The Five Ways to Well-Being are: Connect, Take Notice, Be Active, Keep Learning and Give. In this game, we all connected with someone’s eyes, took notice of their face, did a drawing, learnt about who we had drawn, and gave a gift. Through doing this, my gloom lifted, I felt able again to speak to a stranger, I laughed at the absurdity of what we both produced? I was happy.

What’s my point? I think it’s that happiness/well-being is an active choice; that you have to do something to make it happen. I’ve got a lot of things in my life I am thankful for. I know about the model of Five Ways to Well-Being. I’m self-aware enough to do things to try and address stress rather than stay in its thrall? but I still get down in the dumps when everything seem a bit much. At Nic Mark’s talk, I found that the Five Ways to Well-Being can work wonders, but just to know them is not enough. I had to walk the ways to get happy.

Steve Gardam – London Transport Museum

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