What makes us happy? It’s a question that has been debated by philosophers and scientists for centuries but are we any closer to knowing the answer?
Our competitive culture encourages many of us to pursue goals that have very little to do with real contentment. We get so caught up with chasing success and material wealth that we set aside very little time to reflect on what we each of us really needs to feel fulfilled.
It was a question posed to a group of full-time mothers living in Tower Hamlets in the east end of London as part of “The Happiness Course”, a four-week study course that asks us to look at our core values and examines how to live a more meaningful life.
Divided into four sections, and drawing on recent research conducted by scientists and psychologists, “The Happiness Course” focuses on different aspects of happiness and fulfillment and how to attain them.
Participants are encouraged to explore the themes both on their own and in discussion groups. Like many of us, the women in the group found that many of their firmly held beliefs and attitudes that had shaped their lives needed challenging.
Sarah is a wife and mother who had always thought that the key to a successful, happy life was material wealth and status. After taking part in the course she realized her priorities had shifted. “The course totally changed my idea of success,” she explained. “Before, I thought success was a business and a big house, but now I know success can be being a good mother, having a successful marriage.”
For other mothers, it was their children’s academic success and the subsequent status of a well-paid job or profession that had become a powerful driver in their own lives. During lively debates with the group, and following talks with their teenage children, they started to question whether this was the only key to a fulfilled life. The group concluded that other things – like sharing their faith, caring about their community and being involved in changing it for the better – were equally important. It was also the first time they had actually asked their children what they needed to be happy.
[blockquote cite=”Yasmin” type=”left”]”I’m learning not to push my kids so hard…Do they really need ‘A-stars’ to be happy?”[/blockquote]
Others agreed, and some even thought that happiness should be taught in school, “The children do all this literacy and numeracy, but what’s the point if they aren’t happy?” they asked.
At the end of the course, the group reported in real shift in their thinking. “They were very enthusiastic about the course,” said Alison. “They told me it made them really think about their values – and their faith – and how they shared those values with their children.”
Many of the women were looking forward to closer, more open relationships with their children and a great emphasis on the wellbeing of the family.
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