Something has been bothering me recently. I've been noticing an ever growing number of a certain type of happiness quotes and posts cropping up.
And whilst overall I most certainly agree with their general gist, I am left feeling a little uncomfortable every time another one (and another one) pops up.
I'm talking about this sort of thing:
"Happiness isn't happiness unless it's shared"
"The point of happiness is to give it away"
"if you want to make yourself happy, make someone else happy"
"spend less time thinking about yourself and more time thinking about others"
I'm paraphrasing but you get the gist.
Now then, these things are all true. To a certain extent.
But a huge, massive, giant part of being happy is all about self. Looking after yourself, understanding yourself, being kind to yourself, liking yourself, spending time with yourself, giving yourself a break. Understanding what it is that truly makes YOU happy.
One major reason why happiness eludes many of us is because we don't ever put ourselves first. I worked on an ad campaign several years ago which centred on this very insight. At the time we had some research showing that women, on average across the course of their lives, spend 21 years looking after other people rather than themselves. 21 YEARS! When interviewed they found it nigh on impossible to talk about themselves. Really about themselves - not about their children, work, husband, friends.
One major reason why I set out on this happiness quest of my own was because somewhere along the line I had lost 'me'.
Ok, so both of those facts are only about women but we're not alone!
There's a reason why the safety information on an aeroplane advises we put on our own oxygen masks before helping others.
It's because if we don't look out for and after ourselves we are in absolutely no fit state to even contemplate looking out for and after anybody else.
We owe it to other people to care for ourselves and concern ourselves with our own happiness first and foremost. It's not selfish, it's just the decent thing to do.
So yes, it is true, that one of the ways to boost happiness is to share and experience it with others. But first it is really important to be able to cultivate it and enjoy it ourselves, in our own company. There's a quote I love..."if you smile when nobody else is around, you really mean it" (Andy Rooney). Learn to really smile by yourself... and then share it.
And yes, another sure fire way to make yourself happy is to make somebody else happy...but not if by making somebody else happy you are stifling yourself, ignoring your own needs or in some way undermining your own happiness.
I know there are many many general rules of thumb when it comes to happiness and not all of them will work for all of us, that's fine. But this particular flavour of general message, in my opinion, just doesn't sit so well. It needs to come with a little bit more context to be more helpful than potentially harmful. Sometimes it feels as if I'm being told off for wanting my own happiness when I read some of these messages and that absolutely shouldn't be the point. In fact, one of the very best ways to spread happiness is just to be happy yourself. It's contagious.
So, happiness, yes, do share it, absolutely.
But first make sure you have it to give in the first place.
And whatever you do please don't just give it carelessly away.