Say hello to hap­pi­ness school

It’s a thing we’re all pur­su­ing, but are we look­ing in the right places? One WH staffer heads back to class to find out...

Women's Health Australia - - CONTENTS - By Alex Davies

Can some­one teach you to be happy? Class is in ses­sion...

Be­tween, ‘Did I ac­tu­ally shut the front door?’ and, ‘These tights are too see-through,’ a slightly more pro­found con­cern some­times hits me: ‘I don’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate life as much as I should.’ Maybe it’s the over-think­ing Gemini in me, but I do worry my 90-year-old self might shake her fist back at this 31-yearold for be­ing glued to her phone when there’s a view to en­joy, or halflis­ten­ing dur­ing chats with her mum.

Turns out there’s a class for this kind of mus­ing – which is where I wind up one Thurs­day evening at the Syd­ney branch of The School of Life, a global body ded­i­cated to boost­ing emo­tional in­tel­li­gence. Lead­ing the work­shop, called ‘How to en­joy life’, is an­thro­pol­o­gist Dr Monty Badami, whose life cre­den­tials in­clude moon­light­ing as a cel­e­brant, school ed­u­ca­tor and trainee army of­fi­cer.

Over the three hours, Badami takes our as­sorted crew of 12 strangers (from the twen­tysome­thing French yogi to the en­tre­pre­neur dad) through top­ics that I ex­pect (grat­i­tude, value, liv­ing in the present) and ones I don’t (death, art, ad­ver­tis­ing). Ini­tial hes­i­tancy aside, trad­ing our sto­ries and ideas be­comes con­nect­ing, hum­bling and, at times, a bit emo­tional. I leave feel­ing drained, but up­lifted. Is that what Badami wants?

“The chal­lenge is to get you folks ac­knowl­edg­ing the value of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and just sit­ting with the whole range of hu­man emo­tions. So, the fact that you were up­lifted and drained I think is re­ally im­por­tant to recog­nise,” he tells me. “We all have dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, re­ac­tions, feel­ings, and that’s cool be­cause we have so many dif­fer­ent ways to nav­i­gate the com­plex­ity of life.”

So what did I learn from go­ing back to school? That en­joy­ing life is far too com­plex a topic to try for an A+, but these tips are well worth not­ing.

Think Like An Artist

Dur­ing the work­shop, Badami clicks through a slideshow to a paint­ing of as­para­gus by Manet. Then a Cézanne still life of ap­ples. His point: artists see beauty in the or­di­nary and ap­pre­ci­ate things that are of­ten ne­glected. So, if we thought like that, what might we see dif­fer­ently? “When we look through the eyes of an artist, we see the mun­dane things as not just a part of the ev­ery­day we take for granted, but hav­ing a re­ally im­por­tant place in the world we live in,” Badami says. A woman to my right men­tions she could en­joy ar­chi­tec­ture more, while I think of the de­tails of my com­mute – the reg­u­lar faces on the bus, the view of the bay as we go over the Anzac Bridge. An­other guy men­tions his mother-in-law’s clut­tered house, and how the ob­jects she holds onto may have decades of in­trigu­ing his­tory. It’s a great re­minder to tap into and shed new light on our sur­round­ings. Con­tents of the crisper, in­cluded.

Cre­ate Ri­tu­als

Dur­ing the ses­sion, we’re asked to rate our­selves on how good we are at en­joy­ing life in the­ory us­ing a 1–10 scale. Then how good we are at putting that into prac­tice. We all ad­mit to far­ing bet­ter on the for­mer than the lat­ter. The thing is, says an un­sur­prised Badami, to ac­tu­ally do the things we love, some­times we need re­minders – or ri­tu­als. He gives us an ex­am­ple of one: he and his wife ded­i­cate an hour each week to catch­ing up over a cuppa. They do this mi­nus the kids, who know to en­ter­tain them­selves dur­ing the tea date. Ri­tu­als need a sym­bol (the cou­ple al­ways uses the same teapot), a prac­tice (tea-drink­ing, chat­ting) and a name (they call it ‘Tea for two’). I think about how much I love week­end brekkies with my part­ner, and what I can do to ce­ment that as more of a rit­ual – I land on pick­ing up two new Keep­cups we’ll use only over Satur­day brunch.

Find Your Love Drugs

Not the kind your doc (or that dodgy guy in your unit block) dishes out, but other mood-al­ter­ing items that give you an im­me­di­ate lift and all of the warm’n’fuzzy feels – a hot bath, mu­sic, a sweaty run, hugs with loved ones. Badami asks us to make a per­sonal list then, cru­cially, an­other list of the things we think we should value but re­ally don’t. (Face­tim­ing my sis­ter and the chai latte from my lo­cal cafe make it to my ‘drugs’ list, while night­clubs and clothesshop­ping top my other one.) He ex­plains, “If we can dis­en­tan­gle our sense of value from en­cul­tur­ated norms and pay at­ten­tion to what re­ally mat­ters to us ... and re­ally make a big deal of them, then we have a greater op­por­tu­nity to use those things to help us to en­joy life.”

Switch Up Your Ex­pec­ta­tions

I no­tice Badami rarely uses the word ‘happy’ in the work­shop, and ask him why. “Be­cause hap­pi­ness is only one of the many emo­tions we feel,” he says, frankly. “It’s great, but it’s in hon­esty, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and frailty that we re­ally con­nect and feel a part of some­thing big­ger be­cause we know we’re not alone.” He ar­gues that we shouldn’t strive for hap­pi­ness 24/7, be­cause that can mean avoid­ing chal­lenges es­sen­tial for growth. In­stead, he name-checks goals, such as mean­ing and ful­fil­ment, and pur­su­ing a ‘good enough’ life over a per­fect one. The word ‘vul­ner­a­bil­ity’ hits home at the end of the night when he asks us to write down the worst thing that’s hap­pened to us. He reads the anony­mous ex­pe­ri­ences out loud, pro­vid­ing the most poignant mo­ment of the work­shop. Shar­ing times of suf­fer­ing (loss, grief, re­gret, self-doubt) con­nects and makes us com­pas­sion­ate, which is “the beauty of our species”, says Badami. It’s a feel­ing of con­nec­tion that stays with me as I head home. How to en­joy life? With other peo­ple seems like a pretty great place to start.

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