How do you solve the problem of human happiness? Happiness is often one of the answers that come from the question “What does work-life balance mean to you?” But what is happiness, and will it actually make a massive difference to our lives?
As part of The Balance Collective book club, we tried to find the answer through “The Happiness Project”, but were left with more head-scratching that life changes. So when I saw “HELP! (How to become slightly happier and get a bit more done), by journalist Oliver Burkeman (of “This Column will change your life” fame) I was immediately attracted to the good enough nature of the title. The fact it was described as “Addictive, wise and very funny” was an added bonus.
In the world of coaching, personal development, psychology and self-confessed “guru-ship”, too often the next big trend or approach comes out, claiming THAT has the answer to everything. I wonder if the perfectionist, “all or nothing” perspective that a lot of these books offer set people up to fail. In a world of changing demands and needs, somethings aren’t sustainable. Changing an approach makes you agile, not un-motivated.
And that, dear reader, is OK!
What we need to do is find a range of techniques and tricks that we can draw on when the situation needs it. A selection smorgasbord that we can use to increase happiness and productivity, just a tad, dependant on what we are doing, when we are doing, why we are doing it and who we are doing it for.
“HELP” is personal development 101. In the day job, Oliver has filtered through all the big self-help and business books of the time (bearing in mind that it was published in 2011). His satirical and humorous approach does not distract from the serious message of this book. NO ONE has all the answers; if we are interested in improvement, we need to absorb as much material as we can and pick out what works for us.
I make time for reading. It’s my “thing”; however, even at the ripe age of 38 (and counting), I doubt I could have made the time for the quantity that Oliver has got through. It’s an easy read, one you can pick and put down due to the nature of the book; themed chapters and subjects/books/technique synopsis covered in a couple of pages.
Titles such as “Why meetings should be abolished”, “The hidden pleasure of worry”, “ Are your possessions out to get you” “The contradictions of commuting” and my particular favourite “ Are you an asker or a guesser” give you an idea of the breadth of the scope of this book.
Your interest in the book will change depending on what you need from it at the time of reading. I am sure when I revisit it again in the future, the points that leap out of me will change, dependent on what I am looking to achieve at that time.
The ten chapters cover the core pillars of a healthy life as well as some interesting reflections and observations about areas of life we rarely discuss.
1. Change Everything, Right Now! A short tour of self-help’s biggest clichés
2. How to be Happier: Emotional Life
3. How to win friends and influence people: Social Life
4. How to Rule the Office: Work life
5. How to Get More Done: Productivity
6. How to Use Your Brain: Mental Life
7. How to Keep Functioning: Everyday life
8. Follow Me: Gurus, good-men and other Questionable Characters
9. Roads Less Travelled: Some unlikely paths to happiness
10. Further Adventures in Popular Psychology: Additional Reading and Resources
I truly could write on and on for the nuggets of insight, joy and introspective that this book gave me; I highly recommend you get it ASAP at any good bookshop (and a few bad ones too).
However, if you decide you don’t have the time or inclination, then these are the four points you need to take on board today!
1. Relish your imperfection
Let’s be blunt. No one, me included, is the finished article. Everything you go through, everyone you meet, adds to your life experience and will help you grow. If you ever get to a point that you think “I’m done”, then you need to take a good hard look at yourself.
2. Toxic Busyness
This is mentioned, in several ways through the book. How have we got to a point in life where busy = important. Stress = productivity. We are in control of how we react and the choices we make; we may just be trying to impact the things we can’t change!
3. It’s not all about you
We all spent so much time in our own heads, judging ourselves and second-guessing others; forgetting that it’s likely those around us are doing the same thing. People think highly of other people, so don’t be embarrassed about trying new things, or that self-defined awkward situation. It is likely those around you were either impressed or actually hadn’t noticed it, as they were mithering about making a good impression themselves!
4. Happiness isn’t what you think
Like work-life balance, we spend so much time aspiring to happiness with the wrong definition. Unsustainable highs. In fact, we can find happiness in the mundane, everyday events, even the joy you get when something uncomfortable finishes!
Like many of the non-fiction tomes I find myself attracted to, “HELP!” had me nodding my head in agreement all the way through. However, this is the first book in a while that has given me totally new perspectives on what I expect for my life and how that plays out in my day to day choices and behaviours. I never expected that.