“We are so overwhelmed with things these days that our lives are all, more or less, cluttered. I believe it is this, rather than a shortness of time, that gives us that feeling of hurry and almost of helplessness. Everyone is hurrying and usually just a little late. Notice the faces of the people who rush past on the streets or on our country roads! They nearly all have a strained, harassed look, and anyone you meet will tell you there is no time for anything anymore.”
This is such a perfect description of our modern ultra-fast world, isn’t it? Interestingly, this quote by Laura Ingalls Wilder was written in 1924, when Wilder lived in a small, rural community in the Ozarks of Missouri. Think about that for a moment. How many times do we say to ourselves, “I’d be so much happier if only life was slower as it was in the ‘good ol’ days’?”
Studies on happiness point to several interesting factors in developing a more serene attitude toward life. One such study examined the connection between non-egotistical emotions such as love, gratitude, and awe and a perceived slowing of time that results in happiness. According to the study, when we transfer the focus from ourselves to something, like nature, that inspires awe our problems and stresses seem small comparatively. This realization leads us to approach our lives with less seriousness. When this internal shift occurs, we find a greater sense of happiness despite our actual circumstances staying the same.
That’s a powerful concept. The speed of life is a perception brought about by our internal focus. Put more simply, taking time to “smell the roses” (being inspired by natural beauty) creates the sense of time slowing, resulting in happier people. While we may wish for a slower pace, the key to happiness actually lies in our own minds. Imagine if you will a country where simply making enough money to feed your family is a daily challenge. How much happiness do you think you’d find there? More than you think.
Ghana is just such a country. Making a living is a greater chore there than in many other places on the globe. Yet, in a survey of the citizens of 50 countries, Ghana ranks number 35 in terms of happiness. Research suggests that altruism – a quality found in abundance in Ghana –functions much the same as awe and love. It inspires those who experience it to step outside themselves for a moment and realize that their concerns, however real they may be, are small when compared to life as a whole.
What does this mean for happiness seekers in our modern day, high-tech world? Smartphone aficionados will be pleased to know they don’t have to turn in their gadgets. Nor must we retire from cities to live like Thoreau. All it takes is practice. Practice noticing the beauty of life around us; practice noticing the roses and the rain. If art is more to your liking, rather than catch-up on Facebook over your lunch hour tour the Louvre at www.louvre.fr/en. Looking at art that inspires a sense of awe provides more happiness than any online social network.
Spending an hour or two in a real life social network – a circle of friends – may also give us the nudge we need to step back, slow down, and be happier. If happiness still eludes you, talking to a trained therapist may help you open the doors to more happiness in your life.
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