From ancient civilisations to the modern day, philosophers, writers, artists, religious leaders, and health practitioners – to name a few – have debated the questions: 'What is happiness?' and 'How can we achieve it?' In this book, we take a meandering journey through the rich philosophical landscape of contentment, by way of Norse mythology, Persian symbolism, Scandinavian lifestyle, Buddhist teachings, and Aristotle’s theories. By exploring the many different facets of research and thinking on happiness, not only will we better understand this elusive concept, but we will also be armed with an array of practical ways to improve our personal wellbeing. In a world obsessed with happiness, How to be Content is a chance to take stock of this age-old question – we may just discover that we already have the answer!
About the Author
Dr. Arlene Unger is a California-based clinical psychologist and wellness coach, with thirty years of experience in the field. In her busy practice, The Empowerment Center, she emphasises the need to find life balance – and to let go of the judgment and self-criticism that can hold us back. She blends clinical expertise with her intuition and imagination, treating people face-to-face but also specializing in online coaching and counseling. She uses a wide range of therapeutic tools, including Mindfulness, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and Emotional Brain Training.
Jo Parry is a professional illustrator and artist. She describes her artwork as "fun, bold, colour-inspired and unpretentious" and usually works in soft pastels. Her hobbies outside the artistic field include photography, travel, sport and cooking.
Read an Excerpt
THE NATURAL WORLD
'There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more.'
A BRIGHT NEW DAY
A s the pre-eminent source of life-giving energy, illumination and warmth, the sun symbolizes positivity, vitality and joyfulness. Since ancient times, people have recognized the power of the sun and have invented stories to explain its passage across the sky, its rising and setting, its relationship with the darkness and the moon. Advanced civilizations, such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, recognized it as a source of power and used it as a symbol of authority and kingship.
Gods of Light
All ancient belief systems contain stories about the sun, but none are more complex or varied than those of the Greeks. In their mythology Apollo, a kind of divine poet, was the god of creativity and sunlight. He was known by epithets such as Aegletes, 'the light of the sun', Phanaeus, 'the giver of light', and Phoebus, 'brightly shining'. The sun itself, meanwhile, was personified as Helios. Every morning, Helios emerged from the east, driving a golden chariot drawn by fire-breathing horses. Each day's ride would end in the western land of the Hesperides, and the horses of Helios would rest on the Blessed Isles, where they grazed on magic herbs. As a god of light, Helios was considered to be all-knowing and all-seeing – and so, to the modern mind, he stands for the gift of self-awareness that is an integral part of happiness.
BASK IN THE LIGHT
'Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and the shadows will fall behind you.'
Scientists are discovering that natural daylight is key to our well-being. One American study found that people who worked near a window were more active and slept better than those in windowless offices. Another study, from Cornell University, discovered that nurses working near natural light were not only more alert but they laughed more and were nicer to patients than colleagues who spent their shift in mostly artificial light. So, as a simple way to lift your mood, bring more light into your life.
1. If it is light when you wake up, throw open the blinds or curtains straight away and spend a few moments looking out of the window. Maximize the amount of natural light in your home and try to gravitate towards the window when you are doing something like reading or crafts.
2. Spend time outdoors every lunchtime. Exposure to daylight helps boost levels of feel-good serotonin in the body, so is a natural mood lifter.
3. Find something you like doing outdoors – this is easy if you enjoy team sports or running, or if you like gardening. If not, then try incorporating walking into your journey to work – perhaps by getting off a stop earlier or by parking further away from your destination. Persuade friends to meet for a walk rather than a coffee, find an outdoor t'ai chi class, or sit and watch the world go by from a bench in a park.
Natural light triggers the body's production of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), a lack of which has been connected to depression. So if you are feeling low, try upping the time you spend outside.
THE GARDENER'S HELPMATE
The brilliant scarlet coat of the ladybird is a cheery sight, and many traditions around the world link this little beetle with good fortune and happy events. Most cultures hold that it is unlucky to kill one; a Swedish superstition says if a ladybird lands on a young woman's hand it signals that she will soon be married, Austrians consider them a portent of good weather, the Chinese believe it fortuitous to find a ladybird in the home, and an old English superstition says that ladybirds carry off illness when they fly away.
By Any Other Name
The world over, this beautiful little creature has a colourful, interesting and often religious name. One English tale holds that once a swarm of aphids invaded the fields. Worried for their harvest, countryfolk prayed to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, for her help. A host of scarlet-cloaked little beetles appeared and devoured the pests, saving the ripening crops. The beetles were dubbed 'Our Lady's bird' in the Virgin's honour. Other European languages also make an honorific link with Mary. In German, a ladybird is a Marienkäfer, a 'Mary-beetle'; and in Spain it is mariquita, a 'Little Mary'. In other languages, God himself – and animals other than birds – are invoked. Russian for ladybird is bozhya korovka, 'God's little cow'. The French dialect term vache à dieu means the same thing, though in some parts of France a ladybird is a poulette de la Madone – Madonna's chicken.
'One who plants a garden plants happiness.'
Take inspiration from the ladybird and get out into the garden – spending time here could be the secret to feeling happier. One UK study found that 80 per cent of gardeners proclaimed themselves satisfied with life (compared with 67 per cent of non-gardeners), while a US study of 600 gardeners discovered that five hours or more a week spent tending the garden led to a significant increase in contentment. In fact, there is so much evidence to show that gardening can make us happy that some doctors are recommending it as a form of therapy to patients with depression. Here's how to introduce a little ecotherapy into your life.
Be here now When you garden, focus all your attention on what you are doing, moment by moment. Gift yourself this time to be truly present.
Let go of judgement Don't worry about how good you are at gardening, or your previous successes or failures. Decide on a task and do it methodically and without an internal commentary.
Be deadline-free Enjoy being in the garden for as long as feels right for you – it could be ten minutes, it could be a couple of hours. There's no need to watch the clock.
Go by instinct You don't need a degree in design to create a beautiful garden. Enjoy the process of going by instinct, deciding to move that pot here or plant this shrub there.
Indulge the senses Become aware of the colours and patterns around you; breathe in the aromas; note the textures of the plants; hear the sounds of the birds and insects; and allow yourself to taste any fruit or vegetables you grow straight from the ground or the tree.
Get your hands dirty Soil contains a bacterium that is thought to trigger the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin – yet another reason why gardening gives us a boost.
Grow your own There's nothing more joyous than the sight of your own home-grown produce – scientists have found that harvesting your own fruit or vegetables can give you a mini-high.
Pause and be Don't feel you need to be constantly working; stop from time to time and enjoy this beautiful moment. Stand and watch the ladybird in flight or at rest, or marvel at some of the many other creatures that make their home in the garden.
FOOD FOR THE SOUL
'Divide an orange — it tastes just as good.'
We all know that it is good to eat fruit and vegetables for our health, but did you know they can also make you feel happier? A study of more than 12,000 people by the University of Queensland, Australia, and the University of Warwick in the UK found that people felt happier with every piece of fruit or vegetable they added to their daily diet, up to eight portions a day. So it's official: eating healthily is good for your mood. Here are other foodie tips that help your happiness levels.
Go natural Generally speaking, the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you. Keep foods that are highly processed to a minimum.
Be complex Carbohydrates, like rice and potatoes, help to increase the amount of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. That's why we turn to crisps and pastries when we need a lift. But the effect doesn't last long and our mood crashes back down. Go for complex carbs – wholegrains such as oats or brown rice – which have a much slower serotonin effect.
Drink water Keeping hydrated helps to regulate your mood. If you find yourself feeling snappy or tired, try drinking a glass of water and see if that helps. Avoid having too much caffeine, especially after lunch, because it affects sleep and can make you jittery.
Eat regularly Skipping meals can have a big effect on your mood. Eating breakfast means you are less likely to reach for a sugary snack mid-morning; if you don't have time for lunch, go for a couple of smaller meals evenly spaced throughout the day.
THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS
The charming bluebird is an enduring symbol of joy worldwide. The deep blue of its plumage recalls the heavens – and so the promise of eternal happiness in many legends. For many Native Americans, the bluebird is an important symbol of spring and transition, and its beautiful song is considered to be the herald of spring (like the cuckoo's call in Europe). The Navajo people link the bluebird's song to the dawn, the daily rather than the yearly return to light and warmth. In European fairy tales, the bluebird appears as a symbol of hope and as a reminder that true happiness lies in the simple pleasures of life, which are there for all of us if only we can realize it.
Symbol of Happiness
The modern-day popularity of the bluebird stems from Maurice Maeterlinck's play The Blue Bird in 1908, which was based on a French story in which two children are sent on a journey to find the bluebird of happiness. They face many perils and ultimately fail in their quest – until they return home and discover that the bluebird was in their possession all along, in the form of a pet bird. The hopeful message that happiness is always within our grasp made the play hugely popular and it inspired seven films, a children's novel and an opera. The American song 'Bluebird of Happiness' followed in 1934. In the same decade two other hugely popular songs – 'Over the Rainbow' and 'The White Cliffs of Dover' – mention bluebirds as symbols of the hope for happiness.
APPRECIATING SMALL PLEASURES
Is our happiness really in our grasp, as the tale of The Blue Bird suggests? In lots of ways it is, because no matter how tricky our current situation may be, it is always possible to appreciate what we have and find moments of contentment in the simplest of things. The fact is that most of us go through the motions as we go about our day, so we miss out on many of the tiny joys that are already a part of it. If only we could live more in the moment.
A cup of joy Spend five minutes in the morning savouring a cup of tea or coffee – or a glass of water. Simply let go of the need to do anything else while you are drinking and appreciate each sip.
Time to pause Arrive a few minutes early when you are meeting a friend or have an appointment. Leave your phone in your bag or pocket, and use this time to sit, breathe, and look around you.
Beauty all around Make a point of finding something beautiful to appreciate every day on your journey to work – a pretty flower or shrub, the smile of a passer-by, an interesting building. If you really can't find anything, vary your route to work!
Looking up We get used to looking slightly down as we walk along. Every now and then, stop and look up the sky – remind yourself that the world is bigger than you.
Hold hands There's a reason that we instinctively do this in times of troubles – it reduces stress. And holding hands with someone you care about is a great way to reconnect.
Make eye contact When you get a compliment, say thank you. If someone holds a door open for you, or lets you go ahead of them, acknowledge it. Once you are on the lookout, you will realize that you are the recipient of many small acts of kindness every day.
'How doth the little busy Bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From ev'ry op'ning flow'r!'
A bee flies up to 10 miles (16km) a day to collect pollen and nectar for the hive, heading out over and over again in search of new, untapped flowers. It is estimated that more than two million flowers are visited to make a single pound (454g) of honey.
Thus the bee has rightly come to represent hard work, while the hive, with its strict social structure and well-organized community, has come to epitomize togetherness and working for the common good, both of which have been found to be an integral part of a happy life.
Melissa is the scientific name for the bee, as well as the name of a mountain-nymph in Greek myth. In one version of her story, Melissa discovers honeycomb and introduces it to mankind; in another, she also saves the baby Zeus from his murderous father, feeding him honey to help him thrive. Melissa is transformed into an earthworm as a punishment for defying the evil deity, but Zeus, who later becomes king of the gods, turns her into the bee so she can continue to reap the sweet reward of good deeds.
VOLUNTEER FOR HAPPINESS
There is something very appealing about the unselfish work ethic of the bee – and it is a character trait worth emulating. Doing things for the good of others gives you a 'helper's high'. It seems that this kind of altruism activates the part of our brain connected to a sense of reward and pleasure. Volunteering also allows you to engage with your community, which is linked to greater life satisfaction. You don't have to devote huge amounts of time and energy either – every little helps – but one study by researchers at the London School of Economics found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Here's how to make the most of volunteering:
Love what you do Giving because you feel you have to can be counterproductive, so try to volunteer both in a way that feels enjoyable and for a cause you believe in. For example, if you are passionate about animals, then helping in a rescue centre might be a perfect fit for you; if you enjoy gardening, then perhaps a local hospital or park needs people to help maintain the grounds.
Work your way Do you love the camaraderie of a team, or prefer to achieve things on your own? Or would you prefer to volunteer with a friend to make it more enjoyable?
Open your mind Volunteering can allow you to learn new skills or try new things, so don't be too rigid about what you do.
Make a commitment Be realistic about how much time you have to volunteer – two hours a week, one afternoon a month – and stick to it. If an ad-hoc arrangement suits you better, find an occasional opportunity such as a beach clean.
Factor in the travel time A lengthy journey to an organization may tip the balance in favour of one that is closer to home. Do what makes volunteering feel easy and fun.
Be prepared to learn Ask questions when you need to, take notes, shadow an experienced volunteer. You'll get far more out of a volunteering experience when you know what you are doing.
FIND YOUR PLACE
There are all kinds of ways to find volunteering opportunities: ring an organization that you want to support or check out their website, contact your local government office or search 'how to volunteer in [your local area]' on the Internet. And be prepared to persevere: voluntary organizations are often short-staffed so may take a while to get back to you.
RAIN AND SHINE
The iridescent rainbow has long been associated with optimism and is a promise of contentment after a period of difficulty, because it is a result of sunshine after rain. Evidence shows that an attitude of hope pays dividends when it comes to your overall contentment, and the good news is that you can train yourself to become more optimistic. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or negative, ask yourself these three simple questions to help shift your attitude towards the positive end of the spectrum.
How long will this issue last? If you have a problem, consider how long it is going to affect you. Be realistic and avoid exaggeration. An optimist will recognize that the difficulty will shift in time.
How much of my life is affected? It's easy to see a single issue or problem as pervading everything and stopping you from doing anything you enjoy. Optimists acknowledge that one situation is only part of a whole. Challenge yourself to find positive things in your life that remain unaffected.
How can I help myself? You may not be able to fix every problem, but think what will help with your current situation – this may mean being patient and allowing events to unfold, it may involve positive action, or it may mean focusing on taking care of yourself so that you are better able to cope. Often you'll find that releasing the need to end or fix a situation will in itself open up new possibilities.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How to be Content"
Copyright © 2018 Quarto Publishing plc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Seeking Happiness, 6,
CHAPTER ONE The Natural World,
CHAPTER TWO Cultures Around the World,
CHAPTER THREE Mythology & Folklore,
CHAPTER FOUR Philosophers, Writers & Poets,
Discover More Joy, 174,
About the Authors & Illustrator, 175,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed reading this book. The authors have done a wonderful job of organizing the book. Each chapter is helpful for a particular topic and offers practical tips drawn from different cultures. Also included are inspirational quotations. More information for further study is in the back. This book is perfect for daily use. Enjoy
January is often a time for self-reflection and thoughts about how one wants to live over the next twelve months. That makes January feel like the perfect time for this book. It is divided into four sections: The Natural World, Cultures Around the World, Mythology and Folklore and lastly, Philosophers, Writers and Poets. Each section includes reflections, cultural examples and exercises for one to try. The book can be read in order or dipped into. It is recommended for anyone who is trying to figure out how to live their best life. Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto for this e-galley in return for my honest opinion.
This is a pleasant, easy to read practical guide for a more mindful and contented life. The author takes us on a journey from ancient civilizations to modern society in the quest for contentment. The book is short and compact, presenting meaningful wisdom along with conscientious practices.