Reconnecting with life, reconnecting with happiness.

There is a lot of focus on mental health in the media at the moment, with people openly asking the question – “Why are the incidence of depression and anxiety rising so rapidly in the Western World?”

My aim in this post is to take Johann Hari’s 255 page “Lost Connections” book and distil a summary from this. Let’s start by outlining his list of connections:

Connections to:

  1. Meaningful work
  2. People and community
  3. Good values
  4. Status and respect
  5. The Natural World
  6. Hope for the future

If you consider the above list you quickly see that the direction that society is taking is reducing many peoples connections to a number of, of even all, of these areas. I have already found my way to items one, three, four and five. Lets unpack, rather more briefly than Hari, the above list, because if you can define the challenge you can look to work on solutions.

Meaningful work

A recent study suggested that only around 1/3 of the UK population enjoy the job which they do. That’s appalling! A key issue here is your extent of autonomy. Whilst autonomy might often rise with seniority that is far from always being the case.  There is a key difference between being told what to do and being told how to do it. Having someone prescribe the ‘how’ is a big problem, or at least it was for me. If you have staff reporting to you, trust them to know what they are doing. Depending on the role they may need different levels of direction, from broad-brush to specific. But within the needs of safety and quality allow them to do it their way. Not only is this better for mental health of the individual, if you are not using the thoughts and initiative of your employees you are missing out on a lot which they have to offer. If you want an automaton, buy a robot.

People & community

As a society we are becoming more individualistic. This is not a new phenomenon, you can see the roots of this in the thinking of the Renaissance, the replacement of monarchy by democracy and the birth of the Anglican and Non-conformist church. It’s not new. One of the key reasons why humans have flourished to a greater extent than other mammals is our ability to co-operate and work together. We have always worked best as a group or tribe, not as selfish disconnected individuals. Hari quotes an interesting study which shows that people who seek to promote the happiness of their community experience greater personal happiness than those who just seek their own fulfilment. Face to face interactions with friends are important too. Better to have 2-3 face to face relationships than several hundred connections via social media. By all means have both, but don’t – he mutes – allow the latter to overwhelm the former. Spend more time looking into the eyes of a friend than at a little screen in your hand.

Good Values

Depending on your cultural and faith background your view of good values may vary. But I’d suggest we could all agree on a list of junk values : consumerism, celebrity-worship, on-line curated popularity (i.e. having the perfect Instagram image), fast-fashion. What would you add to this list? That is a question I am meditating upon. What so many of these junk-values have in common is that their true role is to serve others and not us (or our community). We are becoming increasingly aware that these junk values are not just at our expense but are also at the expense of the planet and thus future generations.

Status & respect

Here Hari highlights that the happiness in countries where the gap between the richest and the poorest is smaller, happiness is greater. Read his book to know more. This one is a challenge, because as individuals most of us cannot influence these factors. However we can learn to be content with what we have and we can be more respectful of others. Also we could choose cast our vote for a leadership that shows preference to the poor rather than just the rich. Your view on who that is may vary.

The Natural World

There is mounting evidence that exercise and time outside is good for all aspects of our health. In addition it gives us a sense of perspective. It puts our challenges in their place and causes us to be less inward looking. If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll see how much I love the outdoors and spending ten months working on a sheep farm was instrumental in my recovery from burn out. Having a faith also helps with perspective, if you understand your position relative to your God that allows you to see things more realistically.  That the good in your life is bigger than your thought and the bad less significant than you give it credit for when you feel down. Even if faith is not your thing, ‘counting your blessings’ has been shown by the work of Dr Laurie Santos at Yale University to be highly beneficial to your well-being. Her interview on Radio Four is well worth a listen.

Hope for the future

Have plans, have dreams, think beyond tomorrow. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Increasingly we are being seen as part of a machine to keep the economy growing year on year. Stop conforming to the goals of the large corporations and set your own goals, challenging ones, and work towards them. But make those goals intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Do things which you love in their own right, not because of what they could lead to. I walk because I love the wild, not because it keeps me fit. I work for the satisfaction not simply for the money. I brew because I love the creative challenge, not because I want cheap beer.

I spent 13 years in school and seven years at University and was never taught any of the above. It’s time that messages such as the above were more widely known. Certainly they are concepts I plan to pass onto Junior. What has reading this summary made you think? I’d love to know.


3 thoughts on “Reconnecting with life, reconnecting with happiness.

  1. Pingback: Have we passed ‘Peak Specialization’ ? | weston.front

  2. Pingback: Roughing it… | weston.front

  3. Pingback: Being pro-active about your mental health – jogging for the soul. | weston.front

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