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Reboot your brain for 2017

Reboot your brain for 2017

Of all the courses there are out there, there’s one in particular that promises to lay the groundwork for achieving what we all desire: happiness. What use, after all, is a degree in Food Science, a diploma in Business Management, or a certificate in Survival Skills if our underlying ‘operating system’ is broken, preventing us from experiencing pleasure or self-actualisation? Surely there is more to life than the acquisition of skills and the creation of wealth?

Research has shown that our genes influence about 50% of variation in our personal happiness, and our income and environment affect just 10%. The remaining 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. How can we become more aware of the choices open to us, gain more control over our own happiness and rediscover the joy in everyday life?

With a patron none other than the Dalai Lama – palpably one of the world’s most cheerful people – Action For Happiness has convincing credentials as a place to start. It is a social movement existing to promote the central ideas of a free 8-week course called Exploring What Matters. Action For Happiness was founded in 2010 by three men with professional interests in the creation, spread and maintenance of happiness:

  • Professor Richard Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics and Director of the LSE’s Wellbeing Programme at the Centre For Economic Performance
  • Geoff Mulgan, government economics advisor and CEO of Nesta, an innovation foundation aiming to improve how the world works for everyone
  • Anthony Seldon, contemporary historian, commentator and political author.

The aim of the organisation is to build a happier and more caring society. It has no religious affiliation and is founded on purely humanist and utilitarian principles. The course focuses on what makes people happy, which includes:

  • developing quality of relationships rather than quantity
  • building a positive environment at our workplaces
  • doing kind things for others
  • bringing mindfulness into our day
  • looking for the good in those around us
  • finding three good things each day
  • keeping on learning new things
  • being comfortable with who we are

If that sounds a bit obvious or dippy, it isn’t. All the practices espoused by the course are supported by research, which is presented during the course as evidence that they do actually work to raise happiness levels. Exploring What Matters consists of 8 weekly 2-hour sessions, each with a theme such as What really matters in life? or How should we treat others? The format is the same at each session:

  • Tuning In: mindfulness exercises
  • Expert View: a 15-minute TED-style talk from an expert
  • Personal View: reflection on personal experiences
  • Did You Know?: research findings on happiness
  • Group Discussion: talking and listening
  • Action Ideas: action points for the week

Action For Happiness is a British movement, and most of the course locations are in the UK. If you are in the UK, why not find one near you and attend the free course? It could make 2017 the best year yet.

For a quick introduction to meditation, try this online Mindfulness Masterclass.