A post from our Project Manager @rosiehopes
It’s not often that happiness makes the headlines, so it is quite exciting to see the news that the Dalai Lama has endorsed an evening course called “Exploring What Matters”, from Action for Happiness.
The programme is nothing if not ambitious. It aims to provide a sort of secular Alpha course, run by volunteers across the country, which according to the BBC website is “scientifically proven to increase mental wellbeing”. I can’t think of an attempt to improve mental wellbeing on such a scale and it will be fascinating to see what impact it has, on our communities as well as the individuals who attend.
And yet… and yet… there’s something about it that just doesn’t quite fit with what we’ve learned at Mind Waves. Don’t get me wrong. Action for Happiness a great organisation and it all seems like good advice. And far be it from me to disagree with the Dalai Lama. But there’s something about the words “scientifically proven” that makes me feel uneasy.
I’m sure there’s good evidence that taking part in the programme has increased life satisfaction for many of the participants. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Mind Waves it’s that there is no magic recipe for happiness. Every one of our Community Correspondents has found a different route to recovery, from poetry to marathon running. And of course, for some people, Mind Waves just wasn’t right. We miss them, but we wish them well. It’s not for everyone. We’re all different and that’s the point. There’s no scientifically proven way to fix our ennui.
But it’s not just the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach that bothers me. It’s the fact that lots of people have really good reasons to be miserable. If you’re unwell, living from week to week, relying on food banks, facing benefit sanctions, I really don’t think that the solution is a course in happiness.
That’s what really worries me. Of course having a sense of purpose, feeling part of your community and exercising can improve your wellbeing, no matter how tough things are. But I can’t help feeling that, if we’re looking at large scale policies to improve happiness, we have to improve the circumstances, not just expect people to change their attitude. Sorry Mr Lama.