The Secret of Happiness
‘If a man says he has the secret to happiness, don’t listen to him. He is a charlatan!’ started the lovable Leo Bormans who describes himself as ‘a little Belgian fellow’, though he is also the author of the World Book of Happiness which has been sent to 52 world leaders by the head of the European Union.
He started his speaking career as a boy, standing on soap boxes and reciting poems while his salesman father visited small grocers’ shops of rural Belgium. ’Every time I recited a poem, I got an ice-cream’, so it is perhaps no wonder that he seemed naturally at home on the stage of the Conway Hall, London on Wednesday night.
He does not pretend to be groundbreaker, and makes no secret of the fact that he has learnt from 3000 academics worldwide who are studying happiness. But what he does have is enthusiasm. His talk is perhaps a condensed version of the psychologists’ most positive findings, delivered in a way that makes us believe we all have the ability to improve our own happiness and that of the wider world.
‘Isn’t happiness about having enough of everything?’ he asks…’Yes, it’s true, you do need a certain amount of money to be happy. But beyond that, having more money will not necessarily make you more happy.’
So to demonstrate he played a little game, and you can join in too. Leo said: ‘Close your eyes and think of a happy moment. One happy moment in your life. Not your wedding or the birth of your child, since these are big one-off events but just a single everyday, happy moment. Like a photo. A snapshot…. Got it?’
So if you would like to play this game, make sure you have your happy moment firmly in mind before you click here.
Interestingly, said Leo, we tend to do the opposite of the things which he has just proved make us happy. ’Why do we rush around from Oxford Street to Regent Street doing all this Christmas shopping if we know that the things we buy will not make us happy.’
‘If we know that surprise makes us happy, why do we always do the same? Why do we get up in the morning at the same time each day? Leave the house at the same time each day? And have sex in the dark?’ he asked to the sound of delayed laughter. ‘The reason is that you can’t surprise yourself, you are someone else’s surprise!’
‘When we know that other people are important why are we living in this world of I and my and me and myself? And why when we know the importance of positive feedback, why are we always criticising all the time and telling everybody what’s wrong?’
Leo blames our childhoods which were shaped by negative teachers and critical parents, where we learnt to imitate this art of cynicism and negativity. On the other hand, there were people in childhood who encouraged us, he reminds, and empowered us, inspiring us to be the bright and energetic people we are today. The audience was warming to the theme, and enjoyed hearing about Bhutan, a country where happiness is measured and there are ten Ministers for Happiness, one in each government department.
‘Governments who want to make their people happier should think about equality, not wealth, because the happiest countries tend to be the ones where people think they are roughly equal to everyone else both in status, power and wealth. Trust is the other big component. In nations where there is a high level of trust between citizens and in that country’s institutions, people tend to be happier overall than in other countries.’
But our own mind is something that we can change, of this Leo is convinced. ‘There are optimists and there are pessimists. Red buttons and Green buttons’, as he describes them. ‘The Green buttons are the optimists and there is a huge correlation between optimistic people and happy people. So are you an optimist?’ he asks. ‘It’s quite simple and here’s how to find out…
Pessimists think about the past, themselves and their problems.
Optimists think about the future, about ‘we’, and about solutions.
Suddenly no-one wanted to be a pessimist and we all wanted to hear more about how to be an optimist. ‘Optimists also tend to be flexible people who embrace change and hope. Pessimists tend to be fearful, afraid of change and stuck in their ways. And they come with a health warning, since study after study has shown that an optimistic person in a sea of pessimists will become pessimistic. It’s like a virus!’ shouts Leo, (lots of laughter). ‘But I’m serious! So for goodness sake, whatever you are, go and surround yourself with optimistic happy people, don’t hang around with the red buttons!’
‘But I’m married to one!’ shouted one woman. More laughter.
‘The pessimists fear is fuelled by gloomy media that continually reports the distressing side of world affairs without any attempt to balance the case with optimistic aspects of the same story. We are also made to feel inadequate by marketing campaigns that suggest we are inadequate or incomplete without the latest must have pants or body implant, or that we will instantly feel good if we are drinking or eating the food they are selling’. So your gloomy other half needs to turn off the telly and stop reading the papers for a start.
‘But I didn’t come here to just talk to you, now we are going to do something. If we don’t do something, nothing can change.’ And so to demonstrate, we carried out a little change experiment which you will see in the video.
It goes without saying that we all went away on a buzz, few even needing to take up the invitation to go to the pub for a drink. Who needs drink when you have a lion in your heart and, for those senior moments, Leo’s book under your arm.
World Book of Happiness by Leo Bormans.
The event was organised by Action for Happiness which is a movement for positive social change.