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In Pursuit of Happiness | Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

In Pursuit of Happiness | Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

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Published by Tim Antric
Sustainable happiness links well with the determinants of health, wellbeing, and so on. A true happiness might be based on freedom from poverty, inequity, injustice, violence, loneliness, racism and other unfairness and discrimination. It is a happiness linked to progress, better education, better health, greater equality, and more choice, and opportunity for all.
Sustainable happiness links well with the determinants of health, wellbeing, and so on. A true happiness might be based on freedom from poverty, inequity, injustice, violence, loneliness, racism and other unfairness and discrimination. It is a happiness linked to progress, better education, better health, greater equality, and more choice, and opportunity for all.

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Published by: Tim Antric on Jul 05, 2009
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mentalhealth.org.nz>Newsletters>MindNet> In pursuit of happiness Issue 12 - Summer 07/08ISSN 1178-2587
In pursuit of happiness
By Tim Antric
Tim Antric was project manager for the national depression campaign at the Mental HealthFoundation. Tim finished at the Foundation inDecember 2007.
"the best policy produces greatest Happiness"(Bentham)Across Oceania, and indeed the world, happinessand how to find it are increasingly in vogue. TheDalai Llama can fill an auditorium. Conferencesand groups to discuss the subject abound.Infomercials we are exposed to all promise anincreased measure of life satisfaction andhappiness through the new dietary supplement,the exercise machine and the self-improvementcourse.This obsession with happiness and its pursuit canbe seen throughout the ages. Aristotle wrote aboutit. Dickens apparently explored his own search for happiness through his novels and today, Googleoffers over 2 million pages (with more being addedall the time) on the pursuit of happiness.We all have an idea of what it is to be happy. Myfavoured online resource, Wikipedia.org describesit as "an emotional or affective state that ischaracterised by feelings of enjoyment andsatisfaction".That is to say happiness is about feeling good and enjoying life where everything is wonderful. As JohnSchumaker (2006) puts it, "happiness is the new religion and how readily available it is."This understanding of happiness as the 'fleeting buzz' is at odds with the history of happiness in Westernthought [apologies to those traditions excluded by this statement].Instead, we should return to ideas around sustainable happiness.Sustainable happiness links well with the determinants of health, wellbeing, and so on. A true happiness mightbe based on freedom from poverty, inequity, injustice, violence, loneliness, racism and other unfairness anddiscrimination. It is a happiness linked to progress, better education, better health, greater equality, and morechoice, and opportunity for all.How closely does this fit with our models of and theories for health promotion?Mental Health Awareness Week 2007 provided yet another opportunity to promote health and happiness, andto challenge loneliness, isolation, racism, etc in our communities.
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In research literature, there is an increasing focus on happiness and research suggests:that most people value happiness (they think about it often and are happy most of the time),that family, community and relationships are key to happiness,that increased consumption doesn't lead to happinessthat acceptance by, and meaningful participation in the community increases happinessthat contact with nature increases happinessFrom this, it might seem that achieving happiness as a society is a relatively simple thing. We know that it'simportant to us and taking a few small steps towards happiness will surely lead to improvements in health.Derek Cox, a Director of Public Health in Scotland, suggests that happiness is one of the most powerfulpredictors of population health, more so than tobacco use, activity rates or diet. Indeed, he suggests that happypeople live on average nine years longer than unhappy people.We know from surveys of the public that happiness is about relationships, contentment, security and money,health and fulfilment. It is about escaping the stress and pace of modern life, building and supporting qualitysocial relationships and increasing participation in society.If all these factors can lead to improvements in health, isn't it time to bring happiness into our health promotionplanning?We must use the language of the people and talk of joy and happiness, sadness and distress rather thanmental health and mental health promotion. Using this language will, according to Mary O'Hagan, MentalHealth Commissioner, address the lack of understanding of mental health promotion and increase ownershipfor our activities. It will enable communities to truly own the work to increase their happiness and health.I take Professor Margaret Barry's idea that mental health promotion includes promoting positive mental health,preventing and detecting mental illness and promoting health in people with experience of mental illness. Itincludes happiness, subjective well-being, mental well-being, life satisfaction and quality of life.Effective mental health promotion needs to include:the symbiotic relationships between life, liberty, morality and happinessthe relationship between individual and group happinessthe Government's role in creating the environment in policy terms within which citizens can experiencehappinessthe active pursuit of happinessBUT it must also reflect the language of the communities we work with.The Ministry of Social Development has begun to measure subjective happiness, and to increase investment inprogrammes that will have impact here. It's time to expand this to other areas and work together to increasehappiness and improve health.Some of the areas we can begin to claim in the pursuit of happiness include:Increasing opportunities for community involvement. This can be seen in many health promotionprogrammes in New ZealandReducing stigma and discrimination (example: Like Minds Like Mine programme)Increasing physical activity (example: SPARC's Mission On and Push Play)Advocating for reducing income disparity (if we pay more tax as we work harder than we will have morereason to reduce our work and spend more time with our friends and families, and don't forget an extra$1 gives more happiness to poor people than rich people - taxes create happiness!)Encouraging people to reduce commuting and travel time. (According to Professor Robert Putnam fromHarvard University, every 10 minutes spent commuting cuts social involvement by 10%, which equals10% fewer family dinners, 10% fewer club meetings)Lobbying for Government policies based on social wellbeing or happiness measuresLobbying for reductions or bans on the level of advertising. (It will certainly make our children happier asevidence from the UK suggests that the more brand aware children are, the less satisfied they are!)Most of the actions we can take to increase happiness will also enable us to experience the full range of humanemotions that are so central to the human condition, resulting in improved health in our society and apopulation better able to support one another.
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Finding happiness means creating better health in our communities, and changing our language can onlyincrease interest in, and support for, our work.Suggested reading listMarks N, Simms A, Thompson S and Abdallah S (July 2006) The Happy Planet Index: An index of humanwell-being and environmental impact. U.K.: New Economics.Hansson L (2006) Determinants in quality of life in people with severe mental illness. Acta Psychiatr ScandSuppl, 2006 (429): 46 - 50.Eckersley R, Wierenga A & Wyn J (2006) Success & wellbeing: a preview of the Australia 21 report on youngpeople's wellbeing. Youth Studies Australia, Volume 25, Number 1, March 2006: 10 - 18.Easthope G & White Rob (2006) Health & wellbeing: how do young people see these concepts? Youth StudiesAustralia, Volume 25, Number 1, March 2006: 42 - 49.Lewis CA & Cruise SM (2006) Religion and happiness: consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns.Religion and Culture, Volume 9, Number 3, June 2006: 213 - 225.Drukker M, Kaplan C, Schneiders J, Feron F & van Os J (2006) The wider social environment and changes inself-reported quality of life in the transition from late childhood to early adolescence: a cohort study. BMC PublicHealth 2006, 6:133.Jopp Daniela, Rott Christoph (2006) Adaptation in Very Old Age: Exploring the Role of Resources, Beliefs, andAttitudes for Centenarians' Happiness. Psychology & Aging. 21(2):266-280.Caho S, Liu H, Wu C, Jin S, Chu T, Huang T & Clark M (2006) The effects of group reminiscence therapy ondepression, self esteem and life satisfaction of elderly nursing home residents. Journal of Nursing Research,March 2006, 14 (1): 36 - 45.Tkach C & Lyumbomirsky S (2006) How do people pursue happiness? Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies and wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 2006, 7:183 - 225.Drukker M, Kaplan C, Schneiders J, Feron F & Van Os J (2006) The wider social environment and changes isself-reported quality of life in the transition from late childhood to early adolescent: a cohort study. BMC PublicHealth, May 2006, 6: 133.Duncan G (2006) What do we mean by 'happiness'? The relevance of subjective wellbeing to social policy.Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, Issue 25, July 2005: 16 - 31.Bone Alistair (2006) 'The science of happiness'. Listener, 17 March 2006.Ferguson KM (2006) Social capital and children's wellbeing: a critical synthesis of the international socialcapital literature. International Journal of Social Welfare, January 2006, 15 (1):2 - 18.(Upated January 2006) Literature Review: cultural wellbeing & local government. New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage.Cultural wellbeing and local government: Report 1: Definitions and contexts of cultural wellbeinghttp://www.mch.govt.nz/cwb/pdfs/report1.pdf Cultural wellbeing and local government: Report 2: Resources for developing cultural strategies and measuringcultural wellbeing http://www.mch.govt.nz/cwb/pdfs/report2.pdf Cultural wellbeing: and local government. Report 3: Bibliography http://www.mch.govt.nz/cwb/pdfs/report3.pdf Eckersley R (2005) Is modern Western culture a health hazard? International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume35, Number 2: 252 - 258.Keyes CLM (2005) Mental illness and/or mental health? Investigating axioms of the complete state of mentalhealth. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2005, Vol 75, No 3: 539 - 548.(2004) Well-being manifesto for a flourishing society. Netherlands: New Economics Foundation, ErasmusUniversity Rotterdam.Diener E & Seligman M (2004) Beyond money: towards an economy of wellbeing. Psychological Science in the
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