boy focussed on writing in notebookThe pursuit of happiness seems to be a 21st century obsession.

Often we chase security, adventure, influence, money, status, relationships – or not. Frequently things like gadgets, shoes, books, cars… All these and more are things we think will make us happy. Yet, in and of themselves, they are not happiness.

Certainly, money helps. Yet once we get above what it takes to live comfortably in our society or our social circle, the amount of money we have is a poor predictor of our happiness. And the happiness that comes from buying or acquiring something new, no matter how shiny or valuable, has a disappointingly short lifespan.

Fortunately, structured studies of what really makes us happy have some surprisingly simple revelations.

Matt Killingsworth has an ongoing programme to allow people to record how good they are feeling at In his TED talk Matt also shares that, what emerges from thousands of records from real people in real life situations is that, for the most part, we feel happier when we are focussed on what we are doing.

Even the morning commute which many people dread is much more bearable when we are focussed and in the moment than if we were to be engaged in “mind-wandering” while we were travelling, maybe even if dreaming about quitting the day job! I guess if you read while you commute you could be just as focussed in the reading…

Being focusssed or living in the moment is certainly one strand of mindfulness which, as I’ve blogged about previously, is another practice that can have real physical and mental benefits. As someone who teaches and hopefully practices personal effectiveness, being focussed on the task in hand rather than flitting between several possible activities is a pretty good way of getting more done and, the research would say it makes you feel better too.

Now the full TrackYourHappiness survey is interesting if you want to join in, simple, illuminating though not comprehensive. You may find out more about what makes you happy from answering their questions though for me it was probably my own self-reflection triggered by participating in the survey which I found most valuable.

Yes, I did feel better when focussed.

Personally, I found very intense focus was slightly less rewarding – perhaps because I lost track of whether of whether I felt good or not, perhaps because intense focus is tiring and I feel less good when I’m tired. I rather predictably felt worse after a bad night’s sleep – and it showed!

I confess I felt pretty good when being productive though there were times when totally unproductive felt just perfect too. Play doesn’t have to produce anything more than pleasure!

Over the summer I find I spend far more time alone or with smaller numbers of people – I offer less training over the holiday period – and I am as happy or happier on my own at these times when I’m likely to be reading or writing as a major activity. DIY or doing something with my hands was intensely rewarding, something that doesn’t surprise me though I welcomed the reminder – as long as it’s not dealing with an emergency I guess!

And the surprise for me was singing with a community choir…

But what about you?

When I’m working with coaching clients I often ask two simple questions:
1) “What one thing can you START doing this week that will make you feel better?” and
2) “What one thing can you STOP doing this week that will make you feel better?”

Even if you only start and stop one thing each week you’d be surprised how quickly you can change the way you feel.

So what is it that makes you feel good?