Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Q&A with Will Buckingham, author of Happiness: A Practical Guide

What's an easy tip to gain happiness?
I’m not sure that there are any easy tips. One of the things I’m interested in is that “happiness” refers to quite a few different things, so it depends what you mean by “happiness”… Different kinds of happiness might require different kinds of “tips” and advice. 

But at the same time, if you have a fairly modest view of what happiness is — if you are not looking for something earth-shattering, or world-changing — then often the things that help with developing happiness are also relatively modest: spending time with friends; being engaged in work that you feel is fruitful and of benefit; a degree of autonomy… and cake. Cake helps.

Of course, there’s also the question of other people’s happiness, because there might be things that you can do that can help others gain happiness, or at least not cause them misery. So ethics always comes into it as well.

Is happiness proportional to gratitude?
I think that gratitude is already a kind of happiness, and ingratitude already a kind of unhappiness. It doesn’t make much sense to me to say, “She’s very ungrateful, but she’s happy…”  So, yes, I think that gratitude is one aspect of the kind of happiness that matters to me. 

Does money make people happy?
In terms of what researchers call “subjective well-being” (which is one kind of idea of what “happiness” might involve), the research seems to suggest that having no money or very little money is a significant cause of lack of well-being. But once you have sufficient money to live on, then the benefits of money—in terms of happiness at least—are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Once your basic needs are met and you have a degree of financial stability, the more you have, the less and bang you get for your buck when it comes to happiness. If, however, you give some of that surplus that isn’t making you particularly happy to other people who don’t have the same surplus, then that might increase your happiness and theirs!

Which are the habits of happy people?
Again, they are often quite simple: friendship, work that feels valuable, time to relax with friends. But, of course, different things make different people happy. I have a friend who is in the habit of jumping out of airplanes, claiming it makes him happy. It seems a strange habit to me, but then, I’m not him…

What makes you happy?
I love writing, and I love teaching: I teach in a university, and whilst universities are very weird kinds of places to spend your time and there’s a lot about them that doesn’t make me very happy (so many meetings!), the teaching is great. I love travel, and playing the guitar, and hanging out with the cat, to whom I’ve apprenticed myself in an attempt to more deeply study the art of happiness. 

What's next for you?
There are a couple of novels on the go, a further philosophy book about hospitality, and a book for children that I’ve just been working on editing, so there’s a lot on at the moment, which I like. There’s a kind of happiness that comes from being absorbed in interesting projects.

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