I immediately warmed to the title of Oliver Burkeman’s event at the RSA – How to Become Slightly Happier. There’s something pleasingly modest, reassuringly self-deprecating, politely English about it. It won’t transform your life, it won’t make you rich, it might just, perhaps, help you deal with grey Monday mornings. I like his sense of scale.
Having studied a mountain of self-help books, he has come up with some top tips for things which seem to work. Thankfully they run counter to the mass of advice to transform your life through positive thinking which frankly just sounds exhausting (this in-built sloth might explain why my favourite tip is number 4)
- Leave your thoughts alone. Don’t work hard on trying to think positively, don’t be yanked off course by negative emotions but don’t try to squelch them either.
- Write your problems down – don’t try to solve them, just externalise them.
- Cultivate randomness and new experiences rather than trying to control your environment.
- Have really tiny goals; goals so laughably small that they can pass under the radar of the bit of the brain that predicts failure. Apparently Burkeman carries an egg timer around with him so that he can time his goal to do two minutes of work at a time on difficult projects; he knows people who have got fit by starting with a brisk walk for 30-seconds every day.
- If bothered by perfectionism go into work one day and try just to be mediocre. Try to function at about 60% and see what happens when the constant pressure to make everything perfect has gone.
There are of course related issues to think about here – do we really need other people to tell us how to be happy? Does paying for the advice make it more credible – or more likely to work? What is it about our society that seems to make so many people unhappy? Is being unhappy (in small doses) a bad thing? If there was no unhappiness would there be progress? ( a question from the RSA audience, which prompted me to think – if there is no unhappiness does it matter that there’s no progress?) But I’ve been writing this for more than 2 minutes already, and today is my day for being mediocre, so I’ll leave other people to wrestle with those. I’m just going to re-set the timer and do at least, two averagely OK minutes on my new business plan.