Can we expect perfection?

These days everything is photo-shopped, edited, styled, and developed. All of the realistic, human elements of a photo, phrase or thought are often ironed out. We live in a hyper-stylised world where we are taught from a young age that we can expect perfection. Hugh Mackay refers to this as the “utopia-complex”, William Storr in Selfie, ascribes it to a culture of abundant narcissism. Whatever you want to call it, or whichever theorist strikes your fancy, there is certainly a culture of the perfectible self. A combination of socio-cultural paradigms, advertising and media, have indoctrinated in us the notion that we can be perfect. In addition we can expect perfect careers, perfect partners, perfect bodies, and even, perfect children.

We’re expecting that photo-shop will automatically apply to our lives.

Today, many of us desire jobs which are vocations, imbued with values, meaning and a greater connection to all things. We expect relationships filled with fire and passion - we don’t just want any run-of-the-mill romance, rather we’re looking for someone to “complete” us, Jerry Maguire style. Our bodies are the virtual personification of this perfectible self. Garner an amazing body and surely an amazing life will follow!

Our desire for the perfectible self, reduces us to the “arrival fallacy”. The notion that if only x, y and z conditions would be in place we could experience happiness. As Lyubomirsky writes in The Myths of Happiness, “Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness - beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain failures or advertises (health problems, not having a partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy. This reductive understanding of happiness is culturally reinforced and continues to endure, despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does not operate according to such black and white principles.”

The arrival fallacy.

I’m saluting the concept as a standalone paragraph because it deserves to be singled out.

Often, I hear people talking about the perfect conditions. They can’t quite describe what’s wrong about this current job, partner, or situation, but they know there is better out there and they should be searching for it.

Curious. We find ourselves unable to enjoy our current situations, because we’re quite sure it’s not the epitome of what it could be. As a result we stop trying to enhance it, rather we decide to throw the baby with the bathwater, and start over.

Often when I’m speaking to groups I tell them, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.” Some people might wonder, why I would encourage you to aspire to stop trying. I’m not. You can be certain of very few things - two of them are death and taxes, on top of those two certainties you can add, the future and past. Both are imagined quantities. Neither of them exist in reality. So truly, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.”

The perfected self is similarly a fallacy, and it may be holding you back. It may be keeping you in a pattern of unhappiness. We need to remember that all we’re promised is the present moment - and whether we’re broke, broken-up or job less, we have to accept these circumstances, and indeed that happiness can be found in this very place, at this very time.

Research demonstrates that cultural and societal markers for happiness - don’t make us happy at all.

This is the moment to seize your joy, don’t be a victim of a societal paradigm, grab your happiness with both hands, and forget about the cellulite on your thighs, the job you’re not quite sure about, or the partner who forgets to buy you flowers.

You will never be more perfect than at this very moment.

Enjoy it.

Happiness in the face of criticism

I've been tossing up whether or not to write this piece for a while now. When I prevaricate for to long I just decide to do the thing I've been considering because clearly it's had a lasting impact on me. If it's influencing me, it's also impacting others - that's the thing about the human condition, we're all irredeemably similar. The main themes and mysteries that make a dent on my life - will have the same on others. Hence the impact of Shakespeare. A man who had collapsed the human condition into a series of emotions and milestones, like love, jealousy, anger, happiness, ambition, war, success and loss. 

We're utter mysteries for the most part, until we're viewed as an aggregate, which is when the real magic happens. When we realise we're more alike then we ever previously perceived ... 

But I digress. The human emotion which I was charged with and wanted to dilate into words ... anger. 

Who has never felt the roar of this red-hot emotion racing through their veins before? 

Why was I angry? And let me preface this by stating that I'm know for my zen condition - what those around me refer to as "Lisa Portolan Zen" (it has it's own brand ;)). Well, it was a review, of my new book. Not by a peer, but by a relative unknown, who took it upon himself to take to pieces every single element, every single page, of my book. Not to mention my identity. 

Said person, declared me to be "not the average person", a millennial who's liberal use of f*ck was an indication of my being affected by the social condition of my times and my generation. That my theories weren't thought through, that my prose was unremarkable, even that the person who edited my book (of which there were several) was an utter dilettante (clearly, all of them!). 

I read the review  on a Saturday morning. It was 6am. The time I consider my own - before my three-year old wakes up and demands attention. Because I work hard - to be a full time mum, a full time worker, and a full time creative. 

Let me be "unoriginal" as he would declare me, and say that I was "sick to the stomach" when I read the review. 

He questioned my intelligence, the fact that I was an "academic" or that I could write - and it burnt me. Hard. It made me question my very self. 

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love, Committed, Big Magic and a raft of other brilliant stuff) tells us that if we put it out in the world, we need to accept what comes. You know what, she's right, writers, bloggers, artists at large - we get to give our opinion, because we're brave enough to take the risk. That's the difference between us and the rest, right? We're happy to give it a whirl, come what may. But when, what may, comes, we fall into despondency, wrath, anger ... 

And that's where I was, anger. 

Mostly because I know that said man was a white, over-privileged baby boomer. That he had never experienced hardship or judgment - because he had never put out anything to be judged (other than criticism). As a woman, millennial, and first generation Australian - I haven't had those privileges. 

... and thanks for noting that I'm not the "every day person". After all - my parents did get off the boat here as migrants in the 1960s with nothing more than a suitcase to recommend them!

There's the anger. The fire!!

But I need to step down. The key to happiness ... is acceptance. 

Accepting what is. 

Will I change this man's view? No. Does he care that he's had this impact on me? No (in fact he would probably be pleased). Does he care? No. 

When such things happen - I feel the rage. Yes, like everyone who has a reason to think, believe and be. Do I feel the injustice of it? Of course. But we need to process, and consider. 

Accept the things you can't change, influence the one's you can. 

The only thing I can change is my perception of the situation, and the emotion that relates to it. 

I choose not to be angry. I choose not to feel anything in particular about the comment at all. I accept that there will be other comments - some maybe positive, others negative. 

Happiness is .... work

Happiness should be effortless, right? 

It should be something we can simply tap into and experience. It should  descend on us - a shimmer of rainbow coloured glitter and maybe a few unicorns as well. It should be easily accessible - or so we think

Like many things in life though - happiness requires work. 

I was reminded of that across the weekend. Having just published my book, Happy As, and been on a fabulous book tour across Australia, I was finishing up in Canberra - a place where I had spent the better part of a decade. The nation's capital, and the location of my abode and work for the latter part of my twenties, I knew it's wide streets well, but also many of the smiling faces in the sold out room I spoke to at Muse Books and Wine that evening.

It was an amazing experience to return to my old stomping ground a victor. Not only had I followed my dreams, but I had achieved an outcome. I had published a book on a topic I was deeply passionate about. I was buzzing. 

The glitter and unicorns descended. 

... but the next morning as I drove back to Sydney, another emotion gathered around me, and it was more linked to the anxious variety than the gleeful one experienced virtually hours ago. I was tired, slightly hung over, and back to my daily grind. 

Recovering from a high is almost as difficult as the ascent. 

In the days that followed I found myself to be ... glum. 

The thing is, happiness isn't easy. Often we're battered about by a tide of emotions, highs can be followed by lows, lows by plateaus, and plateaus by more plateaus. Many theorists would indicate that happiness is to some degree a choice, and if not a choice, its something we need to work towards and on - always. 

Doesn't sound appealing now? 

Well, I disagree - there's power in the notion that you can impact on your own emotions, and you're not held captive by them. 

Some of my key steps when I'm feeling glum include: 

- Get up (because I'm usually sitting when the blues arrive), head outside, get some oxygen, vitamin D and if possible some exercise.

- Talk to someone. I'm a people person - I feed off interactions, so chatting with people always helps.

- Have a laugh. Studies show a smile can drive the production of endorphins - so have a little laugh.

- Be cognisant. 

They're my steps but everyone has different ones. We're different beasts, and while we all need to work on happiness and the steps we take to that place of contentment might differ. 

Tell me some of yours!

I'm looking for your happiness story!

This week has seen a hiatus from my book tour. In between Queensland and the ACT I'm back to reality. Back to work and Sydney. Obviously, the #happyas book tour has produced amazing highs, from speaking at the Gold Coast Early Risers, to ABC Radio National Big Ideas at Avid Readers in Brisbane and national television including the Today Show and The Drum. Extensive highs are always followed by lulls. Luckily, my lulls are constituted by my ordinary life. My tiny world, in a peach coloured terrace in Sydney, with my daughter, my regular job and my books. Of course, I'm always surrounded by my books. This week I read, The Meaning of Life, by the Dalai Lama (forward by Richard Gere). Insightful, moving, dynamic - how can one not be moved by a book which contains words from our modern day Lama and Gere?? So my return to reality was not so hard. 

But I handpicked my reality. After spending the majority of my life living a life which was ill-suited to my values, identity and disposition, I decided to change it up. I resigned from my high-paying job in Canberra and headed back to Sydney. 

Sydney held an intrinsic place in my heart. It lined the fabric of the back-pocket of my jeans. 

It was my heart. 

The pastel coloured terraces, the colourful and authentic people - that was my home, those were my people. I belonged here. Amongst them. 

To be happy again I had to find my way back. I had to go against every societal convention. Yes, in Canberra, I had the right job, I knew the right people, I drove the right car. Who would give all that up?

Me. 

Because in-between the highs of my book tour was Sydney. The place which stole my heart. My home. Lost in the tiny streets, amongst the vintage of Glebe markets and a vino with old friend, i knew I had followed my happiness trail. 

Have you?

I want to hear your views and thoughts, and I'd love to publish them right here on my website. 

Tell me your happiness story - your journey to being a #happinesshero

Whether it's happened, you're in the progress, or you dream of it happening - I welcome your thoughts. 

Email me at: yourhappinessstory@gmail.com

Thank YOU

The happiness ingredients – Connection is vital

With the release of my new book, Happy As, I’ve been out and about meeting new people and talking about happiness. Since June 1 (the release date for my book) it’s been a whirlwind of television, radio, book signings and events. It’s been a great way to reach a broader audience and to talk about critical topics, like happiness - shaking out myths, ironing out misconceptions, and simply connecting with people, and providing both them and me with a platform to share our ideas.

Most recently I travelled up to the Gold Coast and Brisbane, where I talked about the topic at the fantastic Gold Coast Women in Business (Early Riser) breakfast, and later at Avid Readers (Brisbane) with the cerebral Antony Funnell for ABC Radio National, Big Ideas.

It's also been an interesting time period from a socio-cultural perspective with the recent deaths of celebrity handbag designer, Kate Spade, and extraordinary foodie, writer and presenter, Anthony Bourdain. Media has reported that both committed suicide. An enormous tragedy – but one that has made us consider the human condition closely (and rarely do we pause to do so). Both Kate and Anthony had the world at their feet, they were brilliant and successful, adored by the masses - our modern-day notions of what happiness should look like. Yet, both were deeply unhappy.

Happiness is a peculiar sentiment. We’ve come to link happiness with milestones and possessions. Whether it be a beautiful home, the right job, spouse and family. It might also come alongside with a designer handbag, the latest technology and of course the socially-sanctioned perfect look. Our perceived notion of success – soaring monetary heights and a job which not only means something to us but gains us the adoration of others – has become conjoined with our common day understanding of happiness.

When we see examples like Bourdain and Spade – we can’t help think, but they had it all. Of course, then there’s an inevitable mental question mark. They had it all, and yet still they weren’t happy. More than that they were walking dark laneways, darker than the depths of Dante’s inferno, so dark in fact that there was no other option. Closing the door on all of this was the only viable way forward.

On the Gold Coast and Brisbane Spade was often referenced, news about Bourdain only broke when I was back in Sydney. Nonetheless the sentiment was the same – we tried to make sense of why.

The answer is, there is no why. The human condition is deeply nuanced. To provide one solution or a single answer is marketable, definitely! It comes neatly in the one package, tight wrapped, and brightly coloured. If only things were so simple! The human condition is messy. We are messy and complex. We’re always searching – for meaning, for connection, for happiness. All of us. Sometimes we feel like we have a handle on it all – including the sentiment – and then it slips from our grasp so quickly, and we’re back to the very beginning. Mendicants, students, looking for answers.

What I learnt on the Gold Coast and Brisbane – was the power of the human connection. I travelled with my sister. Together as a pair we headed to the Gold Coast Early Risers, Women in Business breakfast where women within the community came together to talk about business, careers, local charities and how they could assist, and much more. They were like-minded people on a similar journey, sharing their worlds once a month – and I was struck by the power of it. Their fearless organiser, Karen Phillips, was brave and charismatic, a born story-teller, a woman who connected people, ideas and emotions.

In Brisbane, I presented my book at Avid Readers, with Antony Funnell on the Big Ideas, ABC Radio National programme. A group of forty or so interested people shared a glass of wine and their thoughts on happiness – creating a sense of community and connectedness.

As human beings – we’re highly tribal. We need to belong somewhere. Whether it be in the workplace, at a women’s breakfast, at a local bookstore, in the gym, amongst a family, or a medieval dance troop! These meetings, and coming together of the minds, are so important. In a world that has lost a broader sense of community, we need to create those pacts, those relationships, and include those who we might sense feel out of the group at the time.

Happiness is a slippery sucker, impossible to define and almost impossible to experience. But connectedness, yes, now that’s something that’s important – a vital ingredient.

 

 

 

 

Happy As ...

I’ve been preoccupied by the concept of happiness for some time. Since I was a kid in fact. As an introspective teen I often wondered what this was all about – our 75 times (give or take) around the sun. What did it all mean? What was the purpose? The intent? And what was the best way to spend those years? 

At some point I concluded happiness was perhaps the best pursuit. 

You see, I caught myself in a “happy” moment at some point in my teens on a family holiday in Italy – and I was instantly addicted. Sitting alone in a hotel room, surrounded by the cacophony of sounds that constructed that place (horns, sirens, vespas, loud Italian voices drifting in through the open window), I knew myself to be happy.

Sometimes we catch ourselves in those moments. It’s almost like an out of body experience, where we glimpse ourselves from above – the same as always, only this time, happy. 

I then spent the better part of my twenties searching for happiness – mostly in Italy (because of course, that’s where happiness resided), but then in yoga, meditation and finally books. I pursued relentlessly. But as soon as I had a handle on the emotion, it would slip out of my grasp. 

Eventually I embarked on the formal study of happiness, which manifested as a PhD – the study of happiness and the advertising industry. Surely uncovering the secrets to that emotion meant that I would eventually experience the sentiment on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis?

I fell into the happiness rabbit hole much like Alice, and the other punters before me. Along the way I discovered a whole heap of concepts which sat alongside that queen of all emotions – like the relationship between happiness and self, and the notion that consumer culture had become welded to our identity. 

In my archaeological journey to the root of happiness I also unearthed something else. Happiness is not only close to my heart, but it’s sewn under all our skins. Embedded. 

We’re all in the pursuit of it. Enthralled. Enraptured. Addicted. 

Similarly, we feel its vacuum when it’s gone. 

So, how can we be happy?

My book, Happy As, was released on the 1 July explores this very topic.

In this blog I’ll explore some of the key happiness concepts – the secrets to the emotion, what it comprises of and how we get there. 

Stay tuned!