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.