Global Action Plan Managing Partner Sonja Graham reflects on happiness and how it relates to our relationship with stuff.

It’s the International Day of Happiness, so a good day to ask myself - am I happy? I rarely stop to consider this. Happiness can seem so wrapped up in the daily grind. 

Is it raining and did I forget to pack an umbrella (again)? 

Have I got a day of back-to-back meetings and reports to write? 

Do I have to keep my head out of looming armpits in a jammed tube? 

'Middle-class problems' I hear you say – with somewhere to live, a job and friends, what would I have to be unhappy about?

However, unfortunately it’s not that straightforward. Rates of depression, anxiety and unhappiness in young Brits is more than double that of 25 years ago, and we can’t blame it on an equivalent decline in living standards - in fact, quite the opposite.

 Our Relationship with Stuff

There are some really interesting correlations emerging between happiness and how we live our lives – in particular the relationship we have with stuff. If we believe advertising – and without even realising it, we often do – more and the bigger/better/shinier stuff we have – the happier we will be. But this is apparently a broken dream, one we are warned about by fairy tales, Hollywood movies (albeit with plenty of product placement) and our grandparents.

“I don’t want for anything Sonja – I have four wonderful children who visit me every week and healthy happy grandkids.” My Gran savoured every moment with her family, she took huge pleasure out of the first glimpse of the crocuses in her garden, the bluebirds fighting for grain, the taste of evaporated milk on her raspberries – she was one happy, happy lady.

She would say: “Don’t buy me a birthday present – I can’t take it with me, just come visit and help me with the modern clues in the crossword”. The inadequacy I still felt turning up empty-handed and writing “bandwidth” into her copy of the Saturday Times really made me realise just how well marketing departments have done – she was happy with the set up, I was not.

How ridiculous is that? And it’s not just me. Last Christmas, we ran a campaign on reducing festive stress and promoting routes to less excess. Our messaging seemed to really hit home, with our tips for how to de-couple happiness and presents being shared with over a million people.

So on this day of happiness what should we learn from our Grans? Definitely for me at least - that the things that make us happiest are not actually things, but instead times and people. And that evaporated milk merits a revival as a dessert essential…maybe not.

Ps - Our Relationship with Stuff is going to be the main focus of our next 5-year mission here at Global Action Plan so watch this space!

If you are passionate about this topic and want to help us create a very different “story of stuff” then sign up to our newsletter to get the latest updates on how to get involved!

Blog originally posted March 2017.