Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happiness, Harvard and Hotels: Staying in a good place needn't be a stressful experience!

It has been a stress filled week, but paradoxically, a week that ultimately for me, has been filled with a great deal of happiness. David Cameron reminded the nation last week about his Happiness Index, due to be introduced in April this year. I don’t know what metrics he will employ in measuring our happiness. It has been up to the National Statistician Jil Matheson, of the Office of National Statistics  to work on which questions to add to the existing household survey this spring. The new data gathered will be placed alongside existing measures to create a bundle of indications about our quality of life.

This approach may take us further along the road of understanding of the multidimensional nature of well-being and how this needs to encompass the economic as well as social and environmental issues. Possibly this has to be a better place than the Harvard psychologist’s Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth got to with their study of happiness. The outcomes of their study, published in the prestigious journal Science, revealed that happiness is found by 'living in the now'. People were most happy when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer.

In this study they rated happiness on a scale from 0 to 100, which captured whether they were focused, or daydreaming about something positive, negative or neutral. However, since Christmas time last year, I have periodically rating myself against my own happiness index which is a great deal simpler – (1 = utter despair, 10 – manic exhilaration). Those who truly know me might say I have a propensity to stray towards the lower end of this index, but this week saw me in a different place.

Monday started with some good news about a colleague whose progress in overcoming a sudden and life threatening condition was positive and rapid. I hope she continues on her journey to make a fast and full recovery. Later on in the morning I received a phone call from the auditor group that had been looking at our research processes in the College. It was a generally good conversation and whilst I still have to wait for the formal report I think as a College, and particularly as a School we are OK. Up until hearing this however, my stress levels were considerably raised. As the College Associate Dean for Research, the buck stops with me.
Later on that evening I was in the company of the Greater Manchester Deans of Health (Nursing and Midwifery) for a meal at the Mint Hotel in Manchester city centre. Now some of you will know that I am not that keen on eating out at such venues – but this was a wonderful meal. The conversation was a mixture of professional work issues (the changes to commissioning for nurse education are becoming more and more challenging as the detail of what the future might look like begins to emerge), and a catch up with personal and family experiences.

Tuesday was a different day, but I stayed in that good place, possibly scoring 6 out of 10 for happiness, but going to sleep that night I could feel the stress grow. So I was not surprised to be wide awake very early on the morning the NMC came to validate our new pre-registration programme. It was a hectic day, more so for colleagues than perhaps me. By 16.00 hours however, we had the good news that the programme had been approved. This was wonderful for our School and for all of those who had worked so hard over the previous 18 months to get us to this place. Many thanks for helping to secure the future of the School for the next five years. We can now work at how to best deliver what is truly an innovative programme. For me my happiness rating went up a notch.

Thursday included an opportunity to do some writing. Not reports, or other official documents but that which involves only thinking about what I really wanted (need) to say. This is always something that keeps my happiness level towards the upper end of my index. For me, this kind of writing is the ultimate act of autonomy. And as the economic philosopher John Mill noted, happiness and autonomy are indivisible. Mill’s said: ‘The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way’. To be autonomous is to be able to reflect on and evaluate one’s desires, beliefs and values: we don’t just act; we choose how to act; we choose which goals to adopt, and we reflect on the reasons for our beliefs. By this, we can shape ourselves and our own lives; and if we shape ourselves according to our own values, we express our individuality.

Friday, eventually, was an opportunity for me to be able to assert my individuality. Friday turned out to be an excursion into transactional analysis territory, and by going home time I was exhausted with the rapidity of movement of some of my colleagues as they oscillated between adult, parent and child mode. I was way down towards the lower end of my happiness index. Thankfully, the supportive emails from colleagues about the good news of our NNS results going past 50% propelled me back up to the mid range of my happiness index.