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The art of accidental happiness

Happiness and how to get it

Happiness is on our minds. (Photo: M. Lowinger)

Happiness is on our minds.
(Photo: M. Lowinger)

Happiness, and how to get it, certainly seems to be on our minds.

Millions and millions of words have been written about how to be happy and how to find happiness. Books, blogs, websites, apps, memes, tweets…

Psychologists, doctors, counsellors, coaches, researchers, philosophers, religions of all varieties all have something to say about happiness.

We have a whole happiness industry – but is it working?

Certainly feelings of happiness and positive emotion are essential for feelings of wellbeing. Depression and related mental health disorders are  common, around 1 in 6 of us will experience depression at some stage of our lives.* So there does seem to be an urgent need to boost happiness.

But with depression rates so high, are all these millions of words and 10 steps to happiness lists having any effect at all? Perhaps pursuing happiness in itself is the wrong goal altogether? Perhaps we should all stop trying to be happy?

The problem with trying to be happy

The truth is, trying to be happy in and of itself, won’t work. You can’t try to “be” anything. You can’t try to feel anything.

I recently read an old faded and yellowed newspaper clipping written by Hugh Mackay saying: “Happiness: Don’t chase it. Let it surprise you with it’s occasional blissful visitations.” Oh, how true this is…

Imagine how ridiculous “10 steps to frustration” would be…or “13 things to do to reach exasperation”…or “3 fundamental factors for finding anger”

These feelings don’t occur because we want them, or try to have them. These feelings happen because we get lost in the moment, they are a side effect of doing and thinking something else. In a sense they are accidental, they aren’t purposeful emotions.

You can’t really summon up frustration, exasperation or anger just by wanting to. And it is the same with happiness.

The art of accidental happiness

Happiness happens accidentally. Happiness happens when you aren’t looking, when you are immersed in experience, immersed in doing.

Happiness happens when we are fully engaged in what we are doing, when we are in flow. And that’s the main message from all the millions of words written about happiness. When you get immersed in positive doing, you are practicing the art of accidental happiness.

Just as certain thoughts and actions increase the chance that anger will pay a visit, here are some of the self-help things we can think and do that increase the chance of happiness dropping by:

Look after your body

  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Stop smoking

Look after your mind

  • Try to be present in the moment, be mindful, savour the moment
  • Listen to, or play, music
  • Learn how to breathe and relax
  • Get in touch with nature
  • Learn something new, take a course
  • Start a new hobby

Look after your spirit

  • Say thank you, even for small things
  • Do acts of kindness, even small ones
  • Pray or find other ways to connect with spirituality
  • Find someone to love and be loved
  • Volunteer, or do other things that give meaning to your life

*If you are worried in any way about your mood, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or other health professional such as a counsellor or a psychologist. There are many ways health professionals can help you manage your mood. 

So over to you: What else do you do that helps you practice the art of accidental happiness?


  1. Reblogged this on Doctor's bag and commented:
    This excellent post from Dr Jocelyn Lowinger appeared this morning. What I like about it is that it challenges the usual way we think about happiness.

  2. Great post Jocelyn and I totally agree. For me happiness is appreciating all the small moments: a sunny day, comforting meal, reading something uplifting, a favourite song, a delicious meal, moments with friends…. It’s also finding contentment in my current life, even if it’s not perfect and I’m not where I want to eventually get to. Living more in the moment and appreciating what I have rather than thinking about all the things I wish I had but don’t.

    • Thank you Penny.
      Yes, I think living in the moment is the key.


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