Noticing Happiness – Presented at Happiness and its Causes International Conference

Sarah Nicoll Noticing Happiness Happiness and its Causes
Speaker at Happiness and Its Causes

I was so honored and excited to present this year at Happiness and Its Causes, the world’s largest happiness and well-being conference.

I was awed to be in the company of the best of the best positive psychology experts including Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, pioneering researcher on Flow, Dr Christine Carter, sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, US and Matthieu Ricard, leading humanitarian, Buddhist monk.

Here’s a link to the video  or to my slide deck on slideshare. Noticing Happiness_happiness and its causes Slide1

In her teenage years my Mum took a wild bicycle ride that ended abruptly in a terrible  tangle with a telegraph pole. She dusted herself off and went on her way, but it is possible this may be one of the reasons I didn’t really learn to ride a bike until my early 30’s.

When I finally did get a bike of my own, it was pretty special.

But it was definitely not so unique!

Everywhere I looked people seemed to be riding.

Did everyone go out and buy a bike at the same time? I don’t think so.
Did I previously have blinkers on? Not really.

I was super tuned in to looking for bikes.

What if we could do that with happiness?

I want to invite you to tune into your joy, to notice your happy moments, and to savour your contentment.

I believe that noticing is a simple yet powerful skill that we should all add to our well-being toolkit. If we can develop the habit of noticing we can find that there’s often more to see.

I’m not the first person to talk about the importance of noticing happiness.

In his 1999 graduation address to the students of Agnes Scott College, Kurt Vonnegut, urged his young audience to please notice when they were happy. Vonnegut lived this life affirming habit and credits this advice to his Uncle Alex.

How we might tune into our happiness?
How might we begin to notice when we are happy?

When we practice our noticing we can go looking for happiness in two key places.

The first place to look is within ourselves. We first need to tune into how our bodies feel when we are happy.

Do you momentarily feel lighter? A bursting feeling? A sensation of calm? Relaxed and loose? Ready to jump out of your skin? A quiet sense that all is okay? Maybe all of these at different times.

The second place to look is around us.

What’s on your happy list? The big, the small, the tiny, the new and surprising.

Maybe it’s enjoying a cuppa at the start of the day in the quiet moments before anyone else is up? Perhaps it is helping a friend? Or maybe it’s lying down at the end of the day and falling to sleep on clean sheets.

The first invitation to you today is to look with intention

When we first start to look for happiness we may get discouraged. This is the time to practice our mindful acceptance… and to keep looking for the glimpses within your day that may bring joy?

Once we build our noticing – what’s next?

Uncle Alex, taught Kurt Vonnegut to go a step beyond noticing his happiness to capture the moment. We can catch ourselves through exclaiming, murmuring or thinking about our happiness.

There are some other ways I think we can also capture our happiness.

It is a very rare to find an activity that both children at the time, 11 and 13 would equally enjoy and look forward to. Stumbling on such a rare gem shining out from muddy rock, was easy to notice.

And so one fine weekend, we went fossicking.

On that rocky embankment I enjoyed my children’s determination, risk taking, fun, and ultimately achievement.

I noticed myself smiling ear to ear and leaping around on the angled ridge in a mountain goat fashion.

This was truly a happy time that I wanted to lock away.

In our house sits the small slices of happiness we found on the embankment. This memento holds our story of the day, and reminds us of our adventure.

There are other ways we capture our stories and our moments.

When you take that happy snap, notice that you are happy. When we journal our gratitude this too adds and grow our happiness. Each of these help us capture our noticing.

The final step of Kurt Vonnegut’s sage advice adds a layer of appreciation and can help us to recall the positive times.

Sitting under an apple tree, looking out across the scenery before them, Uncle Alex, would stop mid-conversation to say – ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

It’s the extra glue that really makes it stick

Even now when I ride my bike, I look with intention. I enjoy the natural effort in my body as I ride, my heart feels full, and I smile as a look at the scenery around me. I look with intention and find my pleasure, my competence and my happiness.

I’ve captured my happy bike rides, as pictures both in my mind and in my phone gallery. I know for sure that riding my bike is on my happy list. And I make plans in my life to include this.

Putting this all together we have a simple way to help us lock in our happiness.
It’s like taking a yellow highlighter to the happy moments of our lives.

We’re tuning in to our happiness. And if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!

To finish, let’s have a go at this!

In a moment, on the count of three … wait for it… I’m inviting you to take this sage advice, and as a group we are going to murmur or exclaim – your choice

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”


And everyone joined in!!! What a great experience.

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