For the last few days, I’ve been carrying my camera around with me, taking photos every time I experience happiness. All the while waiting for some big revelation, an “a-ha moment” of clarity.
Hoping to find a deeper understanding of what makes people happy. But as I wait for it, I am realising that maybe the obvious answer has been the right one all along.
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When I think about what makes me happy, it’s easy to think big picture and visualise myself laying on a sunny beach somewhere exotic reading a good book and enjoying the peace and quiet.
But since this is something I have done only once before in my entire life, it is probably a good indication that it is only a picture of happiness when, in fact, real happiness is much less shiny looking, much less obvious, but maybe something much more beautiful.
Seek out your own version of happiness
If I’m honest with you, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about happiness before undertaking this challenge. A side effect of growing older, I imagine. As time proves ever fickle and fleeting, my desire to fill as much of it with happy moments grows more and more.
“Life’s too short,” always felt like a platitude, a cliché, a throwaway comment used to validate foolishness. But with three young children growing up in a flash before my eyes, it has taken on new meaning.
As a result, I make little space in my life for things that don’t make me happy – cleaning, for example. I do the bare minimum a grown-up with three children can get away with. Luckily, being a minimalist has aided me in my pursuit of doing less housework – less stuff equals less to clean.
We often think of happiness as this big thing. Something that we only experience on the weekends or on holiday, or something that other people have a greater share of. But if truth be told, happiness is really quite small – it can fit in anywhere.
It’s not a place we are trying to get to, or a moment in time that we are trying to travel back to, but something that we have the power to feel and experience in almost any moment.
Given the value our society places on happiness, it is quite surprising how we manage to miss it more often than not. Slowing down to find it in my everyday life revealed that to me.
Uncover happy moments
I always think I’m happiest when I’m on the beach, or exploring in the mountains, doing the big, photo-worthy, shout-it-out on social media moments. And while I am definitely happy in those moments, I also find happiness in the small moments.
It makes me happy when my children share a moment of unexpected love with each other. I stop to notice the sweet bond they share, often hidden under their sibling squabbles. I am happy when any one of my children still needs me and reaches for my hand – a simple gesture growing more infrequent with every passing year. It’s a small moment of happy I try to drag out as long as possible.
I could write endless lists of all the moments of happy that I have experienced while working on this article. Walks on the beach, playing in the ocean, the sun on my face, the rain on my face, the breathtaking landscape of Wales and the fact that I get to call this place home – on and on it could go.
But that list is my list, so those things might not make you happy at all. In fact, my list is actually completely irrelevant.
One of the most important things we need to learn about happiness is that it’s personal and that one size doesn’t fit all. Chances are, if you are struggling to find happiness then you might be looking for it in all the wrong places. Maybe someone you know found it in their career, and you went looking for it there too, but it has eluded you.
It might just be because that’s not where your happy is.
Find joy in the everyday
Wake yourself up to the life you have right now, right in front of you, and pay attention to the hundreds of moments of happy it gives you every single day.
Sometimes happiness is showing off right in front of us, but sometimes we find ourselves in a place where it seems to be hiding itself. We might struggle to find it every single day, but I promise you that it is there.
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In the midst of the hardest day of parenting, it can be found in the sound of your child’s laughter. When you’re walking down the same streets you always travel along, it can be found in the beauty and wonder of nature that you’ve never stopped to notice before.
It’s there in the in-between moments as well as in the main event. It’s in the moments we take for granted, as well as the glaringly obvious – you just need to look for it.
Photograph your happiest moments
For two days, take your smartphone or camera with you and take a picture whenever you feel a moment of happiness. It could be a photo of your home, your work, your food, your friends, your cup of coffee… it doesn’t matter. The only rule is to be honest with yourself.
Don’t feel obliged to take a photo because you think you should be happy, but also don’t skip a photo even if it feels silly. This is a project for you, and you don’t have to share it – unless you want to!
At the end of your two days, put all of your photos together and see what they tell you. What do you appreciate most? Are there lots of photos of some areas of your life but few of others?
Maybe the things that make you happy are simpler than you thought, or maybe they point you in a direction that you’ve never considered before.
Hopefully, your journey will help you to recognise the happy moments you already have, and inspire you to make even more of them.
How photography can lower your stress levels
Photography is a known stress-buster – taking just a few moments to focus on your subject can lower your heart rate and give you a sense of calm.
If you head out with the purpose of taking photographs, remember to let yourself live in the moment. Pay attention to your surroundings beyond your screen – it will make you a better photographer too.
5 tips for taking stunning photos
Find different perspectives
It’s surprising how much your shot can change as you move around. Try to resist the urge to take every image facing forward at head height.
After all, this isn’t how we tend to see and experience the world around us. Look up, look down or take a knee before you press the shutter and see what you find.
Seek out symmetry
This may sound simple (and it really is!) but positioning yourself to take a symmetrical photo can produce some really stunning results.
It’s particularly great for capturing beautiful architecture so if there’s a place which makes you especially happy and which holds special memories, head there, find the right spot and snap a joyful memento. Take a look at #symmetry on Instagram for some ideas.
Get in close
As renowned photographer Robert Capa said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Get closer to your subject and you’ll capture more detail but try not to use your camera’s zoom function.
Instead, zoom in with your feet and move towards the thing which brings you happiness.
Capture little details
While photos of sweeping landscapes and bright city scenes are beautiful in their own right, more often than not it is little details which bring our happiest memories to mind and give us a real feeling of what it was like to be in that place ion that day.
Before you take your shot, take a moment to really consider what it is that you find exciting or beautiful or funny and centre that one thing in your frame.
Use natural light
There is no better light for taking bright, fresh photos that natural light. Capture moments outdoors where you can or make sure to open the curtains wide and let lots of warm sunshine in.
Head out just after sunrise or before sunset, known by photographers as the ‘golden hour’, for a soft, reddish light which will give your images a beautiful glow. Find the right time for the golden hour near you here.
Photos by Rachael Smith / Our Beautiful Adventure