Secret to happiness: Alignment

05 July 2022

It is broadly accepted that, when we're happier, we're feel more productive and energised - at home and at work.

What, however, is the secret to happiness? Are there tricks or techniques we can learn to help us feel more positive, resilient and generally more contented with life?

The short answer is very much 'yes', at least according to business transformation coach Jenny Allen-Smith from Stretching the City.

The starting point is psychologist Dr Rangan Chatterjee's model of a 'three-legged stool' of happiness. Jenny emphasises how, if we are looking for true happiness, we need to get all of three legs of the stool - 'alignment', 'control', and 'contentment' - firmly into our lives.

Contentment is relatively self-explanatory as a term, but the other two are maybe less so. "Alignment is when our inner values and our external actions line up; so, the person we want to be and the person we are actually being in the world are one and the same," Jenny explains. "Control is do we really feel a sense of agency in our lives and in our work? Do we feel a sense that the world around us is predictable, and it is safe?

"The three-legged stool won't stay upright for you all of the time. Some days will absolutely be better than other days. But, with regular practise, your core happiness stool will become more stable," Jenny adds.

We'll consider 'control' and 'contentment' in more detail in the next two vlogs. For her first vlog, on 'alignment', Jenny outlines three practical exercises to help line up your inner values and your external actions more closely.

Secret to happiness: Alignment

In the first of a series of three vlogs, Jenny Allen-Smith, a business transformation coach, talks about the secret to happiness starting with 'alignment'.

Line up your inner values and your external actions

Exercise 1: Define who you really are

Alignment is incredibly important to happiness, Jenny emphasises. To that end, spend some time defining who you really are, she recommends. Ask yourself: what do I truly value in my life?

One way to answer this is to use or create a 'values menu', she advises.

"Take a moment and choose three values that are either on the slide or which come to mind that resonate with you the strongest. Write your values down. This is so important because it helps you to become more accountable," Jenny advises.

"Then assess your actions and behaviours every week. Do they align to your values? Are you acting like the person that you really want to be? This is your first step to core happiness, as you are not going to get there if you haven't actually worked out where 'there' really is," she adds.

Exercise 2: Think about connections

"One factor that absolutely predicts happiness, in almost every study, is social connection," Jenny explains. "Our connections to other people are absolutely instrumental to our level of happiness."

For her second practical exercise Jenny therefore recommends that we take a step back and consider the difference between 'belonging' and 'fitting in'.

"Belonging is being accepted for being your true self, for really being you," she argues. Fitting in, by comparison, is where you are compromising your behaviour, outlook or even your personality to fit in with a wider crowd, whether that be work colleagues, social circles or family. You might then feel unhappy or beat yourself up about this later, for not having been authentic. "So, it is all about, where can you speak your truth?" Jenny says.

Think about how your behaviour - and sense of happiness - differs in different scenarios or environments in your life. How can you work to shift more things along the spectrum from just fitting in to actually belonging?

Exercise 3: 'The Happiness Wheel'

All our lives, Jenny concedes, are complex. It is very easy for the things to get out of balance, whether that's spending too much time at work or not seeing friends and family often enough, or not having time for that hobby or passion outside of work.

One way to change this is through using a Happiness Wheel.

"Draw a circle. Divide it into segments. Label the segments with the things that make you happy. Mine, for example, are spending time with family and friends, reading, yoga and meditation, walking the dog, music, painting, dancing, fine dining," Jenny explains.

"Then imagine a scale of zero to 10, with zero the centre of the wheel and 10 the outer rim. Rank your level of satisfaction with each segment of your life. Ask yourself: 'to what extent am I happy with the attention that I personally give to each segment?'. Zero, or the middle of the wheel, would be not happy at all whereas 10, yes, absolutely."

To create more balance and harmony (alignment) in your life you need to look at where, ideally, you would like each segment to be versus where it is currently - and how that change might occur.

"Remember, it is not realistic necessarily to have a 10 for every segment; I don't think life really works like that," Jenny explains. "Set some reasonable goals. Perhaps spending time with friends and family is a three. You might want to aim, realistically, within the next three months to get that up to a six. See what works for you. Where do you really want to focus? What actions can you take?"

Once you've developed a step or action plan, make sure you revisit and review to see how you're doing it, perhaps every three months. As Jenny concludes: "Happiness is something that you can practice day by day. Make sure that your day-by-day actions line up to the person that you want to be."

About Jenny Allen-Smith and the author

Jenny Allen-Smith is a Transformational Coach, a Master NLP Practitioner and a Mental Health First Aid Trainer with MHFA England. Jenny works daily on her happiness practices and tries to incorporate something that makes her feel joy, every single day! She is getting good at happy.

Nic Paton is one of the country's foremost journalists on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, and is editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine. He also regularly writes on the health and employee benefits and health insurance markets.