On 21 September 2015 (World Peace Day), His Holiness The Dalai Lama helped to launch Exploring What Matters, a revolutionary new course which helps people discover how to live a happier and kinder life.
The course has been developed by Action for Happiness, a UK-based movement of people taking action for a happier world, which has over 55,000 members in 160 countries. It is secular, science-based and open to people of all backgrounds.
Commenting on launch, the Dalai Lama said:
“As patron of Action for Happiness I am delighted to see the work being done by members of this movement to create a happier and more caring society. I wholeheartedly support the Exploring What Matters course and hope that many thousands of people will benefit from it and be inspired to take their own action to help create a happier world.”
You can find the BBC coverage here.
Analysis of the course has found that it leaves people both happier and more pro-social, with participants reporting increases in levels of life satisfaction, mental wellbeing, compassion and social trust. Many say the course is life-changing.
Jasmine Hodge-Lake came to the course having suffered for over a decade with chronic pain which left her unable to work. She describes how it helped her:
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Action for Happiness and that course. I found there were things I could do that would make a big difference and started to feel hopeful about the future. I still have bad days and life certainly isn’t perfect. But it has really helped me so much. Now I’m trying to be the change that I want to see.”
In Exploring What Matters, local groups meet for eight weeks, with each session exploring a big question. They start with “What really matters in life?” and then “What really makes us happy?”. These are followed by sessions on dealing with adversity, having good relationships, caring for others, and creating happier workplaces and communities. They end with “How can we create a happier world?”
The course is delivered by community volunteers, with materials and support provided by Action for Happiness. Over 300 people have already put themselves forward to run the course and it is hoped that many of these courses will be underway by the end of 2015, with many more to follow over the coming years.
Co-founder of Action for Happiness, Professor Lord Richard Layard said:
“A good society is one where as many people as possible are able to live happy, fulfilling lives. We want to see this course happening in thousands of local communities to help like-minded people support each other in taking practical actions which are not only good for their own wellbeing but also contribute to the happiness of others around them too”.
The course is being described as a challenge to the promotion of materialism and individual success which is predominant in Western culture.
Director of Action for Happiness, Dr Mark Williamson said:
“In the modern world we are bombarded with false messages about what makes for a happy life. The Exploring What Matters course helps people discover for themselves that real success has much less to do with what we earn or consume – and much more to do with our inner attitudes, our relationships with others and our contribution to society”.
Work to develop and evaluate the Exploring What Matters course has been supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and John Templeton Foundation.
About the Exploring What Matters Course
Exploring What Matters is an in-depth 8-week course for use by local community groups. It was developed by Action for Happiness and has been found to be a highly effective way of promoting well-being and building social cohesion. The course was initially piloted in Bethnal Green and Hackney and evaluation showed significant improvements in both the personal wellbeing (+15% Life Satisfaction; +9% Mental Wellbeing) and also in the pro-social behaviour (+8% Compassion; +18% Trust) of the course participants.
The course is based on groups of up to 25 people exploring “big questions” together each week. The questions/themes for the 8 sessions are as follows:
- What really matters in life?
- What actually makes us happy?
- Can we find peace of mind?
- How should we treat others?
- What makes for great relationships?
- Can we be happier at work?
- Can we build happier communities?
- How can we create a happier world?
Each weekly session follows the same structured format, which includes:
- Tuning In. Starting each session with short mindfulness and gratitude exercises to create a calm and positive atmosphere and to encourage friendly connections.
- Expert View. Watching a short video relating to the theme, including talks by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Layard, Karen Armstrong, Ed Diener and Brene Brown.
- Personal View. Reflecting on personal experiences relating to that week’s theme.
- Did You Know? Learning interesting new ideas based on the latest research.
- Group Discussion. Having an in-depth discussion in small groups of 3-4 people.
- Action. Committing to a personal action to take based on what has been discussed.
Provision of the course is based on a model which aims to encourage generosity and fairness. Participants are asked to make a donation to attend, in order to contribute to the costs of materials, venue hire and other expenses. The recommended weekly donation is £10 but this is optional and participants are able to choose what they give, so that the course remains open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Participants who are able to give more help to ensure the course is available for those who have less.
About Action for Happiness
Action for Happiness helps people take action to improve mental wellbeing, both for themselves and others. Since its launch in 2011 it has helped over 100,000 people take practical action in their homes, workplaces, schools and communities. The movement’s vision is a happier and more caring society, with far fewer people suffering with mental health problems and far more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others.
Action for Happiness is part of the Young Foundation and was founded by Lord Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Sir Anthony Seldon and its patron is The Dalai Lama. It has 57,000 members in 160 countries and an online community of over 350,000 followers. It provides evidence-based resources to help people; runs courses and training for communities, schools and organisations; and promotes cultural change towards a more compassionate way of life.