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The Young: A Belfast Telegraph poll found that young people value happiness above all else. But what makes us happy?

We asked our Young Editors what they thought. Their responses will astonish you

An exclusive survey carried out by the Belfast Telegraph found that young people rate happiness above anything else. More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds questioned for the poll – 51.5% – ranked personal happiness over holding down a job, enjoying good health, or being wealthy. So, what constitutes happiness? Or unhappiness, for that matter? Five of the Young Editors who have spent this week working in the Belfast Telegraph reveal over the page what makes them happy and unhappy. And it makes for some of the most powerful and poignant writing we have ever published.

From 17-year-old Michael McGrane's agony at losing his beloved dad, Paddy, to a brain tumour two weeks before his GCSEs, to his elation at getting better results than he dared hope for — knowing how proud Paddy would be.

Or Rachael Adamson (18), struggling to come to terms with her mum Rosie's breast cancer diagnosis and the strain it put on their relationship as she tried to make the difficult transition into adulthood.

And then there are the moments of pure, glistering joy: Christopher Seeley (17) getting the chance to watch his Formula 1 hero, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, in the Italian Grand Prix; or Rachael seeing her favourite band, Foals, at last year's Longtitude festival. For Curtis Hill (17) it can be something as simple as lying in bed with his headphones on.

Our Young Editors have produced some of the most affecting writing you will read today.

So keep reading. And be amazed.

 

‘DAD'S DEATH TAUGHT ME TO FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS'

By Michael McGrane (17), from Derrynose, Co Armagh, an AS student at St Patrick’s Grammar in Armagh

Personal happiness, for me, comes in the smallest things. I enjoy nothing more than spending time with friends, whether it be a blow-out night on the town, or just eating junk food and watching a DVD.

Equally, coming home in the evening to my family and sitting over dinner chatting about our day is one of the simple things that can help you forget about what the day has thrown at you and relax for a bit.

Happiness is something I cherish now more than ever. Because my happiness was rocked big-time on May 27, 2013, in Ward 4E of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

After seven weeks of sore heads, stumbling and forgetfulness, my daddy, Paddy, died of a malignant brain tumour, aged 50. It was as if someone had sucked the happiness out of me.

I forgot what it felt like. It was definitely the saddest day of my life.

The ordeal taught me that happiness can so easily be snatched away and you shouldn't let the little things in life get you down.

I don't let that teacher who shouted at me annoy me. I don't get worried by coursework deadlines drawing near. I get happiness in so many ways, because I know what life is like when happiness is nowhere to be found.

Happiness is, for me, checking my bank balance and seeing more money than I expected. Happiness is, for me, coming to the Belfast Telegraph for a week and getting opportunities I never thought I could avail of.

Getting a part-time job, passing my driving test and getting my GCSEs are all happy things. Having done my GCSEs within two weeks of my daddy’s death, it was definitely a happy day when I opened my letter to see some pretty good results.

The things that used to get me down — like they do for most young people — don't seem to affect me much now. If I get a bad grade in a test, I move on. If my shift at work is dragging on, I know it won't last for ever.

So much has changed for me. Bad things have led to a real awakening. This article wouldn't be complete without a Harry Potter quote and I think this sums up what I've said pretty well.

As Albus Dumbledore said: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. If one only remembers to turn on the light.”

 

‘WHEN A FRIEND IS DOWN, THEN I FEEL THAT WAY TOO'

By Maya McCloskey (16), from south Belfast, a student at Lagan College in the city

Reading is something that makes me happy. It takes you into another world where, for at least a moment, you're not thinking, or worrying, about your own life, but someone else's.

When there's a character whom you relate to, it can make you feel better about yourself; like you're the only one who feels, or thinks, in a certain way. They may not be real, but they still exist — just fictionally.

Being with friends and family also makes me happy. You're surrounded by people who you know care about you. They make you laugh, whether you're laughing with, or at, one another and even when you get on each other nerves, they're still going to be there for you.

My happiest day was probably a day during the summer holidays after I finished my GCSEs.

A group of friends and I got the train to the beach and spent the day there, listening to music and joking around.

There's nothing extraordinary about this time; it was just that I felt content, with nothing to worry, or think, about. Something that has been making me unhappy recently is schoolwork.

No matter what, there is always the constant thought in the back of my head of, “I have that assignment to do”, or “I can't go tonight, I'm trying to finish my coursework”.

School seems to take over my life a lot of the time and, if I'm not actually doing the work, I'm thinking about it; there's no escape.

I'm also someone who feels other people’s unhappiness. If a friend is down, I feel that way, too, especially when I can't do anything to help them. I can't stand not being able to cheer someone up. I just feel useless, but I always try. Even if I manage to get a smile out of them, it's worth the trouble.

I haven't a particularly unhappy day, but sometimes things can just get overwhelming and become too much.

Sometimes a build-up of work and over-thinking about whatever is happening in your life at that moment can cause a huge amount of stress and those days I would be at my unhappiest.

 

‘YES, OUR SCHOOLDAYS CAN BE THE BEST TIME'

By Rachael Adamson (18), from Holywood, Co Down, a student at Strathearn School in Belfast

I have to admit it: I am not a very emotional person. I'm finding it difficult to pick a time when I was the most happy, or unhappy.

I'm most happy when I go and see my favourite bands. I recently got tickets to Glastonbury and was absolutely ecstatic, because they're so hard to get.

I've been wanting to go to Glastonbury since I found out about it as a young child, so just knowing I was going to be there was the greatest feeling in the world.

Last summer, I went to the Longitude festival in Dublin and had an amazing time, including seeing my favourite band, Foals.

I was at the front of the crowd at the main stage for pretty much every act, so much so that I befriended security and they gave me sweets and anything the bands would throw out into the crowd.

To quote Leo Tolstoy, ‘Music is the shorthand of emotion’, and I guess that I can relate to this, because when I'm listening to music, it's one of the few times I let my guard down and openly express my emotions.

Of course, I have great memories of family holidays to America, France and Donegal and also so many great times with my friends.

I always look back at my memories of primary and secondary school as happy and carefree. I hate to admit it, but when people told me that school days are some of the best days of your life, they were right.

Music has also made me feel unhappy, especially when it's associated with an unhappy time.

The film Control would be a good example of this. At the end, when Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis has taken his own life and the camera pans out playing their song Atmosphere, I don't think that I've ever let go so much I let myself cry a lot more than I would care to admit.

Films, books and poetry all have that effect on me. Seamus Heaney's Mid-Term Break definitely comes to mind.

I've also had my fair share of unhappy times; family members passing away and my mum being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The years when my mum was fighting that were really difficult and our relationship was very strained, especially at the age I was and was unsure of myself, trying to get to grips with being a teenager and that transition into adulthood.

There is no definitive line between happiness and unhappiness, as emotions are much more than just that.

I am not one to share my feelings often, but there are always little moments that mean a lot, whether they're positive or negative.

 

‘SOMETIMES LYING IN BED WITH MY HEADPHONES ON IS THE GREATEST THING EVER'
By Curtis Hill (17), from north Belfast, an AS student at Belfast Boys’ Model School

I think I am generally a pretty happy person. There aren't many situations in which I would be unhappy.

The height of happiness, for me, comes from two things in particular: hanging out with my friends, or just being in the house watching a film or TV show, or listening to music.

My friends make me happy just by doing things as simple as having a joke with one another, or going out at night, even though you have nothing planned.

I'm quite an extrovert, so I like to talk an unhealthy amount.

I always say what is on my mind, so whenever that gets a reception — either positive or negative — that makes me feel quite happy, too.

Sometimes, I can even get happiness from the simplest of things, like lying in bed with my headphones on.

Or being out in the sun on a summer’s day and just having a clear head.

I can't really choose one of these things over the other; they’re all important in maintaining a happy mindset.

But if I had to pick one thing — only one — it would be the feeling you get after knowing you have done something morally right, no matter how small that might be.

Unhappiness, on the other hand, I don't experience much; maybe from an unexpected argument with close friends, or family, or something like that.

Nothing makes me overly unhappy, in all fairness; sometimes, there are just bad days when you have a lot of things to do and a lot of things on your mind and it becomes hard to focus.

This is very rare, though.

 

HAPPY TALKING... THE EXPERTS' VIEW

“Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 pounds six, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery.”

So said Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. But is happiness ever more than the mere accumulation of wealth?

Biologists, psychologists, philosophers and theologians have long argued over the definition of happiness and unhappiness.

It was considered of such fundamental importance to the human condition that the Founding Fathers of the United States held “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to be inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence.

By and large, philosophers and religious thinkers have tended to define happiness as living ‘The Good Life’, rather than simply as an emotional response. Scientists tend to be more reductive.

Sonja Lyubomirsky concludes in her book, The How Of Happiness, that 50% of happiness is genetically determined, 10% is affected by circumstances and the remaining 40% is subject to self-control.

The psychologist Martin Seligman claims happiness is not solely derived from momentary pleasures and uses the acronym Perma to describe when humans seem happiest: Pleasure (when they enjoy tasty food, or a warm bath); Engagement (performing an enjoyable, yet challenging activity); Relationships (social ties); Meaning (a quest to belong to something bigger); and Accomplishments (having achieved tangible goals).

President Franklin D Roosevelt seemed to recognise this fact when he said, in his first inaugural address in 1933: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Yet economic indices, such as GDP and GNP, are frequently cited as a measure of happiness; richer nations, on average, tending to be happier than poorer nations.

In Happy People Live Longer, the Swiss economist Bruno Frey even claims that happy people live 14% longer than unhappy people, increasing their longevity by between 7.5 and 10 years.

Best, perhaps, to leave the last word to John Lennon: “Count your age by friends, not years, count your life by smiles, not tears.”

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