Are you happy? This seems to be the new measure of successful life. No longer am I being rated on how much I earn, how big my home is, how high up the career ladder I've gone.
For a long time it was just assumed some people were just happy people and some were not. Now though research has shown that happiness isn't set in stone and there's a lot we can do to swell our happiness coffers. In Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project she sets out on a quest to discover what happiness means to her and whether she can make changes to her life over the course of the year and be a happier person.
Although her journey was a personal one she came up with several universal truths about happiness these include:
"To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth."
"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."
This is where membership of the WI comes into my own personal happiness. There has been a great many things that have been ace about my thirties so far but joining the Brighton Belles - such a positive, diverse, progressive, kind, community minded and humorous group of women is right up there. The Belles are a new wave group and the members range from women in their 20s to women in their 60s. We really are a mixed bunch but are united by the above qualities.
The WI is very much an atmosphere of growth. During the two years I've been a member we've learned such a variety of skills. We can now make cocktails from ice-cream, we've been taught what makes a great beer from a local independent brewery, how to make seed bombs and make an insect friendly garden from the Brighton & Hove food partnership and how to make raw chocolate, which is actually really good for you.
In a recent meeting I was part of a private tour of the suffragette exhibition at Brighton Museum arranged by one of our committee members, Laura. I was able to see first-hand artefacts such as the Votes for Women sash and the hunger strike brooch that was awarded to a local suffragette, Minnie Turner. She was just an ordinary woman who had enough and decided it was her duty to change the course of history. This is why my time with the Belles has been both so enjoyable and so positive. To be able to look at the life of a woman just like me, who changed the world. It made me realise how much power we have and that it is important to make a stand for what you believe to be right.
In regards to the second splendid truth of happiness, making other people happy is something the Brighton Belles are very keen to do. We have a dedicated charity that we raise money for, Rise. They are local charity that helps those affected by domestic abuse. They work alongside survivors giving practical support to help them rebuild safer lives. We have raised thousands of pounds for them through selling cake and refreshments at events such as Brighton Pride and the Brighton Marathon. Through the success of our fundraising we are now able to offer grants to local causes that members vote for.
The sense of community and kindness that the Brighton Belles promote is clearly working because when the Brighton Happiness list was published by the international wellbeing charity, Action for Happiness in June our president Amy Stevens was named, Cat Fletcher and Warren Carter of community groups we work closely with and I'm happy to report myself. It's a funny thing to be officially recognised as happy but I know it has a great deal to with being a member of such a wonderful organisation.
This is why for our celebration of the WI's centenary we asked members to pledge to carry out 100 acts of kindness between June and September. They've included things such as baking cakes for work to cheer colleagues up, helping a new mum who was struggling to breastfeed baby and as group we realised our fund raising efforts have been so successful we are now able to award £100 grants to other local charities. The Mouslecoomb Community Garden is one of the charities who benefited and have been able to buy new tools to carry on all the great educational and community building work they do.
Our celebrations are culminating on the WI's official birthday of 16 September by giving away 100 cakes at Brighton station to commuters on their way home to sweeten their journey. The cakes are kindly being baked for us by Raise, a local Sussex bakery and will be given in boxes we've decorated ourselves to highlight all the good work of the last 100 years.
So when people ask me why I'm so happy I reply because I'm a member of the WI.