Published on June 25, 2012 at www.ourworldtoday.com.au
FEATURE | DR TIMOTHY Sharp began the first half of his career in clinical psychology, where he focused on resolving people’s problems.
But since joining the positive psychology movement, the leading mental health expert has devoted his career to further enhancing people’s lives and helping them understand what it means to be happy.
“Too many people think about happiness as just a positive emotion,” Tim says.
“Yes, it is a positive emotion and it is about pleasure, but it’s also connected with other things such as a sense of belonging and finding meaning and purpose in your life.”
Tim is one of Australia’s leading psychologists for well-being and happiness, and has been heard and read by millions of people.
Some of his notable achievements include his invitation to be an Australia Day Ambassador in 2010/2011 and the 2008 Future Leadership Award that recognised him as one of the outstanding leaders of our generation.
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology that seeks to understand positive emotions and the conditions that enable people to thrive instead of just treating mental illness.
According to SANE Australia, 20 per cent of Australians will experience depression during their lives.
This is despite Forbes naming ‘the lucky country’ the 11th wealthiest country in the world on a per capita basis, with Australia’s GDP per capita reaching AU$36,806.
This year Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide made the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of the 10 most livable cities, making Australia the most livable country in the world.
However, Tim, also known as ‘Dr Happy’, is quick to remind us that increased wealth in the 21st Century doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.
“What we know is that wealth and income have little to do with happiness. There are other things that are far more significant,” he says.
“If I was to measure happiness I would be looking at the quality of relationships and not wealth.”
“Sense of family and social support is an integral part of our lifestyle and I think we may have lost a bit of that as we have become wealthier.”
“In many cases you will find that people in the developing world have a strong sense of family and community.”
“I’m not a religious person, but one of the main benefits of religion that we need to remember is the sense of community and as people become less religious we are losing a bit of that community.”
Tim, whose career spans over 20 years, told Our World Today that the push for individualism has led to a lack of community feeling for many Aussies.
“There has also been a big push for individualism and to be the best that we can be,” he said.
“Now that’s a good thing but if that’s all we do it becomes selfishness and we become disconnected.”
“You can’t just look after yourself – you also need to look after your friends, your family, your community and I think we have lost a bit of that.”
Tim says people need to ensure they have deep and meaningful relationships, look after their health and also not buy into prominent marketing messages.
“One of the things we have to do is combat messages that we see in a western capitalist society.”
“While I don’t dispute that capitalism is a good thing, one of the things we need to be aware of is that we are constantly told that we need more to be happier – that we need a bigger house, a bigger car, new technology.”
“When we are sent these messages everyday it’s hard to ignore and while you do get a sense of happiness when you buy something new it doesn’t last long and it doesn’t go very deep.”
“What does go deep are relationships and looking after your physical and mental health.”
Scientific research in recent years shows that some people naturally have higher levels of hormones, such as Serotonin, that cause feelings of happiness.
However, Tim says anybody can have a happier, more fulfilling life if they take time to think about what is meaningful to them.
“You need to make it a priority and take action if you want to be happier and most people will have to work at it,” he said.
“Some people are surprised to know that the basic principles of what makes children and adults happy are essentially the same – although there are differences in age and maturity of course.”
“When I give presentations I see that most people want to be happier but not many people actually make it a priority to think about what they need to do to be happier.”
“Often when people do make it a priority they don’t know what to do so we teach people the skills and strategies to be able to do that.”
The bestselling author and highly qualified psychologist and coach says he practices what he preaches when it comes to happiness and well-being.
“I try and do things that are meaningful and purposeful. I love getting up to present and I would advise any person to try and find a way to do what they love if possible.”
“Who you see on the stage is part of me but it’s not all of me.”
But Tim says it is important for people to recognise that nobody will be happy every minute of every day.
“People need to feel okay about being down sometimes and not demonise it because it’s normal.”
To find out about upcoming events and courses around the country organised by The Happiness Institute, visit http://www.thehappinessinstitute.com/events/events.aspx?t=1