The one about Making Australia Happy.

The other week at therapy the psychologist pulled out a DVD quickly to teach us about mindfulness and mindful eating.

The segment featured Melbournite, Dr Russ Harris, expert on mindfulness, and author of The Happiness TrapDr Russ was leading a group of eight unusually unhappy Australians living in Sydney through a mindfulness exercise.

His first job was to hire a world renowned piccolo player from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to pose as a busker on the street near their headquarters. Of the eight volunteers, only one stopped to notice the amazing musician, all of the other meandering along the street without a care in the world. This, he explained, is why we need mindfulness. Sometimes we are too lost in thought to notice the pleasant things happening in the world right now.

They went on to do an exercise on mindful eating, where they were each given a sultana (sun-dried grape) and asked to spend five minutes eating it. They had to pretend they had never eaten the fruit before, and study it as if it were new and interesting.

The volunteers looked at the shape of the sultana, the colour, the speckles and the wrinkles. They held the sultana up to their ears and listened for any squeaks or squidges. They felt the wrinkles in between their fingers and up against their lips. They felt their mouths water as it came close to their mouth and the smelt the sweetness of the fruit, inhaling deeply. Finally they bit a little bit off, carefully tasting it as if they weren’t sure whether or not it was poisonous. With the final half of the fruit they sucked carefully, chewing and rolling the portion around their mouth with their tongue, lapping up the taste.

Most felt surprised their mind didn’t wander more, that they could focus on the sultana and this process of eating it for the whole five minute period. Most said they enjoyed the “salty” more, and that they could see how this theory could help them in their everyday life. That the sultana was a metaphor, and if they stopped and appreciated moments in their life more often they would feel more happy.

After therapy I went to the ABC shop and bought the rest of the series on DVD. Overall, it’s a great watch. The participants are tested regularly over a period of eight weeks for cortisol and melatonin in their blood and saliva. Their brain patterns are measured and their daily activity tracked. Their progress is marked by infrequent completion of a “Happiness 100 Index” measure. You can take this quiz yourself on their website.

They say that most Australians, on average, should score between 70-75 on the Happiness 100 Index. Anything above 50 means that you are more happy than sad, and similarly, anything less than 50 means you are more sad than happy. A score less than 50 gives you a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Most participants scored less than 50 the initial week, but by the end of the eight week program they were all above the national average.

Out of interest, I took the quiz to check the validity of the thing. Knowing I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety I expected my score to be low – and it was. I scored 20. Over the next few weeks I intend to take in the lessons learned from the series, changing my diet and exercise as well as practicing mindfulness more. Of course I will also be regularly taking medication, seeing my GP, psychologist, psychiatrist and going to therapy. So it won’t be a very controlled test, but it will still be interesting to see my Happiness 100 Index score rise (hopefully).

I encourage you to check out the series and the website, and maybe even take the test for yourself!

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