On noise & how we find ourselves in silence


Between the ages of seven and eleven, every school day for thirty minutes after lunch break, came my favourite time of day: silent reading. The aim of this, I suppose, was to help us coast into an afternoon of sober studiousness after our raging exertions on the playground. The real delight was: we got to read whatever we wanted. Even books from home were allowed (my heart would soar at the thought of thirty engrossing minutes of Jacqueline Wilson.)

I adored this time, and of course I still do adore reading. Yet, I see now that reading is not real silence. Ultimately, we were being encouraged to fill this silent time with another kind of noise—the very special noise (but noise nonetheless) of books.

And I wonder now: where was the silent time for our own young voices to emerge, unsullied, and announce themselves to the world?

We live on a very noisy planet (literally, we are sending out ever-expanding radio waves into space.) German philosopher, Heidegger, would call the totality of this noise “idle talk” or “chatter”—and it defines much of our existence. This noise is not just radio. It’s opinions, facts, Facebook, the Sunday paper, Netflix… It’s our culture—that messy, raucous thing we are all deeply entrenched in—telling us what to do, what to think, what to be.

What happens to us in silence—real silence?

Some of us get anxious—it can be nice being told what to do, think, and be. Why? Because it lets us off the hook. It lessens the burden of responsibility for ‘Making It’ or for getting life right. Even though—and I know you’ve heard this before—there is no right.

In silence, some of us feel regret, fear, hopelessness…

…and all those other sensations where we remain trapped in the past or recoil from a potential future.

Yet, what we can also find in silence is possibility. Possibility for authenticity—even if it might need a little excavating. Chinks of light where you might catch a glimpse, sometimes a very profound glimpse, of yourself at your essence.

We find ourselves in silence. [Tweet it!]

I encourage you to find some silence. Real silence. I encourage you to feel those uncomfortable feelings that come with the territory; to face them, even momentarily. Then, fill this silence with noise of your own making (words, wisdom, aspirations.) I do this by writing.

And, finally, be open to finding yourself, over and over—there, on the blank canvas of silence.

Create Your World With Questions


Given that, in a growing area of psychology, the self is a story, and therefore that we can think of our happiness as a kind of story, it seems logical that we ask how we are telling these stories. The truth is, we craft who we are with thoughts and tiny daily actions & interactions. Yet I believe that, most of all:

We craft who we are with the questions we ask. [Tweet it!]

What do I mean by that? I mean that each day we ask things of ourselves and our worlds that direct where we go and what we become (as individuals and as a collective.) Everything from what should I wear, to what am I doing with my life, to why am I so stuck? In psychology, there is a practice called Appreciative Inquiry or AI, and it’s when we ask: what is going really well?

How many times have you, in whatever words, asked yourself to be better? Focussed on what’s going wrong? Asked yourself to be different somehow? To change? And did that help – or has it left you feeling lacking? Left behind? Under-valued?

Although AI is primarily used today in organisations, it was actually originally developed  as a tool for use on an individual level. And that’s exactly what this article is for: to ask that you begin to appreciatively inquire into yourself.

Takeaway Truth:

“We live in the world our questions create.” – David Cooperrider


If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’re not alone. Perhaps it’s time we asked better questions: kinder questions, more beautiful questions, more appreciative questions.

In addition, a great deal of psychological research suggests that we’re usually more successful in endeavours that we approach with intrinsic motivation. When we feel autonomous, we thrive. Therefore, instead of my offering up some go-to questions, why not create your own?

Try it: Create Your Own Questions

I want to help you begin your own appreciative inquiry; to ask the questions that matter, because you make them matter. Questions that get to the heart of what’s already going right in your world – and how to get more of it, rather than questions that sink you into the swampy depths of what’s gone wrong.

Below I’ve given you some structures and some mix & match beginning middle and ends. Have fun with them. Craft as many questions as you like. One. Five. Fifteen. Let your imagination run as wild (or as tamely) as you see fit.

Writing Exercise:

I am _______ [possible fillers: happiest, grateful, fulfilling my potential, at my best, at my most ambitious/hopeful/curious/relaxed/blissed out] when I am _______ [possible fillers: with friends, with animals, outdoors, travelling, writing, creating.] How can I get more of that in my life?

What’s going really well in my_______ [possible fillers: work, love life, friendships, writing, health] that I can _______ [possible fillers: focus on, expand on, replicate elsewhere, be grateful for?]

How can I _______ [possible fillers: create, reach, approach, attain, attract] more of this, in order to move closer to my dream _______ [possible fillers: self, gap year, job, daily schedule, lover] [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]

Who or what can help me _______ [possible fillers: uncover, build, change, plan, learn about] that thing I most want to _______ [possible fillers: create, see, visit, achieve, make] in my life [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]


These are just a few ideas to get you started, but there are limitless possibilities to the questions we ask in our lives. Try a few of your own from scratch. Zone in on those that feel most poignant. You might want to pick one question – or even a couple of questions – to guide you into the coming year. You might even want to make this a regular part of a writing for happiness practice.

Create beautiful questions & craft a more beautiful story.

The Story of Happiness


Last week I wrote about how the self – our identity – is considered by many psychologists to be a kind of narrative; that the self is a story.

I briefly mentioned that, if our own identity can be seen as a story, then certainly our sense of happiness might be seen that way too.

But, to suggest such a thing, don’t we need to get to the heart of what happiness is? It seems obvious, but have you ever tried to pin down exactly how you conceive of happiness? Few of us do, and as a result it can remain abstract and half-considered, despite the hunger to pursue it that defines much of the western world.

A History of Happiness

“Since we all of us desire happiness, how can we be happy?” asked Plato in 380 BC, and – despite varying definitions of across cultures and eras – this fascination endures today. In recent years, the science of positive psychology has sought to define and measure the assorted shades of happiness, with varying success. Perhaps that is the real seduction of happiness: that we can’t quite define it in truly fixed terms because it is as intricately woven and unique as our DNA.

Is happiness simply an emotion, or a state of being? Is it a gift, or a skill? Does it rely on quality, or quantity? And what does it look like? Is it big, or small? Loud, or lightly whispered? Does it sparkle, or sigh?

Happiness is a tricky mistress; because everybody
 seems to classify her differently, and sometimes what we think will make us happy doesn’t quite do the job in the way we’d hoped. This is why it can be helpful to try to define (and, perhaps, regularly redefine) happiness, because the more sincere the definition, the more it can serve us; offer us a reason for being; be our mission should we choose to accept it…

A good way to begin to conceptualise your own story of happiness, is to think about what you stand for.

What kind of happiness do you stand for?

John Lennon famously said, in regard to his politics, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Similarly, if your happiness doesn’t stand for something – if your idea of it is vague, or simply inherited from others (the media, your culture etc.) – you might find you’ve being accepting mediocre and unfulfilling versions of it. Maybe for you happiness is political; maybe you believe in a universal basic income, or a share-economy. Maybe happiness is freedom: from the dreary office cubicle or student debt.

Far be it from me to supply you with a narrative for happiness, the task is yours and yours alone. Yet, if you’ve ever pondered “will [insert person/job/object here] make me happier?” then it stands to reason that you should have a clear (albeit evolving) definition – a story – of happiness. How else could we ever hope to glean authentic answers to such questions?

One of my favourite definitions of happiness is this one:

“Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfilment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.” — Matthieu Ricard


I think I’m pretty happy with that as my ‘story of happiness.’ What about you?

Try It: Write the Story of Your Happiness

If you want to explore your very own story of happiness – to begin to paint a clearer picture of this oft elusive seductress – as always: I suggest you write it out. Start a blank page in a journal or notebook, and begin with the words:

Happiness is…

Then, without stopping, editing, or censoring yourself, write for five minutes. Inevitably, you’ll have been carrying around some definitions that you’ve inherited but that may not suit you anymore, and in my experience the longer you write, the further you get beyond these ‘stock’ answers. You might find it helpful to write a ‘Happiness isn’t…’ list too, if you sense you’ve got some pretty stubborn definitions to shake off.

This ‘free-write’ doesn’t have to make much sense, think of it more as a cleansing ritual: a way to rinse away any particularly sticky or stale stories. You may even choose to do the exercise two or three times. As I say, the longer you write, the clearer you usually get.

My hope is that, eventually, you’ll strike gold, and by that I mean you’ll get a definition that makes you think, “hallelujah, that’s it! That’s what it’s all about!” It might be as succinct as a few words, or a long and elaborate manifesto, whatever feels right. Keep going until you get there.


If you want to share a snippet of your story – or a favourite quote like mine – I’d love to see it! You can either post it in the comments below, email it to me megan[at]meganchayes[dot]com or share it on Instagram with #happinessisastory and tag me @megan.c.hayes so I definitely won’t miss it.