It only takes one person to make you happy and change your life: YOU.
We are on a mission to be happy. Whether that be at work, in relationships or in life as a whole.
It’s natural that we all want to develop a positive attitude, feel happier and be more content with our lives. The typical way we live life today, however, makes this fairly difficult. Too often it is full of stress, worry, competition and obsessing over what others think of us.
The last ten years have seen a rise in research into what makes people happy. Evidence, advice and tips on how we can live happier lives is so easily available now. Yet if I was to ask you about the research, would you know what it suggests?
There does not need to be an endless pursuit for happiness in your life. There are things that you can start doing every day in order to cultivate more positivity. It may well sound cheesy but being happy lies within you. The good news is that you can start making changes today.
In her book ‘The How of Happiness’ Sonja Lyubomirsky looks at the evidence behind happiness. She writes that 50% of our happiness is explained by our genetically determined setpoints and 10% by our circumstances (money, health, relationship status etc). That leaves 40%. Lyubomirsky explains that 40% can be determined by intentional activity.
To be clear of these findings – 40% of your happiness is influenced by your own actions and behaviours. 40% of your happiness, is within your control.
With this in mind, I wanted to make a simple guide to let you know what the research does say, and what you can do to increase your happiness:
An active appreciation of the things you have in your life.
Experts say: Lyubomirsky informs us the research is clear; an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can cultivate happiness. She did a study in America and found that those that practiced gratitude regularly became happier as a result.
Adopting a mindset that recognises positive life experiences means that there is less space to focus on the negatives, which in most cases, we seem to be hardwired to do.
My practice: I don’t remember when I started practicing gratitude. I do know it has been years of inconsistent practice. Noticing the good in my life keeps me grounded and I think it has been the key to not looking everywhere else for happiness. I have a gratitude journal that I use regularly, however I don’t fill it in every day. My daily practice happens when I brush my teeth, that’s my time to think about what I am grateful for in life or from the last 24hours.
Start now: How you do this is up to you, a popular exercise is to record three things a day. It is said that writing it down is particularly beneficial. However it is all about what works for you, you may prefer to mentally list what you are grateful for. Remember, it’s not supposed to be a chore. Play around with it a bit until you find a fit.
This can be in the form of time, energy, money, resources. It may be that you help out with volunteering or it can be acts of kindness such as holding the door open for someone. It does not have to be grand gestures.
Experts say: Studies show that helping others boosts our own happiness. It’s win win. Stephen G. Post notes that helping others and expressing compassionate behaviours leads to improved wellbeing, happiness and health – unless of course helping others is overwhelming and causing stress.
My practice: My work has always involved helping others. It can be really easy to forget that. When I see people I have been working with, make changes and start to feel better, there’s no doubt that feels good. I remind myself to consciously be more open to acts of kindness. This can include checking in with someone, striking up conversations with the uber driver, dropping some spare coins in a charity bucket. I’m practicing being more open to these situations.
Start now: Make a decision to offer someone some help if you think they need it, ask three people how they are today, volunteer your time. It doesn’t have to be grand gestures.
Feeding your mind with new information. Whether that be through books, new hobbies, or taking up a course.
Experts say: Vanessa King, positive psychologist (Known for her work with the charity ‘Action for Happiness’) says that learning new things is “a core need for psychological wellbeing. Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It can also be a way of connecting with others too…as human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call it mastery.”
My practice: Learning is one of the most obvious practices that makes me feel content. I heard about the 5 hour rule (I’m not sure where from) which is spending five hours of your week learning in some form. My main avenues for learning are reading books, blogs and listening to podcasts. I can also be found Youtubing Ted Talks and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, THAT makes me feel warm inside. Honestly, I think this can be the perfect activity for commuting, waiting etc.
Start now: Learning new things can come in the form that you prefer. It needs to suit your needs and interests in order to have the desired impact on your wellbeing, you don’t want it to feel like hard work. Figure out what you want to learn more about and order a book or read a blog on that topic.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing your attention to the here and now, noticing what you are thinking and how you are feeling, with no judgement. Being in the present prevents you from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, it is simply being, now.
Experts say: Jon Kabat-Zinn (Professor and expert in the practice of mindfulness) shares that key findings indicate after eight weeks of practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, the way the brain processes stress and emotion, changes. We are able to cope with these situations better than before.
My practice: This has been one of the biggest game changers for me. Practicing mindfulness pulls me out of a cycle of overthinking or worrying. I tend to check in with myself throughout the day and especially when I am experiencing negative emotions. I engage with several mindfulness strategies depending on the circumstances. I am a big fan of grounding techniques. I do practice meditation, but not every day.
Start now: Start small, there are great resources out there to get you into the habit of being more mindful. Try to slow down and check what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Introduce some mindful activities to your day such as focusing on your five senses. If you want to try meditation, start with a guided one, headspace is a good app to start with or there are plenty on YouTube.
This can include relationships and connections with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and people in your community.
Experts say: Connection is one of the fundamental needs as humans. The “Five Ways to Wellbeing” report indicates that there is a wealth of research consistently showing that those with strong a social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. “Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth.”
My practice: I stay in contact with friends and family regularly. My preference is to meet face to face but of course this is not always practical. In the ideal world I would see them more, but the fact is it’s not that simple. So for that, I love social media, video calling, and messaging etc.
Start now: Book something in with someone now. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. Tell someone you love them or thank them for the nice time you had with them recently. Even just the odd text with someone you care about can make you (and them) feel good. Remember, relationships do require effort and that’s OK.
This is the act of being kind to yourself, without judgment. It’s often best described as treating yourself like you would a friend. You treat yourself the same way when things are difficult, you make a mistake or notice a flaw in yourself.
Experts say: Kristen Neff is one of the leading experts in this field. Dr. Neff’s research “strongly suggests that people who are more self-compassionate lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. And the feelings of security and self-worth provided by self-compassion are highly stable. Self-compassion steps in precisely when we fall down, allowing us to get up and try again.”
My practice: Practicing being more mindful really helps me to be on top of when I am being hard on myself. Being more aware of my thoughts means I am able to notice how I talk to myself and when I am being critical. If something is difficult, I will actively try and see it from an outside perspective and think about what I would say to someone I care about.
Start now: The first step is awareness. Begin noticing how you talk to yourself. Are you harsh? What tone do you use? Think about how you would talk to someone you care about in certain situations and try talking to yourself like that. It can be really powerful to write this down. Make a commitment to start loving yourself, now.
There you have it, just a few habits that can improve your world.
The above practices, do not result in constant happiness. You will still feel the negative emotions. But it will strengthen your self-belief, your coping skills and your ability to look after your own needs. All of which are vital for your wellbeing and overall a more peaceful, happy life.
If you are facing difficult circumstances in your life today, you may wonder how practicing these strategies will help that. The more content and positive you are feeling, the more you will be able to handle the pressures that life throws at you.
You do not have to introduce all the habits at once. Pick one to begin and see how it feels. This is not a one size fits all situation. It takes time to form new habits and see results, so be patient.
If you want to be happier, do something about it. Don’t wait for it to fall from the sky or give anyone else the responsibility for your happiness. It belongs to you. Introducing these healthy habits into your daily life is a great step towards you valuing yourself and your happiness.
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Carly Ann xx