It's within your control
Happiness. It’s tricky to define that elusive feeling that most people strive for but not everyone reaches. Some say happiness is having everything you want. Others say it’s being content. And others feel happiness with just a smile everyday. I believe happiness is a state of mind - what brings it about is unique to you - but bringing it into your everyday life is completely within your control. Take the time this week to look inside yourself to explore all the weird and wonderful things that make you happy. Whilst you do that, here are some universal tips that increase happiness in us all:
1) Start with the basics: sleep and exercise
There’s bags of research out there that proves the basics of sleep and exercise have a huge effect on happiness. A lack of sleep makes you much more susceptible to negative emotions like fear and anger, together with making it more difficult for you to recall pleasant memories. Whereas getting the right amount of sleep has been linked to positive characteristics such as optimism and greater self-esteem. Exercise boosts levels of health-promoting brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which can help manage some of the effects of stress. Without these basics it can be like trying to build a happiness castle on quicksand. So, if you’re not getting the basics, then make some changes today.
2) Give yourself a welcoming space
Our environment can have a huge impact on our mindset. Some are more sensitive to it than others, but a welcoming space that’s yours can be key to feeling safe and secure, helping to increase happiness. Having your own calm space - where you can think, dream, ponder, plan and create, or just be - is essential in our fast-paced, over-connected world. Try putting your clothes away before bed and making your bed in the morning as a start. Just little things in our environment can make a big difference.
3) Spend time outdoors
Research proves that spending just 20 minutes outdoors getting sunshine and fresh air can increase our happiness levels and broaden our thinking. Just looking at trees or going for a walk reduces stress and shows a shift toward more positive moods - so what are you waiting for? Go for a wander, just you, your thoughts and the big outdoors.
4) Learn to free-write
Journaling is a proven happiness tool. It has a strong connection with mindfulness - bringing you into a mindful state where past frustrations and future anxieties lose their edge in the present moment. Often when we try to write down our thoughts and feelings we’re blocked by apathy, self-criticism, resentment, fear of censorship or other forms of resistance. Free-writing is all about loosening and limbering the thought process, with no present judgement about what is written. Try setting a timer to five minutes and write continuously, without regard for spelling, grammar or the topic on which you’re writing. Allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind as a continuous flow, letting topics come and go, with no re-reading or making sense of it. Regular free-writing allows us the freedom to explore our thoughts and feelings with no censors - allowing us to recognise the positive and release the negative.
5) Appreciate external and internal worlds
Social media has made the world smaller - we can stay connected with people at all times, in all parts of the world. Although there are many benefits to this, people of all walks of life can be left feeling inadequate. I urge you to remember this: when you’re looking at someone’s social media feed - their updates, photos and comments - you’re looking at their external world. Our external worlds are what we choose to share with others; our personas that we create to encourage people to think of us in a certain way. Social media is the perfect platform for sharing our external worlds - a world in which we only take good photos, we’re popular and great things happen to us. Our internal worlds are our internal reality - what we experience everyday, what we think and how we feel. When we compare our internal worlds with other people’s external worlds, we’re comparing chalk and cheese. Remember that everyone else is human too - we all have our bad days and our good days.
6) Recognise your filters
I believe that everyone interprets their own reality. Nothing is truly objective as we perceive the world through a lens created by our own experiences, beliefs and values. The lens through which we see and experience the world acts as a filter, disseminating and often adjusting our perception of reality, gathering information that supports whatever perspective we maintain in any given moment. So if we have a negative lens on the world, we will find and experience negative things, filtering out the positive. If we have a lens that focuses on our mediocrity or victimhood then we will seek out and experience those things. Take a moment to think about the filter through which you see the world. Clean your lens and relax your filter. Choose to see the positives - see the greatness in yourself and those around you.
7) Give yourself some head space
Many people feel that meditation is unrealistic for them - it’s too hard to empty the mind and just sit. I’d encourage you to start small and take the pressure off yourself. One easy way to start taking that ‘me’ time is through the free app ‘Headspace’. I recommend it to clients as it offers guided mindfulness in short bursts that you can fit around your day. Meditation is proven to focus your mind, calm your nerves and support your inner equilibrium. Research shows it can even lead to physical changes in your brain that make you happier and decrease stress. Just start with ten minutes of guided mindfulness a day and see the difference it can make.
8) Practice gratitude
Building on the earlier idea of filters, if we spend a little time focusing on what we’re grateful for each day, we have more positive emotions, greater optimism and we cope with stress better. One great habit to get into is to keep a notebook next to your bed and write three things you’re grateful for each day. It helps that filter of yours to focus on what’s important.
Think big and be brave...
You have the control to bring happiness into your everyday life. It comes from within and is guided by where you focus your thoughts - happy people don’t experience joy in every minute of the day, but they still find pleasure in the small things. Enjoyable work and a sense that your life has meaning are also important - so think big, be brave and grow in the way you’ve always wanted to.
If you'd like to discuss anything written above, I'd love to hear from you - firstname.lastname@example.org