Habits for Happiness
‘Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess’
I loved that song as a child, but back then I didn’t appreciate just how elusive happiness could be, both for me as an adult, and for so many people.
Most of us aspire to be happy and I have been thinking about why is it that some people just seem to go through life very happy, and some people don't?
What can we do about happiness? Is this something that we can create? Is it just something it's outside of our control if bad things have happened to us?
One of my favourite quotes about happiness is something that John Lennon allegedly said.
When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I wrote down happy. They told me, I didn't understand the assignment. And I told them, they didn't understand life.
Now, whether John Lennon said that or not, I'm not really sure. But what I can tell you is that I'm very lucky in that I've got small grandchildren, and they have taught me a lot about happiness and the joy of simply living in the moment. As somebody that has suffered a lot with depression, and as I have had to overcome some pretty grim things in my life, it's something that I've had to work on. Life has not always been easy for me and I've had to work on what I call ‘happiness habits’
The things that I can refer to now, and I can share with you, are based on science, it has been proved that you can actually train your mind to be happier. I'm not going to tell you that I can guarantee that you can be happy all of the time, because life's not like that.
What I can tell you is that a lot of studies will tell you, that there are two key components to happiness, or subjective well-being, and they are firstly the balance of emotions. So everybody will experience both positive and negative emotions, feelings, and moods.
Happiness is generally linked to experiencing more positive feelings than negative ones. So you know, as Ronan sang, ‘Life is a roller coaster’, - ain’t that the truth!
We are going to have ups and downs in our lives. It's how we ride that out,and accepting that to get the highs, sometimes we do have to have the lows. And that's just part of life. And unfortunately, unless you are living in a cave with no exposure to anybody else, and you're not really doing anything, and you're not really living your life, you will have ups and downs. Some days will be better than others, some things will go really, really well. And resilience has a lot to do with it as well, how we can weather that storm.
So I've got some tips on that to share with you. As always I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do. I’m here to tell you that I have overcome some bad things in my life, I have overcome very recurring bouts of depression, that plagued my life for years. And I have found a lot of coping techniques that have helped me deal with that, and I hope they help you.
So research tells us that the first component of happiness was ‘ balance of emotions’.
And the second one is ‘life satisfaction’. And this relates to how satisfied you feel with different areas of your life, including your relationships, your work, achievements, and all the things that you consider important.
One of the things that I think is affecting a lot of people's happiness, and has a huge impact on mental health is social media. Again, it's a well known saying that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. And that is really true in a lot of what I see played out on social media, you know, I probably am as guilty as anybody else. I don't put photographs of myself on social media when I'm not looking my best. Or when I'm having a really rough day or when I'm not looking as I would want to be captured on a photograph. I do put the best bits out there. Photos that I like, photos I want to be kept and shared.
But that's not me saying I've got perfect life. And I think too many people look at social media and think, ‘Oh, look at you look at that person, they've got a perfect house, they've got a perfect relationship, perfect whatever……
And we all just show the best bits of us on social media just in the same way as if somebody would come around to my house, I would tidy up and maybe light a nice candle and maybe have some nice food ready if they would see the best of my house. And so I like to think of social media as seeing the best of people. And that's great if you can take it for what it is and take it at face value and recognise that most people don't live like that all the time. Nobody's happy all the time.
Nobody has a perfect relationship all the time, including myself. I’m very blessed to have been married a long time, almost 38 years. I am very lucky, I've got a loving husband and we still have fun together. But of course we have our ups and downs, like any ordinary couple do. And so don't take what would the people have got at face value and let that glimpse into their life make you unhappy.
One of the biggest things that can make us happier, is simply just being really content with what you’ve got.
I have a friend Kate Trafford, who has just published a book called – ‘Get There - Love Here!’ Which sums it up for me, you can set goals and plans to make your life better. But don’t wait until you ‘get there’ to decide to be happy.
Being happy can mean different things to different people. If you're an extrovert, making you happy might be spending time with a lot of people, being out there socialising , talking to a wide variety of people, a really busy party or a social event might be their idea of heaven.
Conversely for an introvert, that could be their idea of hell, going out and having to spend time making small talk with strangers. , but they'd much rather just be with one person, and talk intimately and have a meaningful relationship, or a meaningful conversation with somebody, or they might prefer to spend the evening alone with a good book or a good movie.
And there's no right or wrong, obviously, we're all different, we all have different needs and wants. So again, happiness is the same thing. It's not one size fits all, I'm not going to tell you, here are the things that you can do that WILL make you happy. But I can give you some ideas about habits that you might want to cultivate. If you think that happiness is something in your life you'd like to work on or something that you'd like to improve, or an area of your life, you think, well, there's not much joy in my life, you know, and certainly for a cancer survivor, who’s been through a tough time, or anybody that’s had challenges (who hasn’t?)
After a setback it’s easy to think ‘There’s no joy in my life, and there's not been for a while, and I want to change that I want to do something differently’
If you are at that stage, then the place to start is with your relationship with yourself.
One of the concepts I'd like to think about is to embrace living imperfectly, you know, I said before about social media showing us a perfect image of people. Nobody has that perfect life. And you have to understand and appreciate that to be imperfect, is to be human. None of us are perfect. And that's sometimes a wonderful, messy, joyful thing. But isn't that great?
Because life is really sometimes what you make it. Okay? So research has shown if you want to make some changes, and if you're reading this listening, you might be interested in that.
I've been so guilty in the past of New Year's resolutions. I announce that I’m going to change everything, I'm going to change my whole life. And when people get a new job, or move house, even move move country because they want to make these huge changes in the belief that it will make them happier. But does it? Sometimes it does, and sometimes it may not. So, again, there's a lot of research that shows a lot of small steady changes will make you happier in the long term and they're easier to sustain. They're easier to implement they are easier for you to cope with.
One of the things I'd like you to think about is how would it be if you were to forgive yourself for anything that you're holding any guilt and shame about? If that applies to you just ponder on that for a minute. Because it's time for some self compassion and letting go of that negative feeling that you're carrying around with you. Let it Go!
Whatever it is, you need to reflect on it and think, ‘Okay, if I want to let this go, what do I need to do?’
Maybe I just need to talk it out with a good friend, over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Do I need professional therapy to actually get rid of this thing once and for all that I've been carrying around for so long? Only you can know that.
The other thing I'd like you to think about is if there are any people in your life that you are holding a grudge against, people that when you think about them, it causes you stress, because you're angry, or you're upset with them, sometimes an apology that you deserve, but you never got. I think we can all have experience of that one. But if you can't forgive that person and let them go, you are the one carrying that guilt, or that hurt around with you. And I’m not saying to forgive somebody is to let them off the hook. Another saying that I've picked up is, let them go and give them forgiveness, not because they deserve it. But because YOU do.
You can either forgive them verbally, and let them know you're forgiven them. Or if it's somebody that you need to keep at a distance for your own mental health through your own protection, just send them love and healing from a distance and forgiveness and let them go and wish them all the best. That doesn't mean you are soft touch at all, it means you've grown a little bit as a person, you're the bigger person. And you're letting them go out of your life, if that's somebody that you can't have in your life anymore.
But just the act of sending them forgiveness, and relaxing into that and letting go of that anger and that frustration or whatever it is that you're holding for them. Let it go. Because you're the one that's holding on to it. You're the one who is it's hurting. No matter what they have done, that’s on them.
So how would it feel to just let them go? Think about that.
The next tip I'm going to give to you is a little word that can make a huge difference. And I love so much that I hear my grandson Ellis using this word a lot. And that word is yet.
So for instance, Ellis will say ‘Oh, I can't play chess yet’. And he says it in a really positive and uplifting way. So I'd invite you when you may be beating yourself up for something you've done badly. How would it be if you were to say, ‘Oh, I've not learned to manage my money, yet’ or ‘I've not learned to do this thing that I want to do - yet’. By putting that sentence in that tense and saying – yet – you are acknowledging that this is something that I want to do. It's important to me to do it and haven't done it - yet. Rather than beating yourself up, which is maybe what you've been doing for a long time.
Why not turn that around to be a positive way of talking to yourself and self talk is so very important.
I've touched on this before, most of us all very good at being our own worst critics. But that does us no good at all. And we need to turn that little nagging monkey voice that's in our heads, that chatter that tells you ‘ Oh, you've screwed up again’. We need to tell that voice to go away, because we're deciding to be positive now.
It took me a long time to train that little voice and to say I'm not even listening to you.
So another tip that I've got for you and something that I've learned that really, really makes me happy is to plan a trip. And yes, I love my holidays in the sun. But it doesn't even have to be something as big as that it can just be planning a day out. It could just be planning a weekend away.
But you also have a lot of fun thinking big. What's your dream? What's your ideal trip if you had limited time and limited unlimited money? So plan your dream trip. Just daydream for a little bit about it, what would it be? But then think about that and reflect on what is it about that you would like to do, see, feel? Is it that you want to see the mountains or the sea or tastes exotic food? Is it that you want to be pampered with a massage? Is it that you want to learn a new skill? Because many of these things are something you don't have to travel all the way around the world to do. Most of us could do that in a day trip. Just experience some of those feelings that we'd like to feel. So why not let your imagination go wild for a bit.
And again, I love I'm old school I love a notebook, this is something I would love to doodle in a notebook and think about what's my ideal trip? What should I plan? And as I say, it can just simply be a day out that I'd really like, visiting a new coffee shop that I've never been to before, going somewhere for a nice meal that I've never been to before. Going for a nice walk somewhere. Just getting out in nature is a great one for making us feel happier. And I know as somebody that spent far too long, for many years in an office hunched over a computer, just getting out into nature is something that makes me feel so good. Really, really good.
Planning a vacation really can be a ticket to happiness.
The other thing that can really make us feel happy is learning something new. And we need to balance that with sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and a lot of stress of learning something new assuming that it's going to be difficult, or it might be expensive, or I don't know how I'm going to get the time. All of these things might cause us some stress.
But actually the joy of learning something new and the pride that you can take in that, that is a great way of boosting your happiness. And again, there are a million things I could suggest and it's whatever makes your soul sing. Literally. Could it be learning to sing? Could it be learning to dance? Could it be learning an instrument? Could it be writing a blog? It could be
whatever it is that you want to do? Why don't you do it?. And we all have things that we sometimes just don't take the time out to do.
Years ago, I met a fantastic doctor. And it was at the Penny Brohn Centre in Bristol. An absolutely wonderful, holistic cancer therapy centre that I was lucky enough to go to for a few days. We had nutrition talks and demonstrations, yoga, meditation, walks in the beautiful grounds.
One of the sessions we had was about an hour with a doctor, a GP (general practitioner) And when do you ever get an hour with a doctor? Because I certainly don’t, with my doctor who's very good. But you rush in and you rush out you've got five minutes to tell everything if you are lucky. So I had an hour with this doctor, who was obviously a trained medical professional. And one of the most profound things she said to me, and it really stuck with me was how she looked at my medical history, cancer, chemo, mastectomy, radiotherapy – all thankfully behind me then. So she touched on some of the long lasting side effects of my treatment. Nothing major at that time.
So then she looked me in the eyes and asked ‘So okay, so what do you do that makes you happy?’
That question was not what I was expecting. I struggled to answer. So I replied ‘I like singing’ had been in a choir, I'm not a great singer at all, but I was a very fortunate to live near to the Macmillan Centre in Trafford, and I joined the ‘Melody Macs’, which was a choir for women, that had been through cancer treatment. And we got together once a week, and we sang our hearts out. And I loved that it, it was so life affirming, it was such good fun the people that I met were wonderful.
So I remember that I like to sing. And she asked ‘When did you last go’ – I said, ‘I've not been for a while, I've been really busy’.
And she just looked at me and said, without any judgement, ‘busy doing what?’
And that really struck home with me. We all get busy. Just living you know, going to work, looking after our house, our families, doing the grocery shopping, paying bills, doing the laundry, all the things we have to do. And we don't always make time sometimes for things that make us happy. Why is that? Why do we not allow ourselves to do that?
It can almost seems like a self indulgence, like something that we shouldn't do. And whether you've had cancer or not, I would invite you to take that step back and think ask if you are somebody who deserves to be happy?
Of course you are. We all are. So why not do something that makes you feel good? Something that makes your heart sing? How would that feel?
My next happiness can make a huge difference to your day, is just to stop eating lunch at your desk.
I'm somebody who's worked in an office for many years. I always feel better if I make the effort to move away, get outside, see the sky, just get away from the desk and your screen. And if you're a sociable person, go and have a chat with somebody who makes you feel good. If you're not a sociable person, go and put your earphones in or listen to some music, listen to a podcast, listen to something that makes you feel good. But just get away from your desk. I’ve read that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ sitting at a desk over a laptop, which is what I'm doing now, to be honest, is not good for us long term. It's not good for us. Our bodies were designed to move. And certainly when you're eating your food, and my husband thinks I'm a bit crazy when I say this, I will not eat my food when there's bad news on the TV. Because it's always bad news, rarely is there good news.
So the news channels have to be switched off when I'm eating my food. When I'm eating, I'd like to be in a space of feeling very positive about putting nourishment into my body
I am not saying that I want to be somebody who's completely unaware of what's going on in the world. But I do really wonder about the news that we're presented with, how much of that is true, how much of that is biased and to make us think in a certain way, and I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. But it just asked you to think about if you do watch the news, how do you feel afterwards? To feeling uplifted? Do you feel happy? Do you feel inspired? Possibly not. So for me, I don't need to watch the news anymore.
Don't spend a lot of time dwelling on things that I can't control. But also it's ask you to think about the sorts of TV programmes that you watch. And I'm not going to make any judgments here. I enjoy some mindless trashy TV occasionally. But I like to watch more things to make you think. Or even sometimes sad or happy films. I don't like scary movies. But I do like a good thriller with something with a twist in the tail. I love stuff like that. And I love watching Good acting. And really understanding you know how a story unfolds and makes you think about things maybe in a different way. So yeah, TV. And you know, Netflix and chill can be a great thing. As long as you're not just slumped in a chair mindlessly thinking, this is all I've got in my life to look forward to. It's really nice sometimes to watch something like that with a partner or with a friend be able to discuss it afterwards. So just be mindful is all I would say, and make mindful choices.
My last Happiness Habit is movement. I am somebody who's not always enjoyed exercise, but I'm going to ask you to think about would it make you feel happier if you moved more, if you got outside more, if you moved your body more? And it's not just about making you feel happy. I think as we are all getting older, we know that we need to move more we need to do exercise, use it or lose it is what they say. That's certainly true with your muscles and your wonderful body that's there to support you. So moving my body, I don't particularly like exercising, but I absolutely love the feeling of having exercised, I always feel great
My happy habit is for me to do that first thing in the morning, because it starts my day off in a really positive way. I'm not naturally a morning person, I have to get myself in the right mindset. And I do that the night before. One of my happy habits is to start the night before my laying out my gym clothes in next to my bed. So I get up in the morning there put them on without thinking about it. I don't have to decide what to wear I just put them on. And I'm ready to go. I've already set myself up for the day. And even you know, 5 or 10 minutes of exercise every morning just makes me feel more alive makes me feel like I've done something positive for my body.
And once I start the say positively I am much less likely to sabotage that by eating rubbish. It’s easier to make healthy choices of what I'm going to eat and drink next.
I'm hoping I've given you some food for thoughts for happy habits that you might want to incorporate into your life. I'd love to hear from you. And let me know if any of this is helpful if there's anything you'd like to know more about.
These are things I've picked up from other people Over the years, but they're things that have worked for me and things that I know have helped me to improve my life by making conscious choices. And I just want to reach out to you and say, if you feel that you're not as happy as you'd like to be, there is so much you can do my love. And if you want to reach out to me, that would be wonderful. If you want to try some of the ideas that I've talked about, that would be wonderful too. But it all starts with you. It all starts with you deciding that you are going to make your happiness, your priority. You know, this is not a dress rehearsal.
Unless you're a Buddhist, I'm going to say you've got one life, so why not live it? Why not make the rest of your life the best of your life? It's down to you, my love. that person looking back in the mirror, you owe that person everything, you owe that person happiness, they deserve it. You might have had some tough times, you might have made some mistakes, who hasn't? So give yourself some forgiveness. Give yourself some love. And let's all try and spread some more happiness around us. Goodness knows we need it. So thank you for reading
Stay safe, stay sane!
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