We all crave happiness but how we measure it is completely personal and obviously changes over time with life experiences. Having different moods is part of being human and how we deal with life affects how we feel and behave. How resilient we are, how successful at work, our relationships with friends and family, our self-esteem and confidence levels are all factors that affect our mood on a daily basis.
Whether it be our ability to cope with (and even enjoy!) the challenges of work, parenting, time management etc, there are proven benefits to being happy, which have a positive effect on society. Happy people are more productive, more creative, more generous and have better relationships. Maybe we should follow the example of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan, who, in 1972, declared that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product!
It’s also possible that happier people are healthier people…. for example, a study published in Brain, Behaviour and Immunity in 2017 showed that if you infect test subjects with the flu virus, the happier people are better at fighting it off!
Anxiety and stress are on the increase globally, cutting across age brackets and covering all socio-economic backgrounds. However on the positive side, we are getting better at talking about it. Time to Talk Day 2020 is taking place on Thursday 6th February and we can all get involved by encouraging everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, and to change lives. Take a look at www.time-to-change.org.uk for more information.
So how can we improve our happiness? Well, start off by considering how positive your emotions and thoughts are, how engaged you feel in society and how meaningful you feel your life is. This may give some clues as to where you need to focus your efforts.
Do you have expectations about life and people that are detrimental to you and making you feel bad? What factors in your life positively influence your happiness? How can you reduce negative thoughts and put strategies into place to become happier?
Next, work on some practical ways to feel more positive, as suggested in a 2005 article in Psychological Bulletin:
1. Savouring – take time to savour the things you enjoy. Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present, directly enhances your well-being and 'savouring the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities.
Heightened awareness also enhances your self-understanding and allows you to make positive choices. So take some time to enjoy the present moment and the environment around you, reflecting on your own values and motivations.
2. Gratitude – express gratitude for people and things. For more on this, take a look at our 'Are You Well?' article.
3. Social connection – try and make real-life connections every day. Saying hello to fellow walkers when you're out and about is a good start!
There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. Social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and act as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.
4. Kindness – increase your acts of kindness. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy (www.mind.org.uk).
And research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.
5. Exercise – increase your physical activity! Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.
Exercise is essential for promoting well-being, and it doesn’t need to be really intense for you to feel good. Walking and hiking are great forms of gentle to moderate exercise, and alongside some strengthening and stretching, you've got the full package!
You've heard it all before but give some serious thought to taking the stairs not the lift or escalator; go for a walk at lunchtime; get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk the final part of your journey to work; go swimming with the kids rather than sit on the side; have a kick-about in a local park; do some yoga stretches in the morning as soon as you get up; organise a sporting social activity rather than drinks after work; hold walking meetings with colleagues; walk to someone’s desk instead of calling or emailing. Every little helps!
6. Attention – combat mind wandering. For more on this, check out our Mindfulness article.
7. Sleep – get at least 7 hours per night – In truth, I really struggle with this one. I've always got too much to do and not enough time. Then once the house is sorted, everything is organised for tomorrow and the kids are in bed, I feel like I need some me-time to wind down and relax. However, conscious that I'm now under time pressure to get my sleep in before the 6am alarm call, I rarely fall asleep quickly.
According to www.nhs.uk, 1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. The result - bad moods, feeling grumpy, a lack of focus and not living our best life. Watch out for an upcoming article on sleep, and how we can improve the quality, if not the quantity of it.
Hopefully in this article we’ve given you some food for thought about self-care and improving your wellbeing.
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