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Happiness is an elusive concept, we all want it but not many of us can define what it actually is and even fewer how to get it.
Unfortunately, a lot of us fall into the trap of the ‘I will be happy when’ mentality. It’s an easy fix supported by our own psychology and propagated by the modern world. You end up thinking; ‘I will be happy when I have lost 10kg’s’, ‘I will be happy when I find a partner’, ‘I will be happy when I get that new car’ and so on. The difficulty is that you will be happy briefly, or at least you think you will. But this feeling won’t last long and then you will be onto the next thing that you believe you need to feel happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, being healthier and finding positive relationships are good goals, but when you anchor your entire life onto the ‘i’ll be happy when’ philosophy you will always be left wanting more and the happiness you seek will likely remain elusive.
I am not promising that trying the following tips will immediately fix everything, but remember that you are the author, editor and viewer of your own life. You choose what you do from day to day. You filter experiences based on what you expect to see and you choose what you focus on and remember. So maybe just try some of these and see how you feel, who knows it could really make a difference, they have to me over the years.
- Try something new.
Now this doesn’t have to be big, in fact it can be tiny and in any aspect of your life. Try a new route from work and see what different sights there are, or people you meet. Maybe it will simply turn out to be quicker. Try a new restaurant, try a new activity. Go big and visit a country you have never been to before, go brave and ask that person out, or end a toxic relationship. Novelty can help reinvigorate you, it can give you new perspectives, new experiences. You may meet new people, who in turn give you new ideas. It can give you new things to consider and talk about. Maybe just try one new thing a month and see what changes.
- Start Small
This is really important, people often make the mistake of trying to change everything at once. You set yourself giant targets and when you don’t achieve them in a month you start giving up and feel like you have failed. Instead focus on the tiny wins. If you want to lose weight, don’t think “I want to lose 2 stone”, start some exercise and if you feel a bit better then thats your target. Maybe your clothes feel a bit looser or you have little bit more energy. There is nothing wrong with big bold targets, but don’t measure your progress by it. Instead, break it into smaller goals and celebrate when you achieve them (perhaps not with a cheesecake though).
- Count the Good Things
Try this experiment with a friend, when you are somewhere you haven’t been before, ask them to look around and memorize everything that is red. Once they have done that, ask them to close their eyes and list all the things around them that are blue. A lot of people will struggle because they simply haven’t paid attention or focussed on the blue things around them. This is how our minds work. Very simply, we see what we expect to see and remember based on our preconceptions, your mind filters to make it more efficient. Now this is great from a survival perspective however it can cause problems. If we expect to have a bad day we will unconsciously only look for the things that confirm this. If we think we are unlucky we will look for things that prove our bad luck streak. Instead try something very simple, everyday before you go to sleep, think through your day and focus on five good things that have happened. They could be anything from ‘a nice walk in the sunshine’ to ‘meeting someone new’. There are always at least five events you can find that haven’t been awful or disastrous. Try this for a while and you may be surprised how it starts to change your mindset. You will start to look for more and more of the good and likely feel more positive.
- Say no….and yes more
This might sound like contradictory advice, but a lot of us spend a significant amount of time trying to second guess what other people want us to do. We try and make decisions on their wants and needs. We might do this for lots of reasons; we care for them, love them, live with them, dislike them and so on. Instead I want you to make decisions about how you feel and what you want. Have the confidence to say no to things you don’t want to do and yes to things that you do want to do. You may have avoided things in the past as you are worried that friends and family might judge you or it might change their view of you, but it’s not their life! It’s not about being selfish, just recognising that to be a good friend to others you need to first look after yourself and that you are entitled to do what makes you happy.
- Read a Book
In a world of social media and access to non-stop entertainment, books have sometimes fallen out of favour. Books give you a window into a different world or another persons life, a glimpse into history, they stimulate your imagination and mind. The focus required to read without distractions is sometimes considered a form of meditation; you can’t half read like you do with some TV programmes, it requires all of your attention. Books have the time to be more descriptive and delve deeper, ask questions that mass media are unwilling to, they can put you in the shoes of another world changing your perspective on life. Books have literally changed the course of history so why not give one a go.
- Stop and Meditate
We spend so much time running around thinking about work, family, friends worrying about what we have to do next, dwelling on something we did last week, rarely just stopping and taking in where we are and how we feel right now. Meditation can be practiced in many forms and its worth learning more about it. Essentially though, meditation asks you to focus on the moment you are in now, your place within it and the internal feelings and thoughts going on at that moment. Acknowledge them and then work to find stillness and quietness. Learn to slow down and quieten your mind to stop if from jumping from thought to thought like a over excited animal. Simply give yourself 5 minutes a few times in your day to just stop and look around you, admire the view and really take it in. Ask yourself, where are you now and how do you actually feel?
In anything, anywhere and anytime, just do it. Stop worrying about what to do and stop giving yourself the excuse that you have no time. Everyone has 10 minutes to take a brisk walk even if it’s to pick up the kids, 20 minutes for a run, 15 minutes for some Yoga, weights or just some stretching in your living room before you crash in front of the TV. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are documented on an almost daily basis and finding information could not be easier online. Just start, today, you will not regret it.
- Think about your Food
Like with little changes you don’t have to stop eating all your favourite foods (pizza) immediately but perhaps just cut down on some of the worst offenders. You know what they are. Fast food, packaged cheap food full of salt and sugar. Reduce your meat intake for the sake of your own gut and the environment, eat…….some…….greens. It really isn’t rocket science, you just have to eat a balanced diet, there is so much information online and healthy food isn’t that expensive anymore. Now I know this is difficult when you don’t have time or money to cook, but a bag of salad is instant and chicken takes 10 mins to cook. Like above, focus on little changes that you can maintain and see how you feel after a few weeks. It should be no surprise that the food you put into your body can dramatically affect your internal state.
“No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” Charles Dickens
Giving money is great and I applaud you for doing it, but also try and give your time. Stop and talk to people and really listen to them. Volunteer for something nearby. Your time is the most precious resource you have, far greater than money, and spending it to help others is an amazing way to improve the world around you and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. Give to charity, help others, give anything you can and as much or as little as you want to. There are always people more and less fortunate than you, don’t judge or compare just give.
- Spend time with your Friends and Family
There have been numerous surveys over the years conducted with terminally ill patients each one asking them about the meaning of their life, what made them happy and what they wished they could change about how they lived their lives. With each study there are some things that just keep coming up. For a start “I wish I worked more” is never in the list and almost always at the top is wishing they had spent more time with their friends and family. Good relationships are believed to even lengthen your life and none of us can get through this alone.
Remember though people come and go into your life, don’t be afraid to make new friends or say goodbye to toxic relationships. Never worry about calling that friend or relative you haven’t spoken to for years. They are just like you and will be busy with their lives and wondering if they should call you. Always try and make time for a coffee or beer or just a chat with your friends and family, they are literally the anchors of your life. They reflect who you are and how you live your life and are the ones standing with you in your time of need and you in theirs.
One more thing before you go, another common theme from these studies is patients often comment how they wished they had lived true to themselves and had the bravery to live their lives as they wanted to and not how they thought others wanted them to.
So here is a little experiment to leave you with, in Australia, the life expectancy is just over 82 years which is actually only 718,320 hours, this really doesn’t sound like much does it? But it gets more powerful when you divide that by three. A third for sleep and at least a third for work leaving you with less than 240,000 hours of free time…..then subtract how ever many years you have lived.
Life is genuinely very short and you should strive to live your own life and as positively as possible.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” – Jim Rohn