Last night I watched an interesting lecture on YouTube, by Tal Ben-Shahar, all about happiness and the science behind being happy, and it really got me thinking…am I that happy?
When I ask myself the question ‘am I happy’, I know that I am not unhappy, but would I class myself as a particularly happy person? Probably not. I overwork myself. I easily get caught up in things. I can judge myself pretty harshly, I often worry about the future and regret past decisions, and sometimes I neglect the present moment.
We could all probably do with being a little happier in our lives. Tal, an author and lecturer at Harvard University, tells us that happiness is a choice, and that we can choose to be happy, by taking a few positive actions to improve our level of happiness and mental well-being.
- Give yourself permission to be human. As Tal says, the only people who do not experience negative emotions are psychopaths or dead people. We are all human, and we all experience painful emotions. Tal suggests we should accept these painful emotions, as paradoxically this will make us feel happier. Acceptance isn’t dwelling on them – focusing on the negative gives them more power over your life. Just accept you are feeling them because you are a human being, and try to also open yourself up to the positive emotions you are feeling. Personally, I don’t do this. I judge myself harshly on any negative emotion that I feel, and always have done. This has been exacerbated in the past, by having negative people* in my life who have told me that I am ‘too emotional’ or I ‘should be more…[insert whatever feeling here]’ etc. Applying Tal’s thinking here, I can’t be ‘too’ anything, I’m just human, and I feel. And that’s OK. So screw you negative people of the past.
- Exercise. Tal suggests that exercise is an beneficial as medication, as regular exercise releases all sorts of feel good chemicals. It’s mental floss for your brain, and as little as 30 minutes 3 times a week can make a huge difference. I can testify to this. If I don’t exercise for say a week, I feel miserable. Apart from going to spin class. That makes me more miserable. .
- Simplify your life. In our busy modern age we cram so much into our lives, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed causes stress, which can cause depression, and then paradoxically inertia. Tal suggests that this isn’t just about taking 6 months to sit in silent retreat in India, it’s about simplifying your life on a day to day basis- cut the crap, say ‘no’ to things, take time to just do the things that make you happy. Just do less. Now, while I simplified my life when I left the UK – got rid of everything I own and arrived on NZ’s shores with just the things I could carry, I actually find simplifying difficult. If I’m not doing something I feel like I’m not doing anything, but then can feel stressed and miserable. This is definitely something I can improve on – take the foot of the gas sometimes.
- Meditate. Meditation gives you time to stop, to appreciate the moment, and to be fully present. Meditation is almost a little treat for the mind. But, meditation isn’t something I’ve ever got along with, as I find it very difficult to quieten down my thoughts. But, in the lecture, Tal explains that even just 5 minutes a day can bring about positive change. So this will be another challenge I’ll take on!
- Feel grateful. The idea here is to express your gratitude every day in writing. Even when you are having a bad day, you will always find 3 things that you are grateful for that day. Writing it down apparently helps the mind to focus on the positive and move away from the negative.
So my new thing today is to start a ‘Gratitude Diary’, and each day, before bed, I plan to write down three things that I feel grateful for that day. Even if I’m in a furious mood.
Yesterday I had an average day – nothing much happened, work was OK, nothing to feel sad about, but nothing to feel happy about either. But after watching this lecture, I thought about three things that I was grateful for that day, and they were;
- Knowing my Nana and having her in my life. My Nana passed away several years ago, and yesterday would have been her birthday so she was on my mind. She was such a positive influence and I’m grateful for knowing her because it makes me always want to be better person.
- Talking to my Aunt in the UK. I was grateful to be able to take the time to talk with my Aunt back in the UK on my Nana’s birthday. She was very close to her, and we had a great catch up and made plans for her to visit me in NZ. I’m grateful to have family whom I love and who love me.
- Meeting some inspiring local people. I was grateful for the opportunity to go along to a meetup group and to meet a fascinating bunch of local people all trying to achieve social good in the community.
Which just goes to show, that every day there is something to feel grateful for, even if you don’t always realise it.
*Glad to report that those negative people have since been removed from my life!
For realising that I have so much to be grateful for – 5 out of 5 stars