Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Happy la la

I admit it - I've read a book on happiness. Well, okay ... I started reading it and never finished. 

Why did I start? The obvious reason would be that I was unhappy. But it wasn't that, it was more about being happIER. It seems we all want to be happier, and apparently we want to be happy all the time.

Why did I stop reading? The problem is, sometimes it's normal not to be happy - yet when we're not happy - we're unhappy about it (pardon the pun).

Happiness is just one of many essential emotions and, for instance, over the years when my various dogs have died, well ... you know, happiness just didn't cut it on those occasions. 

There's also that research you see from time-to-time about people living in certain tribes in Africa, or villages in Vietnam for instance, that are apparently happier than people living in a more modern world. So sometimes this whole "attainment of happiness" thing seems a bit flaky to me - it's a bit like those magazines that show young, perfect looking (probably air-brushed), people living supposedly perfect lives and expect the rest of us to be the same - and anything short of that is a failure. Hang on! I'm buying your magazine - I'm giving you money to make me feel bad. That doesn't make sense.

Eliminate all that crap and I can guarantee 95% of us would be happier to start with. And personally, I think "Contentment" is the better state to aim for anyway.

So lets look at some research I've found on the topic (including over the internet ha ha ha) that leads to a more contented life.

Simple things to create a more contented life:

Be active. Regular exercise has been shown to: Reduce stress; Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression; Boost self-esteem; and Improve sleep.

Sleep more. There has been a lot of research on how sleep effects brain processing. Needless to say, lack of sleep is associated with a lot of negative mental outcomes.

Be Social. Spend time with people you care about. Research says it is the number one predictor of life satisfaction. Another study (a 72 year study of the lives of 268 men) concluded that "the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."

Changes to income, purchases, etc had very little impact on long-term happiness.

Smile. Studies show even an artificially-induced smile has a positive effect on emotions. Of course, the real thing is better (see the next point).

Laugh. God I love Dumb and Dumber, and Zoolander (thank you Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller). Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. 

Talk to someone. We are often embarrassed by our own problems, but my experience has been that people are more understanding than we give them credit for (and often they can relate, or are in fact in a worse situation). And it's always good to get another perspective, because right at that moment your thinking could be clouded.

Show up. Contented people experience obstacles just like everyone else. People who get the results they want don’t just wait until they feel like doing something. They show up.

Take criticism in your stride. First figure out if the criticism is valid. Some people are just being nasty because they can be. Valid criticism is awesome - if you can reflect on it and make changes to whatever aspect has been criticised. Be honest with yourself.

It's ok to fail. If we never failed, how can we appreciate our success? Everyone fails - I fail so regularly that it doesn't even register anymore. As above, be honest - don't blame others for your own shortcomings.

Become aware of your internal dialogue. Thoughts create attitudes, attitudes create actions, actions become habits, and your habits become your personality, which in turn becomes your destiny. And it cuts both ways, good and bad.

Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl said, "Everything can be taken from a man (or woman) but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

One of the greatest freedoms in life is being able to take decisions without the need for approval from other people. Not being able to be yourself, always trying to change for others or censoring yourself doesn't feel good at all.

Meditate. Often touted as important for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. A study of brain scans showed that it also caused parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness to grow, and parts associated with stress to shrink.

To me it seems there's not much happening in that second brain at all - but apparently that's a good thing.

Kill the clutter. Clutter does not contribute to focus and positivity. 

Spend time outside. Natural environments were shown to be more effective than urban, though both were shown to be beneficial.

Help Others. This is one of the biggies.

Work hard. Nothing comes easy, and behind every success story are hours of plain hard work. We tend to overestimate talent and underestimate hard work.

Practice Gratitude. A nice way to start looking at the positives in your life instead of the negatives. At the dinner table we share 3 good things that happened that day. Results from a study which did this indicated an increase in happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Some of the ideas expressed here came from my own thoughts and experiences, but many were sourced from the following:

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