Text your parents, spray your favourite scent, and set yourself bite-sized goals. With the help of some happiness experts, Arielle Tchiprout finds out how to fill each day with joy.
We often think of happiness as a destination, lit up by sunshine in the distance. We often convince ourselves that we’ll only get there when everything falls into place: landing the dream job, buying the perfect house, or falling in love. We see it as something to strive towards, to toil and suffer for, but that reaching it will make everything worthwhile.
But, actually, happiness is not marked by an ‘X’ marked on the floor. It’s fleeting and unstable, but in the best way possible: you can cultivate it each day, bringing little pockets of positivity into your life at every turn.
Here at Red, we’re firm believers in finding the joy in the everyday – because, life is less made up of big celebratory milestones, but more unremarkable days threaded together with string. Yet we're the first to acknowledge that happiness doesn’t always come naturally. ‘Human brains have a negativity bias,’ agrees positive psychologist Miriam Akhtar. ‘Being able to notice danger is essential to our survival, so we always notice what’s wrong before what’s good.’ This means we have to make a conscious effort to think differently – to notice the positive and play an active role in creating our own bliss.
We asked some experts for their best advice to be happier, every day.
1. Do a colour commute
‘On your regular commute to work, give yourself a theme to look for – I normally pick a colour. Say you’re looking for red: as you travel, look around and notice all the things that are red. Perhaps it’s flowers in a front garden, or a dog’s lead, or a woman’s floaty skirt. All too often, we walk through life with our minds crowded with worries and don’t look up to notice and appreciate our surroundings. Doing so allows us to become more present, and is an excellent distraction from ruminating over negative thoughts.’
Vanessa King, positive psychology expert, Action for Happiness board member and author of 50 Ways to Feel Happy.
2. Set small goals
‘Dreaming big and working towards large milestones is great, but it can leave you feeling frustrated and disheartened. Set small goals at work that you can meet continually, throughout the day. Your brain rewards you with dopamine – the “feel-good” hormone – when you conquer each one. A steady drip of dopamine will leave you happier in the long-run, and better equipped to take on the bigger challenges.’
Loretta Graziano Breuning PHD, founder of the Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain your brain to boost your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels.
3. Choose your words wisely
'The language you use in every day life is crucial for maintaining a happy, positive and balanced existence. Think about how it makes you feel when you say the words 'happiness', 'joy', 'excitement'; you can notice it, right? So, try consciously using more of these positive words in your everyday vocabulary. Also be mindful of using the words 'but' and 'just' - 'but' can block the flow of energy around something you're explaining, and 'just' can belittle the thing you're describing.'
Jody Shield, success coach and author of Self-Care for the Soul: Power up your brightest, boldest, happiest you.
4. Hunt the good stuff
‘Gratitude is such an important practice, to overturn your brain’s negativity bias. Train your brain for gratitude by hunting for at least three good things, even when you’re in a frustrating situation. For example, you’re waiting in a long queue but the sun is shining, you love the new dress you’re wearing, and your favourite song is blasting through your head-phones. You can practice this in any situation to boost your mood, and minor frustrations will be less likely to affect you in future.’
Miriam Akhtar, positive psychologist and author of The Little Book of Happiness: Simple practices for life (Gaia), out in July
5. Embrace space
‘See if you can start a ‘do-not-disturb’ initiative at work – such as quiet Tuesday mornings – in which no meetings are scheduled, and people don't have to respond immediately to emails or pick up the phone. Or, try and create space in your own calendar! Flexibility and autonomy improve employee satisfaction and productivity, which leads to greater general happiness in the workplace and beyond.’
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen and author of The Key to Happiness: How to find purpose by unlocking the secrets of the world’s happiest people.
6. Be your own best friend
‘When things go wrong, we tend to be overly critical towards ourselves. When this happens, make a list of the negative messages you’re telling yourself. Don’t judge them, just write them down. Now make a list of ten positive messages to yourself. Imagine you’re speaking to one of your closest friends and consider the positive support you would offer without hesitation. Read them aloud, and become your own reassuring friend.’
For five more ways to be happy, read the full feature in our May issue of Red - on sale now.
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