Ten Steps to a Happier Life
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: David Seddon MA, BA, Accred - helping couples and individuals to a better life
23rd November, 2010
1. Decide to be Happy (and Value Contentment)
Yes it really is a simple as that. If we channel our energy in ways that make us feel good then we are more likely to feel good.
This is not to say that we can always do this or that life will be easy. We know that it is not, but if we focus more on the good than the bad even in the hardest times then life can take a on a much better perspective.
The writer and Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard was measured, by brain scanning over a period of time, as being the happiest man alive and he put this down mainly to channelling his thoughts towards positive things and feeling content with what he had.
Contentment is a much more lasting feeling than pleasure or even happiness. To feel contentment is not the same as to resign ourselves to something. Essentially, if we are content, we are thankful for what we do have, realising that it is good.
2. Follow Your Interests
If you are immersed in an activity that you are passionate about then you are likely to feel happier. Having a keen interest in something or a hobby is an excellent thing for out emotional health, but if we ignore it, this can cause us to feel less than our true selves.
So if you are a keen dancer, make sure that you dance often, if you like to draw or write or play or listen to music, then make sure that you find time for this on a regular basis.
If you have no hobbies, then it is time to find some! Everyone has interests which they have put off or no longer follow. Is it time to have another go?
3. Be Fit and Healthy
A healthy body and a healthy mind really do go together. This does not mean that we need to over exercise. Friends of mine who are doctors tell me that, second to stress related issues, the main problem their patients have is injury as a result of over exercise over a number of years. Gentle is best - something that supports the body. Swimming, walking, cycling and dancing are amongst the best forms of exercise in that, if they are done wisely, they give our muscles a good work out with less chance of wearing them out. I would add that it is vital that you enjoy your exercise. If you enjoy a walk in the country but hate rowing machines, then the choice of which to do ought to be obvious.
Allied to this is the need to eat healthily and keep a balanced diet. A little of what you fancy is good, but this needs to kept to reasonable levels.
4. Find Spiritual Connection and Peace
We live in an increasingly material world, but this does not mean we should ignore the spirit. Neither does it necessarily mean that we need to follow a religion – although studies have shown that people who have faith are generally happier.
Spirituality is about feeling connected to other things on a very deep level. This might be other people, nature and indeed yourself.
Spending time alone either quietly or with calming music, and even meditating can bring us a sense of spiritual peace. Simply concentrating on our breathing can be deeply relaxing and can connect us to the world around us. Again, studies have shown that people who enjoy being on their own as well as in company are generally happier.
5. Help Others
Most of us know that there is more pleasure in giving than there is in receiving, yet because we live in a world where we have adverts thrust at us constantly asking us to consume more, it is sometimes hard to focus on this. Allied to that, is the narcissism (self obsession) that Western society encourages.
Of course, giving at its best is not about giving money or items, it’s about giving our time and love. People who focus on others rather than themselves are generally happier – though of course, there is a balance and we need to love ourselves too! The good news is that in practise loving others is a great way for us to come to love ourselves.
6. Get in Touch With Your Inner Child
Question that voice within you that says “you can’t!” Depending on what you’re planning to do, it may be right or wrong. But if you’re wanting to have some harmless fun and it’s telling you “no,” then it’s time to tell it to be quiet.
On average children smile 400 times a day and adults only 15. Have you ever asked why? It’s not all down to adults having responsibility, it’s down to attitude too.
It’s important to let our hair down and even be silly once in a while. It’s good for the spirit - so go ahead, roll down that hill or have a water pistol or pillow fight – it’s good to have fun and it releases lots of endorphins.
7. Cultivate Awareness
This is valuable at all times. How many of us spend our life worrying about the future our dwelling in something that’s in the past? Whilst it’s good to let out sadness about past events, we also have to move on. There is never really any past or future to grab a hold of. There is only the now. Once we realise this and try to be aware of it, we begin see just how wonderful life can be.
I often walk in the woods. It is very easy to ignore what is there in nature as I do, but when I focus on each moment and allow myself to fully experience through the five senses, it is very joyous. When we feel joy we should accept it and not push it away – unfortunately many people do just that.
8. Have Courage and Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
First of all it is important to state that courage is not the same as rashness. I do not advocate that anyone does anything dangerous, unhealthy, wilfully destructive or hurtful, nor that anyone change every part of their life. However, we are all sometimes guilty of getting into a rut or staying in a safe zone and not trying to extend ourselves. Yet to stay the same is to cease to grow. There is a balance to be struck, but often the line drawn is too heavily in favour of the status quo. It is often good to try new things.
The most common complaint of people on their death bed is that they didn’t do enough of what they really wanted to do because they thought they had to live the life that others expected of them...don’t let that be you!
9. Enjoy your Work But Keep it in Balance
It may well be that you are in a job that you do not like. You might have to accept this for a while, but it is will make you are likely to be very unhappy if you do not work towards changing it in the longer term. We spend such a lot of time at work that it is better to earn less and to like or even love what we do than to earn a fortune and hate it. If you think that is wrong, consider these two things: you can’t take your money with you when you die, the happiest people are often the poorest.
That is not to say that money is a bad thing, but it is to say that we should work to live and not live to work. Never let your work become your life, but certainly aim to make it something you look forward to if you can.
10. Cultivate Acceptance
This is the most important thing of all. Fighting what we can’t change or trying to suppress, deny, run away from or distract ourselves from vital and strong feelings is really not to live at all. Even if the feelings are bad ones, to accept that they will not change in the short term is to empower ourselves and to give them less power over us. Similarly, when something is difficult or painful it is good to be able to ask whether it can be changed. It is very liberating to accept events and feelings within ourselves that we simply cannot change at that point, and then to ask if we can improve things in the longer term - and if we cannot, then to accept that too rather than fight it. Counselling sessions can help greatly with this.
We all of us have limitations. It is not only fruitless, but also self-defeating to ignore that. If accept that we will never be able to do certain things, then we take control of our lives and focus on what we can do.
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