Today, March 20th, is the annual International day of happiness. So I have decided to focus this week on the subject of happiness and will be posting about it all week. This is an area of huge interest to me so I would love your comments and for you to share your insights, stories or what works for you.
So happiness, where do we start?
Happiness is something everyone wants. We know we have it when we feel it, when everything feels ok, when we smile just because, when life is just as it should be. But for many people feeling happy can be a bit of a challenge.
I think in a way, we have all come to expect happiness on tap, like it should just arrive every morning as we open our eyes and continue throughout the day until we close them again. I’m sure for some people out there it does but for the majority of us, I would hazard a guess that it doesn’t.
Despite the fact that, for the most part, we live with all our basic needs met, so many of us feel that we could be happier. The UK is the 5th richest country in the world, but yet it only ranks 34th worldwide in the happy planet index. ‘But money doesn’t happiness’ I hear you say and you would be quite right. So, what does increase happiness? How can we all gain a little more happiness in our lives?
I am a firm believer that happiness is an inside job. I also believe that there is a happiness ‘trap’ and that if we are all honest, its unrealistic to be uber happy all of the time. It’s natural that there will be times when we don’t feel ‘on top of the world’ and the danger is (and what I think can lead to unhappiness) is believing that we should feel ecstatically happy all of the time.
And there’s the first little happiness thief – the word ‘should.’
I ‘should‘ do this or I ‘should‘ do that. Using that one little word can apply so much pressure to ourselves. It implies that you ought to be doing something that you are not and that in itself is a negative. In fact, much of what causes unhappiness, are the negative pressures we inflict on ourselves.
For example, there is a famous saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy‘ and it really is. I think that most of us have been guilty of comparing ourselves to others at some point in our lives. The attention used to be focused on magazines and models and there’s been an ongoing war about the use of heavily photoshopped images for a long time. Nowadays, its not just magazines and TV that show a distorted image of reality, the rise of social media and all editing apps and the ‘filters’ that are so readily available (I’m guilty as the next person for using them) means that this image of perfection is sneaking into normal, everyday life and it’s so easy to get pulled in to the comparing trap.
As an avid Instagram user, its incredibly hard not to look at all those pretty little squares and not beat yourself up about your less than ‘Insta perfect’ life. Used in the right way, something like Instagram can be incredibly inspirational and a wonderful platform to connect and share. But, as a visually focused platform we have to remember that like those magazines, much of what we see has been carefully curated and edited.
As a creative person who loves photography, interiors and photojournalism I love to be able to express myself through my Instagram feed but, I hope that everyone pauses to remember that behind those little squares of loveliness are real lives – piles of ironing just out of shot, moldy veg in the fridge, stacks of unorganised papers and so on (well there is in my house anyway) and in many cases there’s life’s real struggles, battles and even heartbreak and pain behind those squares too.
Essentially, putting pressure on ourselves to be or look a certain way, comparing ourselves to others can leave us feeling a certain amount of ‘inadequecy’ like we aren’t ‘good enough.’ So the first step I think we could (notice the world could instead of should) take is to start thinking about our ‘self talk’ and what are we telling ourselves everyday? We all know that kindness is good for others but what about being kind to ourselves? That in itself goes a long way to feeling happier. How many times do you give yourself praise? Start doing it. Recognise your strengths, notice what you like about yourself, if it’s hard and you struggle to find something, start small.
The second ‘happiness hack’ I believe in is gratitude. Gratitude has become something of a buzzword lately but actually being more grateful is proven to change your brain chemistry – it focuses us on positive things rather than the negative and over time, this becomes more habitual. Even in the darkest of times, we can find something to be grateful for, even if its just running water or being able to switch a light on.
I keep a gratitude journal and every morning, on waking, I write down 10 things that I’m grateful for and at the end of the day, I write down the best thing to happen that day. I’ve made this a real ritual, I use a beautifully bound book, a pretty pen and enjoy the experience. Plus I know its good for me so that makes it feel even better.
The final happiness hack I want to talk about in this post is connection (and remember I will be talking about happiness all this week in additional posts).
As much as 40% of our happiness is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make with connection, activities and people being at the heart of this. We are naturally social creatures and nurturing our relationships and being around other humans is therefore an inbuilt need in us. Making time for interacting with friends, family, co workers and even the general public is important to help us feel connected. And if you can, make it in person.
We are all a bit guilty of relying on texts, whatsapp or social media messages to keep contact, its terrible seeing groups of people sat together, all looking at their phones not engaging with each other. So, maybe try making more of a conscious effort to get that one on one engagement. Give someone your undivided attention. Think of ways you can get out and meet more people, connect and build new relationships. Or, if you are using social media, start a conversation with someone new. I LOVE getting messages and responding to comments. If I can geek out talking about interiors, pugs or fashion then I’m happy as a pig in XXXX so reach out and don’t be shy!
So today, on International Happiness day, have a think about what might make you more happy? Action for happiness is a great organisation that are working hard to help people recognise how they can achieve more happiness and wellbeing in their lives. Take a look at what they do at www.actionforhappiness.org