How to be happier.
The need for happiness is a very human one and the goodwill you feel extends to those around you – it’s good for you and it’s good for society. And it’s contagious. When we feel happy we’re much less likely to experience resentment, judgment, criticism, impatience, defensiveness, or hostility towards others.
Happiness tends to generate feelings of acceptance, appreciation, openness, gratitude, and trust.
Some people seem to be naturally happier than others because we all have a happiness set points- the level of well-being that we are accustomed to feeling in our lives. Our HQ -happiness quotient. This is a level of happiness with which we are familiar and has been established over time.
When times are hard and we fall below our normal level of happiness, we will (although usually not as quickly as we would like to) come back up to our norm and re-establish our old level of well-being.
On the other side of the coin, when we hit an unexpected bonus of good fortune, our happiness level moves upward, above its usual point but over time gradually comes down to its normal level.
In studies and surveys conducted by psychologists, researchers found that lottery winners and victims of life changing illnesses and accidents both resumed their set point level of happiness within a year after experiencing either positive or negative life-changes.
Prof Paul Dolan, of the London School of Economics and government advisor on how to make the population more contented, claims that many of the things people believe will make them happy are fleeting and can actually alter their lives in a negative way.
So although that coveted promotion may seem like the key happiness, it is likely to bring longer hours, more stress and a bigger commute. Likewise travelling the world will separate people from loved ones. And after a salary of £50,000, studies have shown nobody gets any happier with extra cash.
So if we all just return to our natural level why even bother to try to be happier. Is it worth all the effort?
It used to be thought that your HQ was your lot in life and that some were luckier than others but we know now that your HQ can be changed over time with certain actions. You can raise your set point by repeating habits of thoughts and behaviours so that you return to a happier level when life throws you off course.
It takes practice, but it can be done.
The key is making a habit out of your practices and integrating them into your life on a regular and frequent basis.
So here are some ways you can do this.
Be aware of the kinds of thoughts that you choose to focus on: Tame your inner critic. That bullying voice in your head that frequently offers you “constructive criticism” Its normal to have these thoughts so don’t even try to get rid of them but you can turn down the volume and send them to the background, pay less attention to them. When you’re aware of a negative thought hammering away, just acknowledge it, thank your mind and then get on with your life. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true. While pessimistic or negative thinking occurs with all of us from time to time, it doesn’t always reflect the truth about things. It may be a product of ingrained thinking patterns.. Don’t believe everything you think.
Listen to podcast 4 in my first Happier with Hazel series for tips on how you can do this. You can’t control the thoughts that pop into your mind but you have the power of determining the thoughts you choose to give your attention.
Remember the serenity prayer: This reminds us of how important it is recognise what we can change from what we cannot, remember the circle of control, influence and out of control and be realistic about what is under your control then, if you don’t like it, either change it or accept it. If it’s under your influence but not control then influence it as far as you can – and the things out of your control, well you just have to work on letting them go.
Keep in mind that the degree of happiness that we experience has more to do with the way that we think than it has to do with the circumstances and events of our lives. Don’t look for happiness in a bigger house, a promotion, an expensive car. It won’t be there. You have it inside you, you just need to cultivate it.
Invest your time and money in experiences that you know increase your level of happiness. That includes things like play, learning, adventure, connecting deeply with others, relaxation, and creative activities (rather than acquiring stuff).
Stop procrastinating – get on with life. Procrastination, like worry, can be a habit but can also be a symptom of underlying anxiety, fear of failure, fear of being judged. Together with its mate, perfectionism it can be crippling. Again it can be a way to self soothe when you’re anxious. You put something off so you get a temporary relief from the anxiety of doing whatever it you should be doing. But it’s short lived and the self-criticism, annoyance, frustration, self-blame and all the other strong emotions that come with it come crashing in. If you have a habit of procrastinating there are lots of things you can do to overcome it. Some of them are psychological, looking at the way you think about yourself and the world, letting go of old traumas and the anxiety that have given you a fear of failure or judgement but some of them are very simple environmental changes you can make to help you to be more productive and less dithering. It’s easier than you think.
Look at the sources of stress in your life that are excessive and try to reduce them. Stress is not inherently harmful or bad, but too much stress or an unhealthy attitude to stress does physical and psychological harm. Learn to distinguish a healthy level of stress from an unhealthy one and learn to view your stress in a more positive way.
Keep in mind that nothing is permanent. That includes not just “things,” but other aspects of life, including feelings, moods, health, and financial circumstances; not to mention life itself. “This too shall pass” is a mantra that is worth repeating when things are bad or good. When they are bad, we’re reminded that it’s not forever; when they are good, it reminds us to enjoy the present while it lasts.
Even though it doesn’t always seem to be the case, worry is a choice, it’s a habit. It’s natural and reasonable to be concerned about the future. However, when responsible concern goes over the line and becomes obsessive worry, you’ve moved into an unhealthy mind state. Choosing to focus your attention on something other than your worst fears can help to shift your set point and raise your HQ from the minus column to neutral or even positive.
If you have blocks holding you back from being the happiest you can be, whether that’s procrastination, worry, anxiety, stress, phobias or unhelpful habits of thinking then get in touch and learn how I can help you shift your mindset and get the most out of your life.