Ten Steps to Happiness
At this time of year (currently winter), my mood does seem to dip a little. The nights are drawing in, it’s getting colder and there’s precious little sunshine in the daylight hours. Here are just some of the suggestions that I make to my clients, and that I regularly use myself, for boosting your mood, putting a spring in your step and making you feel happier.
When I was 23 I worked and travelled in India for 6 months.
The experience changed my life in many ways, but one of the things that left the biggest impression was how grateful people were for the small things in life. Time and time again I met people who had relatively little, living in extremely basic conditions, yet who were incredibly kind, generous and grateful for what they had. When I returned home one of the things that struck me was how much people complained. One person starts and everyone around them joins in with the flow of negativity. I encourage you to stop getting sucked into that negativity and start practicing gratitude instead.I keep a daily journal, which includes three or more things I’m grateful for that day. Sometimes, it’s big things (like what a blessing it is to be able to help people transform their lives with hypnotherapy) …sometimes it’s little things (like watching the blue tits on the bird feeder). It helps me to focus on the positive things in life….even on a challenging day, there’s usually something to be grateful for. Even if you can’t find anything on a particularly difficult day – no problem, it’s the remembering to look that counts. Feeling grateful boosts your serotonin and dopamine levels. If you can get into the habit of reviewing your day and noticing the little things you’re grateful for…the simple pleasures…it can be quite transformational and will help you to cope with life’s ups and downs more effectively.
Connection with others, people or animals, is fundamental to our well-being and happiness
Being kind stimulates the production of oxytocin, popularly known as the “bonding”, “love” or “cuddle” hormone; and oxytocin is important for good health. Oxytocin receptors are found throughout our bodies and when the love hormone is flowing the whole body functions better. It makes us feel good and improves our relationships and of course this all creates a positive upward spiral. Small acts of kindness such as giving a compliment to a stranger, striking up a conversation with an elderly person on their own, giving a friend a surprise gift or making a new member of staff feel welcome can make a huge difference to someone’s day… and you’ll feel good too.And don’t forget to be kind to yourself! All too often we are our own worse critics – when life gets difficult, instead of lifting ourselves up with self-compassion, we often make ourselves feel worse by giving ourselves a hard time. Thoughts like “I’m not good enough”… “that proves I’m a failure”…“why can’t I do anything right?” trigger our threat/defence system creating stress and anxiety. Be aware of your inner critic and think of what you’d say to a friend in a similar situation. See my previous posts on self-compassion for more ideas; Compassionate imagery and Compassionate writing
Turn off your TV!
For 10 years I didn’t have a TV and it’s made me a lot more selective about what I choose to watch. Your TV provides you with a steady stream of negativity and depression in the form of news, soaps, violent films, etc. Have a think about what you’re watching really makes you feel…and maybe reconsider your choices.
Make a list of 10 things which you find enjoyable to do and give you a sense of pleasure
Bear in mind this does need to be appropriate to the time of year. My summer pleasure list for example includes things like having a picnic on the beach, sunbathing and swimming in the sea. As it’ll probably be at least 6 months before I’m doing those things my winter list needs to be different and includes things like reading a book while soaking in a hot bubble bath, dancing or phoning a friend – just simple things that make me smile. Now make a list of 10 things which give you a sense of mastery; a sense of achievement having done them. This is different to your pleasure list, as they’re not necessarily enjoyable to do, but give you a sense of satisfaction having done them. My mastery list includes things like pilates, sorting out paperwork and cooking a meal. Aim to do at least one thing from each list every day – preferably different things each day.
Be aware of how your thoughts can quickly sabotage your happiness
It’s useful to remember that your thoughts are not necessarily an accurate representation of reality! Just because you think a thought doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself are:
Is this reality itself or just one possible perspective on things?
What evidence is there for and against that belief?
Am I expecting myself to be perfect? How helpful is that?
Am I placing unrealistic rules and demands on myself?
How do I know what people are really thinking?
Is it really all or nothing? Is there any middle ground?
Practice mindfulness meditation and/or self-hypnosis regularly
I practice regular 3 minute breathing spaces at least three times a day or whenever I feel the need to and often suggest the same for my clients as well. Aim to do at least one activity a day mindfully, whether that’s brushing your teeth, walking to work or cooking the dinner.
Create a safe, happy place in your imagination that you can take yourself off to whenever you need to
You can use a memory of a happy time…perhaps a holiday or a memory of doing something you love, or it can be a happy place you’re creating entirely in your imagination. Re-create this memory in your mind as vividly as you can – focusing on what you can see, hear, feel, even what you can smell and taste if appropriate! The feelings are most important here – so as soon as you have those feelings, start making them bigger, more powerful and then enjoy expanding those wonderful feelings throughout your body in whatever way feels right for you. Re-creating enjoyable experiences in your mind naturally stimulates the release of neuro-transmitters (like serotonin) that make us feel good and promote feelings of happiness and well-being.
Wherever you live I encourage you to get outdoors in nature as much as possible
Being in a natural environment can’t fail to boost your mood…and make sure you look up and not at the ground in front of you!
What do you feel passionate about?
What makes your heart soar and your spirit sing? What makes you feel alive like nothing else? Whether that’s singing in a choir, baking cakes or volunteering for a charity…do it as often as you can! If you don’t know what your passion is, brainstorm ideas – things you’ve always wanted to have a go at…maybe learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby. Think back to what you enjoyed doing as a child…are there any clues there?
Even if it’s only for 5 minutes a day – put your favourite track on and dance round your living room. It’s impossible not to feel good!