During these times it’s good to stay positive, here’s how!
Using ‘10 keys for happier living’ from the brilliant Action for Happiness, each week we’ll take a theme and explore how you can enhance your everyday life, even during lockdown.
Together, lets understand more about what makes us happy & fulfilled.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
When did you last give to others?
When we give to others, we not only offer help & assistance, but we indirectly gain from a sense of doing something worthwhile ourselves. We're hard wired to have purpose and there are unlimited ways in which we can give and show kindness. It’s something we can all do regardless of income, be it a smile, a compliment or a more practical step like delivering shopping during the Government restrictions. Giving to others boosts happiness by releasing endorphins. Get your happy hormones flowing!
Here’s a few ideas to help you on your way:
- Give to charity – clothes to a charity shop, food to a foodbank, old bedding to an animal shelter
- Cook a loved one a meal
- Volunteer in your community
- Give up your parking space to someone in need
- Bake something for a neighbour
- Pay someone a compliment
- Simply, just smile an encouraging smile or wish a stranger ‘good morning’
- Read an inspiring article or blog? Leave a compliment or positive feedback for the author
- Visit randomactsofkindness for inspiration
These are a just a few ideas and the list could literally never end. Why not share your acts of kindness with family & friends? You may even inspire them to do the same.
"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour" Marcus Tullius Cicero
Find what you enjoy!
The links between our physical and mental well-being are becoming well-established. Evidence shows that looking after our bodies and incorporating regular movement into our lives has a beneficial effect on our mood, our sleep, our self-esteem, as well as helping to reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce the risk of depression. We can also find that exercise helps us connect with people, whether through shared interests or group activities.
The way you have been keeping active before lockdown may have changed, but it is always good to give new things a try! There are many tips for how to incorporate exercise into our daily lives but the key is finding what works for you, starting slowly and finding a way to incorporate it into daily life.
Here are some suggestions for things you can try!*
- Everyday activities such as household chores, gardening, climbing the stairs, walking to the shop
- Walking, jogging and cycling to explore new places and new routes
- Yoga – there are various online versions to try
- Outdoor tennis
- Lifting weights
- Fitness and activity apps, online classes and DVDs
- Dancing around the kitchen with your kids or having a family disco night
- Skipping with a rope
- Playing games in the garden or park
- There are some useful tips in this short video from MIND
- You may also want to check out the Mindfulness through Movement workshop and the online classes being offered by Warwick Sport, details of both can be found via the Staff Wellbeing Hub
*Please note that you should always adhere to social distancing guidelines and the latest Government advice regarding outdoor activity
"Self awareness is an act of self-kindness" Reuben Lowe
Continuing with the theme of understanding happiness, is the importance of developing our self-awareness. Remembering to observe and experience the world around us can be easily overlooked. With busy lives, it’s easy to rush around from task to task without ever really checking in with ourselves or the environment we’re in.
For instance, how often have you travelled to work and realised you can’t later recall the journey? Or maybe you’ve ignored the need for a quick break in the push to get things done? Over time, this builds our stress levels and moves us away from happiness!
Raising our awareness helps us move away from autopilot towards experiencing & observing our surroundings along the way. Allowing this extraneous information to flow and flood the senses can be a real tonic. For example, the simple task of walking along the street can be enhanced by noticing the details making it a more pleasurable and mindful experience, eg, the daily changes in nature occurring along your favourite routes, the weather, the sights and sounds.
The process of allowing this sensory information through has many calming benefits. Quite simply, there is less space available for troublesome thoughts.
Indeed, the practice of Mindfulness is based on the principle of observing the moment; the non-judgemental awareness of observing our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Becoming more attuned to the moment raises awareness of thought patterns & helps move us away from stress. The NHS use mindfulness within treatment services so rest assured it has sound benefits, a pandemic couldn’t be more reason to give it a go!
How can I become more mindful?
There’s lots of resources to read more about the topic
Here’s a few links to help you get started:
“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good” Dr Seuss
Trying out new things is a great way to boost our happiness, our self-esteem and our sense of purpose. It can also help our sense of connection. While it can be difficult to try something new, having an open mind to new things can help cultivate a “growth mindset”. The sense of achievement in facing those fears - and doing it anyway - can be a real boost!
Being doubtful about trying new things can put us off, but it can be so rewarding to overcome those stumbling blocks, quite apart from whatever we may gain from the new activity itself. We may surprise ourselves and find a new interest that we want to pursue further, or we may discover new things that interest us. We may find that particular thing was not quite right for us, but we gave it a go and learnt something in the process. As the saying goes, it is all part of life’s rich tapestry.
Sometimes our own self-talk can really limit what we think we are capable of and what we allow ourselves to pursue. Trying new things can help stop that thought pattern in its tracks and replace it with a sense of adventure, exploration and resilience.
With the internet at our fingertips, there are endless opportunities to dip our toes into new interests, ideas and activities you may want to get involved in. It may be that trying a new hobby or exercise regime would feel too much right now, especially in the circumstances – it can be as simple as trying a new recipe or taking a different route on your evening walk, or maybe picking up the phone to a friend we only ever message.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about giving running a go when you may not think of yourself as a runner, signing up for an educational course, learning to bake..... The key is keeping that growth mindset open to exploring new things. Setbacks may happen, it may not go the way you planned or hoped – but maybe this will take you down a new path that you were unaware of, and in the process increase your self-awareness, self-esteem and sense of achievement.
Here's some further reading which you may be interested in:
- Carol Dweck’s book Mindset (2012) is available as an e-book in the Library catalogue
- The NHS 5 steps to mental wellbeing page has some ideas for learning new skills
"Sometimes in the winds of change we find our direction" Unknown
Coming out of the lockdown has provided a much needed boost for many, being able to make plans really brings focus to times which might otherwise be frustratingly stagnant. Resuming plans for get togethers & family holidays is a timely reminder of this week’s theme; the mental benefits of having some Direction.
Sometimes, goals can be as simple as planning some ‘me’ time to read or watch your favourite box set. Indeed short term goals are often the ones that can really help us to cope with everyday life & build resilience.
Longer term goals may take a bit more work and visualisation. Sometimes finding your direction is the start of a process, knowing that it’s time to make some positive changes towards achieving work/life balance although not necessarily being sure where you’ll end up. Often it’s the process or the steps involved that brings about reward.
Working towards a goal helps us build motivation, ignite our interests, spark creativity and find meaning. Being happy in life takes effort, indeed the Action for Happiness website acknowledges that up to 40% of our happiness lies in the choices we make. This is food for thought, with emphasis on the pro-active role we need to take to shape and direct our lives for our wellbeing.
If not, we run the risk of being passengers, vicariously living life watching other peoples transformations through popular tv shows like The Voice, X Factor, Love Island where contestants hope to win their way to a new future. Call this magical thinking or healthy optimism? Either way, the majority of us need to start with small steps forward, where unexpected gains can help us find fulfilment along the way.
It’s time to close the door to procrastination and to listen to your inner voice instead; allow gut instinct and a healthy dose of self-belief to help guide you towards a happier direction.
“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again” Nelson Mandela
We have all had to adapt to the extraordinary situation of Coronavirus over the last few months. Everybody’s situation and personal experience through this will have been different, with different factors and nuances involved. This may have challenged our personal resilience and yet collectively we have adapted to life being somewhat different. We have even found ways to embrace some of the changes, whether through displaying rainbows in our windows, clapping for carers on our doorsteps and witnessing the amazing fundraising effort by Captain Tom. The resilience of our keyworkers to continue to care and provide for others during such worrying and testing times, in some cases while being separated from loved ones, is nothing short of inspiring. Although some lockdown measures have been easing, it seems that we may still face some uncertainty ahead. Life is full of ups and downs, so how do we adapt and adjust?
So what is Resilence? Can it be learned?
Resilience is one of those non-tangible but essential skills in life’s toolkit! It’s the strength you draw from within during times of adversity. It’s how you navigate difficulties and come through the other side, incrementally developing your personal coping skills along the way. It’s how we bounce back. As we become more mentally robust our tolerance to challenging situations develops. (A note of caution here – there comes a point when too much exposure to stress becomes harmful to health.)
How can it be learned?
- Hold on to the positives. This can be done by reframing your thoughts to a positive mindset. Eg, change ‘this is stressful’ to ‘this will soon be over, it’ll soon pass’ or ‘I’ll be back doing x/y/z again soon’
- Remember, you can’t change the world! Focus on the things you can change eg, routines & accept the things you can’t to help you through stressful times
- Talk to others. Resilience is about dealing with your problems head on, and resilient people know when to ask for help and to be supported.
- Finding a positive focus or goal to work towards helps develop a sense of control and momentum towards the preferred future.
- Positive self-care helps support resilience through good diet, exercise, sleep, and doing the things we enjoy, to nurture wellbeing during taxing times.
Here's some further reading which you may be interested in:
- Emotional Resilience from Wellbeing Support Services
- Developing Resilience from Mind
- Ways to Bounce Back from Action for Happiness
- Access online community support via Big White Wall
"We cannot control what emotions or circumstances we will experience next, but we can choose how we respond to them" Gary Zukav
From exhilarated highs to unexpected lows, emotions can be like a rollercoaster ride, and often reveal how you really feel about a situation. We all experience emotions, even those who seem prone to concealing theirs! We’re going to focus on how to harness positive emotions in this ‘Happiness’ instalment.
Emotions are often used interchangeably to describe feelings, but technically, the two things are different.
Emotions are raw & biological, powered by the brain’s limbic system meaning emotions are spontaneous & not consciously controlled, such as an involuntary smile or shout. It also means we cannot control the emotion itself – but our response to it. In fact It was Darwin back in the 19th century who discovered that emotions are hardwired- an ancestral, primal response to danger necessary for survival. Thankfully, nowadays emotions are less about survival from predators & can be harnessed to promote positivity and enjoyment in life.
The word ‘emotion’ is often used as a way of naming feelings. A feeling is an emotion the brain’s neocortex has interpreted. We attach feelings to emotions, based on our interpretations and beliefs. It’s understandable that the two words are commonly used to describe the same thing.
How does this relate to living happier lives?
- Have you ever noticed how your feelings often promote more similar feelings? Action for Happiness talks about an upward spiral of positive feelings being built when they are experienced regularly, with a 3:1 ratio of good V negative feelings creating a “tipping point” where we become more resilient to difficulties
- When we reframe our thoughts and feelings it helps us along the way. We can adopt a ‘glass half full’ approach to see the positives in otherwise challenging situations.
- We can resist unhelpful thinking, by looking for evidence to challenge our beliefs. This is an essential part of a healthy mindset, and the basis of therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy used in mental health treatment.
- We can practice self-care such as spending time with others and caring for our bodies through exercise
- It’s healthy to ask questions of yourself when you make important decisions. Combine logic with emotion to weigh up your options to find a comfortable / rational solution in tune with your beliefs.
- Remember that the feelings we attach to emotions aren’t facts, and can sometimes be misleading. Rationalising thoughts can be helpful to decrease the power of a feeling, to allow us to move away from fear to a more open-minded ‘can do’ approach.
Here's some further reading which you may be interested in:
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance” Brené Brown
How often do we give ourselves an overly hard time when we make a mistake, or compare ourselves unfavourably to others? We can all have a tendency to catastrophize and berate ourselves when we mess up or to think that others are somehow better than us, but the truth is that nobody is perfect and it is human to make mistakes. We all have unique strengths and self-acceptance is about celebrating all the wonderful things about ourselves and accepting our flaws. Self-acceptance is the ability to know our strengths and weaknesses, accept our past and feel positive about ourselves while acknowledging our limitations. Without this, we can tend to dwell on things we dislike about ourselves or things that we perceive as wrong, which can lead to a lot of negative self-talk. There may be the temptation to think that the counter to this is to focus on our self-esteem, however there is a danger to this as over-inflated self-esteem may create a sense of superiority that prevents us from relating well to other people. Our self-esteem can be linked to our perceived judgements about our performance, whether at work, school, sports etc, and this can cause how we feel about ourselves to fluctuate based on our perceived achievements and failures. Conversely, self-acceptance is about acknowledging setbacks and mistakes, while cutting ourselves some slack, being kind to ourselves and focusing on the good things about ourselves.
So how can we cultivate self-acceptance? Self-acceptance is often enhanced through self-compassion, which promotes self-improvement and reduces comparison to others (which is detrimental to our happiness). Here are some ways in which you can develop self-compassion and self-acceptance
- Be kind and understanding to yourself - treat yourself as kindly as you would your loved ones and develop compassionate self-talk
- Develop a sense of common humanity – pain and failure are an unavoidable part of life – and this is part of the human experience
- Practice self-forgiveness, work through challenges and learn from mistakes – and be kind to yourself in the process
- Celebrate your strengths and accept your weaknesses – working with, rather than against, yourself
- Building a support network of people who accept you for who you are
- Doing kind and charitable things can help you to see the positive impact you can make to others
We hope some of these ideas about self-compassion and self-acceptance resonate and provide a useful starting point. You can find more reading at: Action for happiness
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel" Maya Angelou
Relating to others
This week’s theme is fundamental to our everyday lives. We all belong to social groups be it our families, friends, work colleagues, neighbourhoods, religious groups or in our social pastimes. Relating to others is central to our sense of belonging to these settings, how we view ourselves within the structure of our lives and within our environments. The relationships we form throughout life teach us about our needs, how to respond to others, the shared values to live by and essentially, how to be happier. Relating to others is the thread that runs throughout all of our activities.
To feel supported in human terms encompasses this, connecting with others helps us feel understood so we can access practical help, receive care, feel noticed or appreciated. At the opposite end of the spectrum, lack of connection with others is detrimental to our wellbeing, leading to isolation, unhelpful thought patterns and lack of social stimulation. Despite days when you may want to hide from the world, without relationships we would be spiritually and emotionally poorer. In short, relationships can be complicated but are almost always outweighed by the emotional reward.
What qualities help us to relate to others?
- Empathy: being able to see things from another’s perspective, even when you don’t share the same opinion facilitates our relationships.
- Compassion: quite simply, kindness. Aristotle summed it up as "helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped"
- Listening: truly listening to the message being conveyed by someone else is an art form, the task is to try to listen without imposing our own agenda.
- Humility: discarding our own pre-conceptions and egos allows us to be more open minded and increases our ability to relate to others.
- Remembering: were you ever told to treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself? This is a great guide for relationships!
Equally, relating to others is not always about two way communication. Sometimes, acts of selfless charity or vocational acts help us feel connected, eg, fundraising. Giving makes a difference both to the recipient, and the emotional satisfaction experienced by person who is giving.
Regardless of whether you love solitude or whether you’re naturally gregarious, relating to others is a core inter-personal skill we all have to work at sometimes, and has an important role in living happier lives.
Here's some further reading which you may be interested in:
“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.” Martin Seligman
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll have realised that the various themes intertwine, reflecting how the strands of our mental health and wellbeing are all connected and contribute to our general sense of happiness. Today’s theme of ‘meaning’ brings this all together, as without meaning we risk becoming spiritually lost.
During the lockdown, many people were interviewed in the news acknowledging that they couldn’t wait to get back to work – not because they missed the daily grind, but the routine and purpose that routine brings. Whether working, training, volunteering or simply following a daily schedule, the purpose and meaning of each day is defined by our activities. Making a contribution helps us to feel worthwhile in the process.
Positive psychology recommends we become part of something bigger – be this through faith, contributing to the local community or even pursuing a vocation/ supporting a cause you feel compelled towards. It’s the contribution that we make and the connections that are formed that help us to place ourselves in the world, to find meaning & to flourish.
The pandemic has illustrated the need for direction in so many ways. From healthcare workers coming out of retirement to answer a vocational call, keyworkers contributing extra hours, housebound individuals offering telephone support to those in need, local schools becoming food banks and a nonagenarian raising millions by walking laps of his garden – the list is endless. Having direction and sharing our lives with like-minded people is fulfilling and helps us understand the essence of being human, the point in our lives and the difference we can make.
Ideas to help discover meaning in life:
- Giving to others (week one)
- Exercise and looking after our physical well-being (week two)
- Cultivating a sense of self-awareness (week three)
- Trying out a new activity or interest (week four)
- Finding direction and setting goals (week five)
- Developing a sense of resilience (week six)
- Learning to work with our emotions (week seven)
- Finding ways to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion (week eight)
- Relating to others (week nine)
Discover meaning in our lives through the connection between all the themes outlined in this Happiness Series and reflect on what gives you a sense of purpose and passion (week ten).