Here are some ideas for increasing your level of happiness. Treat the list as a menu to choose from – pick those that appeal to you and try them out. Let us know how you get on.
1. Pay more attention to the positive aspects of your current situation. Many of us focus on what is “wrong” with our lives and dream of some future time when things will be better. Moving your attention doesn’t mean ignoring the problems in your life or giving up on ambition. You will still want to aim for your dreams but you will be happier and more satisfied on the way.
2. Be more accepting and tolerant towards yourself. It’s easy for children to find happiness in everyday, mundane activities, mainly because they haven’t learned (yet!) to be so self-critical. Imagine how much happier you would be if your critical inner voice was kinder to you.
3. Focus on what’s really important for you. Our clients often find they engage in activities that stop them doing what they want to do. There can be different reasons for this but often it’s simply because they aren’t clear about what they want. Helping someone discover what really matters to them is one of the most rewarding parts of what we do.
4. It’s not about getting more. Remember that much of western society is built on the idea that getting more will bring more happiness. It rarely works in practice. Don’t get taken in by the advertising – understand what makes you happy and focus on that.
5. Make sure you have enough time – don’t get too busy! Psychologist Tim Kasser discovered that ‘time affluence’ is more likely to make people happy than material affluence. He defines ‘time affluence’ as ‘the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful, to reflect and to engage in leisure’. So enjoy what you do and don’t do too much of it.
6. Exercise regularly. Improving physical fitness increases your energy, makes you less likely to be ill and improves your mental capabilities. There are lots of easy ways to get more exercise and movement into your daily life. Try standing or pacing while on the phone; do some stretches while waiting for the kettle to boil; walk round the garden in the sunshine just before lunch. Notice how you think about exercise – if you have a negative view (and many people do, based on unpleasant school experiences), you’ll need to change it to get the benefits.
7. Smile more often. This seems so simple and yet is very powerful. Being happy makes you smile, and the reverse can be true – smiling can make you feel happier. It will also make others want to be with you (who wants to be around a miserable person?) and it will make them more likely to smile as well.
8. Don’t expect to be happy all the time. Sometimes you’ll be sad, angry, anxious or upset. Many people see these as ‘bad’ emotions and try to suppress them or get rid of them. This is counter-productive: it will cause internal conflict and can lead to ill-health. They are all natural human emotions and it’s important that you acknowledge and accept them as useful indicators of your current state.
9. Keep in touch with your friends. Arrange to meet for lunch or coffee. Send an email. Having close connections with other people generally increases happiness – even if you are an introvert.
10. Do the jobs you don’t really want to do but need to be done. Getting them done and crossed off your list will give you a boost and make you feel a lot happier than having them hanging over your head while you procrastinate about doing them!
11. Plan some activities you know you will enjoy. Having fun things to look forward to is a great way of feeling better in the present.
12. Try doing a ‘random act of kindness’. This could be for someone you know or a complete stranger. It’s amazing how much better you feel by, for example, letting someone out of a side road and getting a smile or wave of thanks. And, strangely, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of other people’s kindnesses.
13. Find something good to wake up for. Before going to sleep, think about something you are going to do the following day that you’re looking forward to. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – just something that really engages you. You’ll find you wake up easier, with more energy and already looking forward to the day.
14. Spend time getting to know yourself. This is worth giving some time every day. It will help you develop a deeper understanding of others, but also help you manage how you think and feel. Then you can choose to live your life in the way that makes you happiest.
15. Laugh more. Find something every day to laugh about. This might be a joke or a funny story, or a funny film or TV programme. It could also be that you find something about yourself or your life that, if you were to take it a bit less seriously, you could laugh about.
16. Be in the present. We spend a lot of time regretting things that happened in the past – or worrying about what’s going to happen in the future. We can’t do anything about the past, except learn useful lessons from it, and much of what we fear about the future doesn’t actually happen. So spend more time in the present, with what’s going on right now.
17. Make full use of your skills and talents. We often seem to spend more time admiring other people’s talents (and wishing we had them) than getting the most from our own strengths.
18. Pay particular attention to simple pleasures. They are presented to us every day… a bird singing, perfume from a flower, a glorious sunset, a smile from a loved one…. All we need to do is to take a moment to notice them and gain a small portion of pleasure from them.
We’d also love to hear your own tips – it would be great to share ideas!