The eight simple, practical things I do which have helped me become a happy person
The internet is littered with these lists, and I hesitate to add yet another. The main reason I have is that there are a couple of things on this list which don’t appear on the others I’ve seen. These things don’t require you to have spare time, money or energy, but if you do them you will probably feel happier. These are the practices which have helped me to grow from being an often-unhappy person to being a predominantly happy one. I hope they help you too.
1. Do Your Gratitudes
List three things you feel grateful for, take a breath into each one. Do this every day, or as often as you can. It takes less than a minute, so is easy to fit in, and it is probably the most effective happiness booster I know.
I struggle to find time for (read: don’t choose to prioritise) long meditations, but I find five minutes (or two if I’m in a hurry) of the Deep Calm setting on the free app Breathly is a really excellent way to set myself up to have a good day. I do it just before I get out of bed.
3. Give up Sugar For Ever
I gave up refined sugar about ten years ago and I have felt enormously better ever since. My mood is a lot more stable and I have more energy. To start with I found it really hard - for the first three weeks the cravings were deafening - but I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did!
Human bodies are amazing at knowing and signalling what food they need, except when it comes to sugar. Sugar is a very addictive substance, it gives you calories empty of nutrients, and it’s associated with inflammation (linked to depression). If it’s taken out of the diet it’s so much easier to eat well, because you can listen to, and trust, the cues your wise body is giving you. I found that the best thing to kill a sugar craving is a chopped up banana sprinkled with cocoa powder.
If you need more convincing, read Michael Pollen’s wonderful book ‘In Defence of Food’.
4. Do Forrest Yoga
For a long while after having a baby I found it very difficult to maintain a regular practice, because whenever I did manage to get on my mat I would discover an unfathomable pool of tiredness inside. Pre-motherhood, my yoga time of choice was first thing in the morning in pyjamas, but fully acknowledging the pain of months/years of cumulative sleep deprivation is a terrible way to begin a long day of looking after a child! It was only recently that I realised that if I do my practice last thing before bed then it doesn’t matter if I feel utterly exhausted, because I’ll soon be asleep. This realisation has been revolutionary! If you’d really like to be doing (more) yoga but you’re not managing to, see if you can figure out exactly what you’re getting stuck on, and try and find a way round it.
5. Spend Time in Green Places
I try to make sure I see leaves against the sky at least once every day. At least once a month I also try to immerse myself a bit more, and go to a bit of woodland where I can see nothing but trees in all directions. This is my minimum to stay happy.
6. Find Someone Who Will Listen
I have regular sessions with a craniosacral therapist, during which I feel profoundly heard and cared-for, and I’ve found this incredibly helpful for health and happiness. Like many others, I worry that I am burdening my husband, friends and family if I spend too much time telling them about my woes. Paying someone to listen relieves me of that worry! I favour craniosacral therapy because it takes into account both mind and body - it’s easy to forget that they are integrated, but holistic approaches are generally much more effective for healing.
Another option, a much less expensive one, is to set up a Listening Partnership as described by the brilliant Hand in Hand Parenting bods: https://www.handinhandparenting.org/2016/08/listen-launch-post-what-is-a-listening-partnership/
7. Honour Negative Feelings
For years, whenever I encountered an uncomfortable feeling (physical or emotional) I would try three approaches, none of which worked: I would try to ignore it, or I would try to fix it, or I would self-pityingly wallow in it. Finally I figured out that the way to regain peace and equilibrium in the face of difficult feelings is to honour them. To do this I perform a brief mental ceremony, imagining myself wrapping the feeling up in beautiful paper and then placing it on an elegant wooden shelf in my mind. The imagined shelf is in view, but off to the side a little - I can acknowledge that the negative feeling is present, and I can treat it with respect. Any time I need to I can take it down and unwrap it, but for the moment it is no longer cluttering my thoughts. In this way I can thank the uncomfortable feeling for anything I can learn from it about what is important to me, what I value.
8. Value What Pleases You and Do It
It’s easy to get into a habit of denying our own pleasures because it feels more important to accommodate others, but in doing that we’re devaluing ourselves and our opinions, and drowning out our intuition. It can lead to feeling two-dimensional and frustrated. There is such immense day-to-day joy to be found in life when your time, your work, your living space and your friendships are populated with things and people which bring you happiness. This is the foundation of Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, which I thoroughly recommend.