To be happy is all us humans are ever striving for right? Some find happiness snuggling with their pet; others find it in a good book or a glass of something lovely at the end of the day, but what are the real ingredients to a truly happy life? Yesterday was International Happiness Day and there were lots of news reports announcing the world’s happiest nations. It was no surprise that our Scandanavian neighbours are still winning when it comes to being happy. So, what are people in countries like Norway and Denmark doing differently, and how can we learn from them? I’ve been doing lots of research and have come up with a list of tips to help you enjoy a happier life.
Grinning is winning!
Sounds simple and very obvious, but researchers in the US have proven that taking a smiling selfie every day can instantly make you feel more positive and confident. It’s high time we ditched the pout I think!
Another seemingly obvious one, but when was the last time you had a really good laugh? Laughing can release tons of endorphins (happy hormones) and get serotonin firing, adding to the overall healing effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Plus a good laugh can burn up to 40 calories in 15 minutes.
We are always being told how important it is for our bodies to eat plenty of fruit and veg, but who knew it affected our minds too? Scientists at the University of Warwick found that happiness increases for each portion of fruit and vegetables we eat in a day – up to eight times!
Spend time in nature:
Just five minutes staring at nature, be it a walk in a forest or looking at a desk plant, can improve mental wellbeing, and increase creativity and productivity. It goes without saying that fresh outside air and sunlight can also be a huge mood changer (not to mention the vitamin D boost) so if you can, get outside and walk it off.
We all have negative thoughts from time to time but changing the way we see ourselves and certain situations can improve our self-esteem and, in turn, our happiness. Accepting who you are and celebrating all that makes you you, is a big ingredient to a happy life. So, next time you’re doubting your abilities or think you’re making a bad job of something – say a positive statement to yourself, like “I am doing very well and am achieving a lot,” and even if you don’t feel like it at first, these regular little ‘pats-on-the-back’ will shift your mindset and improve your overall happiness.
Rule of three:
Don’t fill all of your spare time with jobs and domestic chores. Try to leave a little time to do three things a week that are non-essential and just for you, like painting your nails, going for a walk or sitting with a book/magazine and a lovely hot drink.
Time to Hygge:
With long, dark winters and cold weather, you’d think that people in Scandanavian countries would struggle to be happy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In Denmark they adopt a way of living called Hygge. Hygge is hard to translate, but broadly speaking it is an ethos for life that embraces positivity by taking enjoyment in everyday activities. This can include spending time with those we love, having conversations by candle-light and snuggling under blankets. It could also refer to “Cuddling, brushing your teeth while your partner brushes his or her teeth and stands next to you, being naked, vintage textiles, pendant lights, circular tables, burned spatulas, old shoes, honking geese and line-dried laundry” according Ms. Brits, author of ‘The Book of Hygge’.
It’s natural to compare ourselves to others and we all do it, but with instant updates and ‘picture perfect’ lives on display, comparing ourselves has become a national past time. Hours spent scrolling on social media each day, l
ooking at unattainable images, can lead to low-self esteem, anxiety and depression. It can also lead us down the slippery slope of comparing our children with others, and make us feel that we are failing at parenting somehow. It’s time to keep it real, people! If you find yourself feeling low after looking at your news feed, ‘unfollow’ those pages that make you feel this way and move on. Notice how your scrolling is making you feel and to follow pages that make you smile and feel good inside.
Mindfulness and meditation:
I’m losing count of the studies I’ve read that show meditation dramatically improves mental health, and a whole host of other conditions too, and you don’t have to sit like Budha in a ‘zen-like’ state for hours to feel the effects. You can start mediation by sitting in a comfortable position for just five or ten minutes and breathing in and out, slowly, counting the length of your breath and trying to breath deeper/longer each time. Yes, your mind will wonder and it will feel strange, but soon you will notice how much calmer and as a result, happier you feel. Mindfulness, simply refers to noticing what is going on around you, acknowledging it and taking yourself off autopilot.
Take action – On your walk to work or school, notice your steps and how you are breathing, look at the sky and the trees around you. Smile and notice the thoughts as they enter your mind like a monkey swinging through trees, but let them pass you by, just as cars on the road do.
Get into your ‘flow’:
Studies show that those of us who do something we love on a regular basis, are much happier. Each time we ‘get into our flow’ be it through exercise or activities like cooking or painting, the synapses that keep us feeling happy are fired up in our brains. We’ve known for a long time that regular exercise releases those happy feelings, but so does painting, singing, dancing, surfing or whatever it is you like to lose yourself in. Creative activities have a particularly good way of lifting our mood and focussing our busy minds.
List your achievements!
I am the queen of to-do lists. They help me feel organised and in control; but what about a “ta-da” list? Celebrating our achievements at the end of each day, through a list writing ritual or otherwise, is a great way to go to bed feeling happy and positive. Why not sit down with a lovely note book each evening and write down the things you have achieved that day, or simply something that you have enjoyed seeing or doing.
Having good, strong relationships is key to our happiness. Close relationships with family and friends provide love and support, and broader social connections provide a sense of belonging. Why not contact a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while? Or visit an elderly relative. You could go along to a new social event like our launch evening with The Unmumsy Mum next month, and build friendships with other local parents. Book tickets here.
Break out of your comfort zone:
Doing something adventurous or exciting can increase your learning, emotional flexibility and resilience. Adventure doesn’t have to involve world travel or extreme sports though, it can simply mean going to a new class; or going out for a walk and leaving your phone behind!
There are some great tools out there to help you on your happiness journey. I’ve listed some of them below. Above all, remember “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama
- YesMum Positive Affirmation Cards by Hollie De Cruz
- Happy: Finding joy in everyday and letting go of perfect by Fearne Cotton
- Hygge: The Art of Danish Happiness by Marie Sourel Søderberg
- The Art of Happiness by HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
- The Secret by Rhona Byrne
- Get Some Headspace by Andy Puddicombe
- Quility Mindful Parenting App
- Headspace App
- A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax