Happier in 10 Steps
How happy are you? Maybe it depends on your definition of happiness. Maybe you’re great already. If so: well done! Maybe there are some very legit reasons for being unhappy that are entirely beyond your control (as ever, if it’s causing serious distress and/ or impacting on your day to day ability to function, it’s probably time to talk to a professional about your options). Or maybe you could just do with a few strategies to ease things along, and address your emotional wellbeing. If so, you’ve landed in the right place, because here are ten tip-top ways to make the day feel more manageable…
1. Practice acceptance. Spend some time focusing on your emotions, especially if they’re distressing. Do they stem back to something in particular? Are there any underlying things going on? What can you do to either counteract them, or just sit with them as they are? Are you accepting them, or trying to bury them deep down and pretend they just don't exist? Life is one big up and down rollercoaster of highs, lows, brilliant bits, terrible days, and a big bucket of neutral in between. Get into the habit of checking in with your feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
2. Relax. Culturally, we’re not very good at relaxing. Always encouraged to be moving on to the next thing, sometimes the days can feel like a never-ending to-do list you’re always scrabbling to catch up with. Taking time out to rest and relax within that doesn’t make you lazy. It means you’re sensible in how you look after your mind and body – and ensuring your productivity in the long run. Even if it’s just five minutes of meditation, or book reading, or sitting out in the park with only your thoughts for company, it’s important to prioritise pockets of space and time that belong exclusively to you.
3. (Word) process. Alongside the whole dwelling-on-what’s-going-on, pulling out a pen to scribble down notes (or even just tapping frantically away on your laptop) can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts and working through the emotional impact of things that are bothering you. It’s surprising how often shaping stuff into sentences – or even just a couple of frantic bullet points – makes things fall into place, or gives you the venting/ reflection/ headspace you needed.
4. Think about others. It might sound slightly smug in an ‘eat your greens’ kind of way, but thinking of those around you – and viewing yourself as part of a complex, huge web of people - benefits not just you, but others too. It’s been proven that those who care about others and do acts of service/ generosity/ general-being-a-good-and-giving-person style stuff are happier into the bargain too.1
5. Focus on gratitude. Society encourages us to spend a hell of a lot of time focusing on all the things we want and envy and don’t have. Flip the script. Think about what you’re grateful for, whether it’s where you live, the friends you have, or even just the fact that your hair looks really good today.
6. Get moving. Exercise is something plenty have a complicated relationship with, especially given the ways it’s all too often aligned with body image and guilt. But finding something that makes you proud of your body’s capabilities and leaves you sweaty can make the world of difference to your emotional and psychological health too. Whether it’s pilates, running, swimming, joining a basketball team, boxing, biking, dancing until everything aches or learning to rock-climb, there are a hundred and one ways to kick your endorphins into action.
7. Snooze. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Very few of us, apparently, are getting enough of it. Lack of sleep is linked to all sorts of nasty things, from blood pressure levels to probability of an earlier death. However, beyond the scare headlines, t 2 his is mainly about the here and now. Prioritise your need to rest and recuperate.
8. Nourish yourself. Some people call the gut the second brain.3 Some people are just counting down the hours to lunch. But eating regularly and healthily while prioritizing that 5 a day can make a big difference to your mood4 - both in the short term when it comes to blood sugar levels, and also long-term in how you fuel both body and mind5.
9. Plunge into nature. Get out and into the green. If you can run away to the hills, or a wood, or anywhere else that’ll provide good leaves and sweeping views, do. If that’s not possible, just go and hang out in the park. Whichever way, it’ll help slow things down. Besides, this study6 shows that, unsurprisingly, those who spend more time outside often feel more alive and energized.
10. Touch. Remember that guy who went around with a sign offering free hugs? Don’t be him. But plenty of us should hug more. Although oxytocin is more regularly cited in relation to sex, it’s also boosted by other forms of touch7 – and sometimes, when you’re seeing a friend, there’s nothing better or more nourishing than the biggest, squishiest bear-hug.