a recipe for
happiness ... the
10 essential ingredients for
a contented life
contents Page 5 Page 10 Page 14 Page 20 Page 25 Page 34 Page 40 Page 45 Page 54 Page 60 Page 67 Page 77
happiness is ... 1. a happy mindset 2. self esteem 3. an attitude of gratitude 4. a focus on the present 5. a sense of purpose 6. a plan for the future 7. persistence 8. a support team 9. fun and laughter 10. loving kindness and finally ...!
a recipe for happiness Okay, so you may not have all these ingredients in your store cupboard right now, but itâ€&#x;s worth making the effort to get them. The results really do justify the little bit of preparation required! Try it and see ... 1.
Take one decidedly happy mindset
Add a great big dose of self-esteem
Then throw in a genuine attitude of gratitude
Add a focus on the present
A sense of purpose
And a plan for the future
Now mix it all together with a generous helping of persistence and bake in the oven for a while
Enjoy it with a strong support team
Dusted with liberal sprinklings of fun and laughter
10. And a generous dollop of loving kindness 3
happiness is ... Whatever you think happiness is ... whether itâ€&#x;s holding hands with the one you love or eating hot buttered toast in front of a warm fire, going for a long walk by the sea or going out on the razzle dazzle with your friends ... happiness is something almost everyone craves. Itâ€&#x;s often considered the Holy Grail of life, the ultimate achievement. Many people think that being happy is all that matters. You only have to look back over history to see that human beings have been preoccupied with happiness since records began.
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.â€› Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher, scientist and physician, 384 BC-322 BC
In fact, happiness is considered so important that it‟s even enshrined in the American Constitution … ‚We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” American Declaration of Independence, 4th July 1776
What‟s interesting, though, is that the word „pursuit‟ can have two very different meanings: to chase or pursue something - for example, the bloodhound was in pursuit of the fox something that you actively engage in - for example, she was engaged in the pursuit of embroidery This reflects two very different approaches to finding happiness: you can spend your whole life pursuing happiness, trying to track it down (always assuming it‟s out there somewhere)
‚The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.‛ Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, 1706 -1790
The difficulty with this is summed up beautifully in a quote from American author, Henry David Thoreau, on the next page ...
is like a
butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder ..."
you can decide to engage in happiness, to just be happy
‚If you want to be happy, be.‛ Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist, 1828-1910
It probably won‟t surprise you to know that this report is more about the second approach to happiness than the first! To understand why, let me tell you a little snippet of my own story ... I used to feel like a bit of a failure. I wasn‟t happy and couldn‟t seem to find happiness anywhere or with anyone. Wherever I looked, it seemed as if other people were content and enjoying their lives, while mine just didn‟t quite match up to my expectations. No matter what I had or what I achieved, it was never enough. I made a habit of peering over the fence and, surprise surprise, the grass was always greener there ... so I moved from job to job, place to place, relationship to relationship. I had this feeling that there must be something more, some „secret‟ to happiness that I just hadn‟t discovered yet, so I kept going on personal development courses and reading more and more self help books. I pursued happiness with a vengeance! Then, after the birth of my second child, I suddenly found myself in the grip of postnatal illness. For me, it came in the shape of a bizarre and horrific anxiety that made me feel so physically ill I could barely function. It‟s taken four years, more therapy than I care to mention and lots of learning to get me to the point where I can write about it. And what I‟ve realised is this: happiness is not something “out there” to be pursued, it‟s something “in here”, inside my own head! I have the potential to be happy right here, right now, regardless of what‟s going on around me. So, although I would never claim to be an expert on happiness, or to be happy all the time, I can genuinely say I think I‟ve found the essential ingredients for happiness. That‟s what this report is all about ... 8
top 10 ingredients for a happy life
a happy mindset 10
Above all else, if you want to be as happy as possible, you have to make happiness an active choice. That means deciding that it‟s what you want and taking action to achieve it. Not just wishful thinking! Yes, I know, it‟s far easier said than done. In fact, I can almost hear your sharp intake of breath as you say “but what about when life is totally cr*p, surely you can‟t just choose to be happy then?!” The truth is, we can‟t control everything that happens to us and and there are times when life can be very tough. There are also times when it‟s normal and natural to feel emotions other than happiness. Experiences such as redundancy, divorce, accidents, illness and bereavement can really drag us down and may even leave us feeling as if happiness will never be possible again. The most important thing to bear in mind, though, is that whatever the situation, you always have the power to choose your response. Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote a book called „Man‟s Search for Meaning‟ after being held captive in concentration camps during the Second World War and losing almost his entire family. Here‟s one of his most famous insights ...
‚We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.‛ Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, 1905-1997
I‟m sure you can think of people who have responded in completely different ways to the same or very similar circumstances. For example, two people lose their job: one sinks into lethargy and depression whilst the other sees it as an opportunity to do what they‟ve always dreamt of doing and uses their redundancy money to set up a new business! The only real difference between them is their mental attitude. As Frankl suggests, attitude is everything. So here are a few pointers to help you develop a happy mindset (if you haven‟t got one already, that is!) ...
Take responsibility for yourself see yourself as being in charge of your own life and, most importantly, your own mind - don‟t allow yourself to be a victim of circumstances ... or of your own thoughts stop worrying about stuff you simply can‟t do anything about instead, make good use of the control and influence you do have to create a life you love
Stop - challenge - choose where you can‟t control or change your circumstances, recognise that you can at least choose your response if you find yourself engaged in negative or „victim‟ thinking: stop and take a deep breath challenge your inner self-talk* ... and then ... choose a more positive and helpful way of thinking about the situation *
Your ‘self-talk’ is what you say to yourself inside your own head. It’s the running commentary that most of us have going on in the background most of the time. It’s sometimes called your ‘inner critic’ or your ‘storyteller’.
Look for the good in life what you focus on is what you get, so the more time you spend focusing on what‟s wrong, the more problems you‟ll see concentrate instead on noticing the positives in your life - the good news, the days that go well, the things you enjoy and appreciate ... you might have to re-train your brain to do this (after all, we live in a culture of negativity and complaints so you may have got out of the habit) but the more you practise, the easier it‟ll get
Allow yourself to be happy realise that no-one else can make you happy (or unhappy, for that matter) - your happiness is entirely down ... or up ... to you ditch any limiting beliefs that say you don‟t deserve happiness or that “you‟ll be happy if / when ...” (catch the thoughts and then use the „stop - challenge - choose‟ technique to help you) to paraphrase Carmel McConnell in her book „The Happiness Plan‟: allow yourself to be happy begin continue Yes, I think it really is that simple! Doesn‟t mean to say that it‟s always easy, but it is simple. The first step is to make up your mind ...
‚Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.‛ Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, 1809-1865 13
This is a biggie, but it‟s absolutely fundamental. It‟s not easy to be happy if you don‟t like yourself very much. Especially when you understand that happiness doesn‟t depend on external factors or other people, it begins and ends with you. The really great thing, though, is that you already have everything you need to be happy ... right here and right now! You may not believe that yet, but it‟s true.
Happiness is not in things; happiness is in you! Robert Holden, English psychologist, author and broadcaster, b1967
So what is self esteem? It means, quite simply, that you: like and value yourself, and appreciate your own worth believe that you are capable and competent of doing what you want to do see yourself as being in control of your own life In general, people with strong self esteem tend to be have a positive attitude and a proactive approach to life. They look after themselves and stand up for themselves ... because they think they‟re worth it! They are resilient when the going gets tough and believe that they can cope whatever happens. Self esteem is one of those things that develops during childhood and seems to involve an element of nature and a large dose of nurture. But it‟s also something we can build for ourselves as adults, and there are countless books and resources on the subject. Here are a couple of quick pointers ...
‚Self esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.‛ Nathanial Branden, Canadian psychotherapist and writer, b1930 15
Give up your ideal self and like yourself as you are The bigger the gap between your self image (how you see youself) and your ideal self (how youâ€&#x;d like to be), the harder it will be for you to be happy. Why? Well, to start off with, because self-acceptance is at the heart of self esteem ... ego
mind the gap! A tale of two selves Itâ€&#x;s important to understand that we all have two selves: our ego, which is the self that exists in our thoughts, shaped by all the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves and our being, which is the physical self that exists in this very moment and experiences the world through our senses In other words, we live through our minds and through our bodies. Both our self image and our ideal self are constructed by our ego. If you accept that the ego is just a product of your thinking, and if you concentrate on living and being in the present, you can begin to see that you are perfect just as you are. Only your thoughts make 16
mind the gap!
you anything less, and you are not your thoughts! For example, you look at a magazine and compare yourself to all the young, slim, beautiful models cavorting happily across its glossy pages. You think about how you‟re still a stone heavier than you were pre-kids and about all the wrinkles around your eyes. You think about how you live in baggy trackie bottoms these days. Hey presto, within seconds you start feeling dissatisfied with yourself ...
If you‟re a bloke, perhaps it‟s seeing some other guy with a tanned and toned “six-pack” the likes of which you‟ve never had, driving the kind of super fast car you‟ve always lusted after and never had either. The principle‟s the same: whenever you perceive a gap between where you are now and where you think you should be, you‟ve got a recipe for unhappiness, not happiness. And yet, if you switch off those thoughts and concentrate on the sensations you experience as you sip your coffee, look out over the garden and listen to the birds, chances are you‟ll find you can quite easily feel happy in yourself, in this moment. Try it and see ... 17
Act ‘as if’ you like yourself even if you don’t ... yet! Instead of agonising about the state of your self esteem, forget your thoughts and copy the behaviours of people who like themselves. In some ways, it doesn‟t matter whether you like yourself or not as long as you act „as if‟ you do! The mind-body link works in two directions just as your emotions can affect your actions, so can your actions affect your emotions. Next time you feel down, simply put on a smile and see if you don‟t feel at least a little bit better!
‚This is my depressed stance. When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this.‛ Charlie Brown, ‘Peanuts’ cartoon
To behave like someone with strong self esteem: take good care of yourself eat healthily get enough sleep, exercise, sunshine and fresh air have your teeth cleaned and your hair cut regularly, look after your skin and nails, make an effort to dress well, etc learn how to relax properly and manage stress be assertive stand up for yourself and what you believe in give up being a martyr and learn to say “no” prioritise your own needs - you are at least as important as the next person! 18
go for what you want have the confidence to set yourself goals and challenges take risks, stretch yourself, step outside your comfort zone act „as if‟ you‟re bound to succeed let go of any need for perfection as Richard Carlsson says, “don‟t sweat the small stuff” do your best, in whatever circumstances you‟re in, and accept that it is „good enough‟ spend time celebrating what you‟ve done well well rather than beating yourself up for the things you haven‟t done or haven‟t done perfectly - learn from them instead Concentrate on doing what a self-confident person would do, and before you know it you‟ll be one!
an attitude of
Just as we can focus on what and who we‟re not rather than what and who we are, so we can spend far too much time worrying about what we haven‟t got rather than enjoying what we do have! Research has found, though, that one of the quickest and most effective ways to feel happier is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Learn to count your blessings by trying the following exercises ...
Three good things Buy yourself a beautiful notebook, one that makes you happy just to look at it. Now, every night before you go to bed, for one week, write down three things that went well for you during the day. Also - and this is important - write down the role that you played in these positive events. It may not be immediately obvious. For example, if you appreciated the fact that the sky was blue and the sun shone, what role did you have to play in that? Well, you noticed it! To start off with, you may find it hard to even think of one thing that went well, let alone three, whereas you‟d probably be able to list umpteen things that went „wrong‟! Stick with it and you‟ll find that it gradually becomes easier and easier as you change your focus ...
This exercise has been investigated by various researchers and shown to be one of the most powerful ways of increasing your levels of happiness, with effects lasting at least six months. But you should make sure that you don‟t overdo it - either do it once a day for a week only, and then take a break, or do it once a week for six weeks. Studies show that it is possible to have too much of a good thing! The idea is to count your blessings every so often, but not so often that it becomes a chore.
‚If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.‛ Gerald Good
One hundred gratitudes In the same notebook, or a different one if you prefer, create a list of one hundred things that you are truly grateful for. It can include experiences, relationships, places, people, books, works of art, pieces of music, events, adventures, „moments‟ that you treasure, you name it. For each entry in the list, as well as including the „what‟ you‟re grateful for, it‟s useful to also explain „why‟. This exercise is one that Dr Robert Holden uses on his highly acclaimed 8-week happiness programme, and that participants almost always rate as „very useful‟. You may need to do it in several sittings, adding 10 to 15 things to your list each time. You may also find it helpful to think through your life chronologically, although it‟s just as beneficial to simply write down whatever comes to mind. You can do it on your own or with a partner or friend. However you do it, though, it‟s definitely worth doing - it has the power to change your perspective dramatically. You may suddenly „get‟ what a wonderful world you live in and how lucky you really are! 22
Other things that can help you to develop an attitude of gratitude ...
Practise positive thinking notice and be grateful for the good things, however small they may be: a delicious cup of coffee; a friendly shop assistant; a parking space just when you needed one (it all adds up!) train your brain to focus on the positives of any situation rather than the negatives (this is what the „three things‟ exercise helps you to do) remember that we will always find what we look for ... so make sure you‟re looking for the right things! when life is tough, trust that “every cloud has a silver lining” and see if you can spot the opportunity for learning and growth
‚Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.‛ Author unknown
Cut the complaints complaining seems to be a national pastime in the UK, but it‟s not a helpful one, so instead of getting caught up in it along with everyone else, make up your mind to just stop moaning join the movement for a complaint-free world steer clear of “misery me‟s” - surround yourself with positive, upbeat people rather than people who are determined to see the bad in the world and drag you down with them 23
Show your appreciation recognise and say “thank you” for other people‟s efforts say it out loud, face to face if you can, but otherwise make a phone call, write a letter, send flowers, do whatever you need to do to make sure they feel your gratitude
‚Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.‛ Lao Tzu, Ancient Chinese philosopher
a focus on the
‚Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.‛ attributed to Joan Rivers, American comediennce, 1935 -
Here‟s a really significant (and potentially scary) thought: the best predictor of a person’s future happiness is their current happiness. Yes, it‟s true, the happier you are now the happier you‟re likely to be in a year or two or five! It‟s proven. So there‟s absolutely no point waiting around and thinking “I‟ll be happier when I‟ve lost a stone / found my true love / finished my course / painted the bedroom purple” ... or whatever it may be! Because the brutal truth of the matter is that you won‟t be - you‟ll still be waiting and hoping for happiness.
‚If you are not happy here and now, you never will be.‛ Taisen Deshimaru, Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist teacher, 1914-1982
Why? Because you are assuming that happiness is provisional on something else, something external to you. And, as long as you think like that, you are always at the mercy of external circumstances. So what happens if you never lose a stone or find a husband? Does that mean you can never be happy?! What a waste, when there‟s the possibility of happiness right here, right now, right inside you.
In fact, the only moment in which you can actually be happy is this one ... You can think about being happy in the past or in the future, but that‟s not the same thing. And, unfortunately, most of us spend more time on „rewind‟ or „fast-forward‟ than we do on „play‟! 26
Mindfulness is the art of staying in the moment, realising that “it is what it is” ... because it‟s already here. It‟s about not trying to change things, not wishing things were different, but instead accepting things as they are, for better or for worse. Imagine standing in a queue getting more and more frustrated as you think about how long it‟s taking and how much else you‟ve got to get done. In your mind, you curse not just the person behind the counter but all the people in front of you. How can they be so ridiculously slow and irritating?! Now imagine standing in the same queue and simply noticing your surroundings, the reflections on the window, the texture of the next person‟s coat, the ringing of someone‟s phone and the smell of the autumn air. You breathe deeply, noticing the sensations in your body as you shift your weight from foot to foot. You engage with the experience with curiosity, soaking it up, taking it all in. You don‟t bother getting uptight - what‟s the point? “It is what it is” ...
Hmmm, feel the difference?! It‟s about letting go of your expectations of what should be happening and what you should be doing, and just accepting the way things actually are. Mindfulness is proven to be great not just for happiness but also for health. It‟s a skill that most children seem to have naturally - that beautiful ability to live in the moment, lose themselves in their game and be completely unaware of the fact that it‟s nearly time for school! Unfortunately, most of us stop living mindfully as we get older, and getting back into the habit is not something that will happen overnight. The good news, though, is that you can re-learn mindfulness quite quickly if you practise.
Breathe The fastest route to mindfulness is via your breathing ... and yet how often do you pay any attention to it at all? As frequently as you can, take a few minutes to tune in to your breath. To start off with, simply notice what it‟s like without trying to change it. What does it tell you about how you are? Calm and relaxed or stressed and tense?! Now put your hands on your belly and breathe in deeply through your nose, drawing the breath down so that your stomach expands with air and your hands move outwards. Then breathe out fully through your mouth. Your belly should flatten again. Try silently counting your breaths - for example, breathe in for 4, then out for 8, in for 4, out for 8. Your exhalation should last roughly twice as long as your inhalation, but don‟t force it. A few minutes breathing like this and you should feel both peaceful and energised.
‚When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still ...‛ Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika 28
‚Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.‛ Oprah Winfrey, American TV host, actress producer and philanthropist, b1954
Open up your senses Next time you find your mind running away with itself, just stop, breathe deeply and open up your senses. Concentrate on what you can see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Get curious about your bodily sensations - when was the last time you focused on how your big toe or left armpit was feeling?! Most of us are so stuck in our own heads that we completely miss what our bodies are telling us. Get curious about your surroundings - notice as much detail as you can. Once you start doing this, you‟ll be amazed at how much of the amazing minutiae of life has been passing you by.
Observe your thoughts Don‟t try to switch your thoughts off, just observe them passing like clouds in the sky. You can even label them if you like: “Oh look, there goes another worry”, “Planning again!”, that kind of thing. The secret is to avoid analysing your thoughts or making any judgements about them. Just accept them for what they are - thoughts - no more, no less. And remember, there‟s more to you than your thoughts! 29
If you find that you keep getting caught up in your thoughts, you might like this suggestion from Eckhart Tolle in „The Power of Now‟:
‚Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself: 'I wonder what my next thought is going to be.' Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole? Try it now." Eckhart Tolle, German writer, speaker and spiritual teacher, b1948
It‟s a technique that automatically brings you awareness of your own thinking and helps you to become a detached observer, rather than a helpless participant. 30
Try the ‘This is me doing this’ exercise ... Have you ever watched the film „Grosse Pointe Blank‟? In it, actor John Cusack plays an assassin whose psychiatrist tries to persuade him not to kill. At one point, the psychiatrist tells John Cusack to repeat to himself "This is me breathing" to help him calm down. Of course, I‟m not suggesting that you‟ll need to use this technique for the same purpose - it‟s just a great way of bringing you back to the present moment, whatever you‟re doing or thinking about doing. Here‟s how it works ... If you are washing up, for example, start by saying to yourself "This is me washing the dishes". Repeat it calmly, focusing on the simple act of washing the dishes. Pay attention to the sensations involved: the glistening of grease on the shiny plates, the feeling of the warm water on your hands, the smell of the washing-up liquid, and so on. As you repeat to yourself "This is me doing [whatever]", you should notice that you start feeling relaxed. Other things lose their importance: you are giving orders to your mind to actively focus on what you are doing right now, and only that. Then move on to the next task. Keep on telling yourself what you are doing. "This is me walking upstairs", "This is me feeding the cat", “This is me shouting at the kids” (only joking, that‟s not really the idea!), etc. Feel how more and more calm comes to you as you keep on repeating "This is me doing [whatever]". Your awareness of the immediate reality increases, leaving no room for thoughts about anything other than the here and now. And that takes away a huge amount of stress and worry. All you need to focus on is this particular moment. How good does that feel? "The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it." Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist, b1926 31
The raisin meditation Hereâ€&#x;s an enlightening exercise that demonstrates the power of mindfulness. Go and get a handful of raisins. Now, instead of just chucking them down your throat like you would do normally (well, I would!), take two or three and place them in the open palm of your hand. Stop and really look at them. Study the wrinkles on their skin, the shapes and colours. Get so absorbed in them that you see them like a landscape. Feel their weight. Shake them in your closed hand and see if you can hear the faint sound of them moving around. Sniff them, smell their rich sweetness. Pick up one raisin between two fingers and examine it closely. Now put it into your mouth and just feel it on your tongue. Can you feel the peaks and troughs of its surface, the nobbly roughness? Donâ€&#x;t start chewing it yet. Let it sit there and enjoy the flavours seeping out. Imagine it starting life as a plump grape growing on a vine. Imagine the people who picked it and laid it out to dry in the warm sunshine. Now start gently sucking on the raisin. Imagine the goodness of the earth captured in its sugary sweetness. Bite into it and feel its juices squirting into your mouth and mixing with your saliva. Begin chewing it, savouring every moment as it breaks down on your tongue until you finally swallow it ...
"Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace." Author unknown
a sense of
Most „experts‟ seem to agree that happiness involves two key elements: pleasure (hedonism) - ie. experiences that make you feel good, that arouse positive emotions meaning (eudaimonism) - ie. experiences that contribute towards your sense of purpose and that fit with what you believe to be important Without meaning, pleasure is no more than a temporary good feeling, a fleeting moment of enjoyment - for example, eating an ice cream on a hot day (if you like ice cream!). There‟s a lot to be said for pleasure, of course, but on its own it won‟t create long-lasting contentment or fulfilment. In fact, after a while, it can lose its shine and start to feel superficial. On the other hand, doing something that has meaning but doesn‟t give you any pleasure may leave you with a sense of satisfaction but not necessarily of happiness. Looking after a poorly child might fall into this category! When you have both pleasure and meaning together, though, you have the principal ingredients for happiness. As Tal Ben-Shahar says in his book „Happier‟: ‚A happy person enjoys positive emotions while perceiving her life as purposeful.‛ Tal Ben-Shahar, academic and author
So, in order to be deep-down happy, we need to feel as though our life has some kind of meaning and we have a purpose. Otherwise, what‟s the point? It‟s the big question: who am I and why I am here? 35
There are no right or wrong answers to this question. Some people find their sense of meaning and purpose through religion or spirituality, while others find it in their role as lover, parent, child or citizen. Some people spend their whole lives trying to work out what their purpose is. Here are some thoughts to help you reflect on this:
Uncover your values What is really important to you in life? You‟re looking for one-word answers like „love‟, „trust‟, „honesty‟, „creativity‟, „fun‟, that kind of thing. For each answer you come up with, ask yourself “Why? What does that give me or do for me?”. This will help you to uncover even more significant values. For example, if one of your initial answers is “money”, you may realise that what this actually does for you is give you a sense of security, or perhaps freedom. Aim to come up with a list of around 10 values that are really important to you, then put them in order of priority. To what extent do you live by these values?
Rediscover your talents, passions and dreams What do you love doing? What are you naturally good at? What have you always wanted to achieve? If you find these questions hard to answer, think back to your childhood. What did you used to love? What did you dream of doing way back then? Many of us have lost touch with our innate talents because we‟ve taken the „safe‟ route and gone into a career that will pay well or offer security ... or just because we‟ve been side-tracked by other things. See if you can rediscover the things that make your heart sing, make you feel alive, make you bounce for joy. Start three lists and keep adding to them: things I’m good at eg. coming up with ideas; inspiring people ... things I really love to do eg. painting; walking in the countryside ... things I’d like to do before I die eg. open an art gallery; climb a mountain; learn to drum ... 36
You could always create a collage of images to remind you of your talents, passions and dreams, and to inspire you to pursue them.
Play to your strengths If you‟re a square peg, it‟s better to find a square hole than to try and fit yourself into a round one! In other words, rather than focusing on our bad points and trying to correct our weaknesses (which is what society often encourages us to do), it makes far more sense to play to our natural strengths. Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, calls these „signature strengths‟. Here‟s a survey you can do to help you identify yours. You can usually tell if something is one of your signature strengths because you‟ll experience: a sense of authenticity (“this is the real me”) a feeling of excitement while you‟re displaying it a rapid learning curve as the strength is first practised a yearning to find new ways to use the strength a feeling of inevitability in using it (“just try and stop me”) invigoration rather than exhaustion joy, zest, enthusiasm and even ecstasy The more you can use your signature strengths, the happier you will be, so take a long hard look at your life and see if there are any changes you can make to help you achieve this. They‟ll be worth it. 37
Focus on adding value The danger with spending too much time thinking about happiness is that you spend too little time doing what you need to do to actually be happy! Research shows that one of the quickest, most direct routes to happiness is to do things for other people rather than for yourself.
‚Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.‚ Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945
So, instead of focusing on what you want to get from life, try focusing on what you can give. When considering your purpose in life, ask yourself: what can I do to make a positive difference to the people around me? how can I add value to society? Ideally, you want to use your time on this earth in a way that is consistent with your values, plays to your strengths and provides genuine benefits for others. If you can do that, chances are you‟ll reap the rewards!
Write your own obituary This is an unusual exercise but, trust me, it‟s very thought-provoking. Imagine that you die tomorrow. Write your obituary from four different perspectives: a loving partner, parent or sibling: a good friend; a boss or colleague (from a former life if necessary); and your 38
child / children. Step into their shoes and write what you honestly think they would say. Then, if you‟re feeling brave, show it to them and ask them how accurate it is. To what extent does it reflect what they would actually say themselves? You will gain great insights from doing this. Now, with the benefit of these insights, think about how you want to be, what you want to do and, finally, what you want to have in your life. Fast forward to the age of ninety-five and imagine you have lived exactly as you intended. Write your obituary again, this time from your own perspective. Describe not just what you have achieved but, perhaps more importantly, how you have behaved. Make this a loving, glowing, vibrant piece of writing that captures the wonderful person you are and the amazing life you have enjoyed. Now all you have to do is live up to it! So there you go, a few tips to help you find your purpose in life. Good luck!
‚Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.‛ Margaret Young, American singer and comedienne, 1891-1969
‚Life is meaningless only if we allow it to be. Each of us has the power to give life meaning, to make our time and our bodies and our words into instruments of love and hope.‛ Tom Head, American author and campaigner for human rights and civil liberties
a plan for the
Once you‟re clear on why you‟re here, it‟s much easier to create a plan for the future. In fact, if you did the obituary exercise, you‟re probably halfway there. You‟ve got the big picture so now it‟s just a question of mapping out the steps to get you where you want to go. Professor Suzanne Segerstrom, author of the book „Glass half full ...‟, suggests that one of the key differences between optimists and pessimists is that optimists set goals for themselves. Because they expect life to work out well, and because they believe their efforts will make a difference, they are prepared to invest time and energy in working towards a goal. Pessimists, on the other hand, may not bother - they don‟t expect to achieve anything so why even try?! Optimistic people are proven to be happier, healthier and more successful than pessimistic people. And, what‟s more, they generally live longer too! So it‟s just as well that, according to Professor Segerstrom, even a naturally pessimistic person can gain the benefits of optimism simply by acting in the same way as optimists do. What does that mean? First and foremost, it means setting goals for yourself and working hard to achieve them. The most effective goals, though, are those that genuinely motivate you. Deep down. Not goals that you think you ought to achieve or that someone else would like you to achieve. For example, say you set yourself the goal of getting a promotion at work. Is this something you really want for you, or is it something that you feel under pressure from family, friends or society to achieve? The first kind of goal is far more powerful than the second.
‚To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.‛ Kofi Annan, Ghanaian diplomat, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, b1938 41
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretzky, Canadian ice hockey player, b1961
Good goal setting ... Here‟s how to set yourself some truly compelling goals: think back to your values and keep them in mind at all times think about your vision for your life and choose three things you want to work towards first for each one, answer the following questions: what do you want to achieve? why do you want it? (what will it give you or do for you?) how are you going to achieve it? (brief overview) by when do you want to achieve it? who do you need to help or support you? write your answers down - this is really important, as research shows that people who write their goals down rather than keeping them in their heads are far more likely to achieve them 42
I want to write a book about happiness
To help parents bring up their children in ways that give them the best possible chance of being happy
Write it and release it a chapter at a time (one per month), get feedback from readers online, revise it then look for a publisher to print it and get it out into the shops!
First draft to be finished by end of 2011
I need the support of my family to help with childcare
as a bare minimum, identify the first three steps you need to take towards each of your goals and create a short-term plan every day, set your Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day based on this plan, and prioritise these tasks keep updating your plan so that you always know the next three steps you need to take for each goal Note:
Of course, there are loads of sophisticated planning and project management tools and techniques that you could use if you chose to. This is a deliberately simple approach to get you started. If you’re a mum, join Mummo - you can set goals and action steps as part of your profile.
‚A goal without a plan is just a wish.‛ Larry Elder, American radio and TV personality, b1952
‚Happy people plan actions, they don’t plan results.‛ Dennis Wholey, American TV host, producer and self-help author, b1939 43
You can use this process to help you in setting any goals, big or small, as well as in managing your time. If you know where you‟re heading, it‟s far easier to avoid detours and distractions. If you have a goal in your sights, it‟s far easier to stay focused.
‚No matter how let down or deflated you feel, never lose sight of your goal‛
Having said that, there are times when a change of direction may be the best thing, so you do need to be flexible. There‟s no point sticking to your goals at all costs. Interestingly, optimists seem to be quicker than pessimists to recognise when they should stop flogging a dead horse and get a new one! With all this talk of the future, though, it‟s vital to remember the fourth ingredient we talked about - a focus on the present. Try to get a balance between living in the moment and, at the same time, taking steps to create the kind of future you want. If you find yourself postponing happiness until you‟ve achieved your goals, there‟s something wrong. You need to be able to do both. 44
‚Energy and persistence conquer all things.‛ Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, 1705-1790
If you want to be happy, you have to develop persistence and emotional resilience. It‟s no good sinking into depression every time something goes wrong. After all, life has a habit of throwing us „curve balls‟! As we‟ve already seen, it‟s not so much what happens to us but how we respond to it that‟s important. Contrary to popular belief, happiness doesn‟t mean walking around with a permanent grin on your face. In fact, we need to experience other feelings - like anger, sadness, fear, boredom and so on - in order to recognise what happiness is and when we are happy. Even the most pleasurable feelings you can imagine would become monotonous or even unpleasant after a while, a bit like eating too much chocolate in one go! (On second thoughts, is there such a thing as too much chocolate?!) So when we talk about happy people we don‟t mean people who never feel sad, mad or bad, we mean people who generally enjoy their lives and feel contented and fulfilled. Although the seas may get stormy, these people are able to ride the waves with relative stability, like a great ship. Less happy people, particularly those who are pessimistic and see themselves as victims of circumstance, will be tossed about by the waves like flotsam and jetsam. They will end up well and truly battered, dashed on the rocks or even drowned! ‚When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.‛ Harriet Beecher Stowe, American abolitionist and author, 1811-1896 46
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” William Feather, American author and publisher, 1889-1981
In other words, one of the key ingredients for happiness is the ability to keep going even when the going gets tough. It‟s the ability to survive the storms of life and come out smiling the other side. In her book „The Glass Half Full‟ Professor Suzanne Segerstrom comments that this is another significant difference between optimists and pessimists. Optimists have hope for the future, they expect things to work out well and they expect to be able to influence the outcome ... so they hang on in there and keep trying to find solutions. This, of course, increases the likelihood that they will find a solution, which then reinforces their belief in themselves and sets up a positive feedback loop. They‟ll be even more likely to keep trying next time. In contrast, pessimists automatically assume the worst possible scenario. They don‟t think they‟ll be able to make a difference to the outcome ... so often they won‟t even try. This then reinforces their defeatist beliefs about life and themselves, and sets up a negative feedback loop. 47
optimistic outlook - sets goals perseveres towards them
POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP achieves goals reinforces optimistic outlook
pessimistic outlook - doesn’t set goals or persevere
NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOP
doesn’t achieve success - reinforces pessimistic outlook
The good news is that, by acting like an optimist and persevering in the face of adversity, a pessimist can begin to create a positive feedback loop and gradually change their approach to and even their outlook on life. So, if you tend to be naturally pessimistic, how can you learn to do this? Well, one of the first things you need to do is to challenge your thinking. Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, has identified important differences in the way that optimists and pessimists respond internally to negative events. He calls this their „explanatory style‟. The tables overleaf shows the importance of applying the 3Ps permanent, personal and pervasive - to positive events rather than negative ones ... 48
NEGATIVE EVENT For example, you don’t get the job that you’ve applied for ...
permanent / stable it will last forever “That’s it, I’ll never get a decent job.”
temporary / unstable it’s just a one-off event “Oh well, never mind, I’m sure I’ll get one of the other jobs I’ve applied for.”
personal / internal it’s my fault “I’m just not good enough for a manager’s job” or “I’m just not cut out for marketing / PR (or whatever it was).”
nothing personal / external it’s not my fault “I guess they must have had some supertalented applicants. I wonder what other skills I need to develop to have a better chance next time.”
pervasive / global it will affect every aspect of my life “So now I’ll be stuck at home, we’ll be completely skint and we’ll never be able to go on holiday again ...”
specific it won’t affect other aspects of my life “At least I get to spend a bit more time with the kids before I do get a job, and I can devote more energy to my hobbies.”
POSITIVE EVENT For example, you do get the job that you’ve applied for ...
temporary / unstable the benefits won’t last “Gosh, that’s a fluke, how did I manage to blag that?! I wonder how long it’ll be before they find me out?!” nothing personal / external not to do with me “I guess they can’t have had a great pool of applicants if they’ve ended up with me.”
permanent / stable the benefits won’t last “Gosh, that’s a fluke, how did I manage to blag that?! I wonder how long it’ll be before they find me out?!” personal / internal absolutely to do with me “I must have really impressed them because I know they had some very talented applicants.”
specific success only affects this particular area, won’t have spin-off benefits “So I’ve got a job, but it won’t make any difference to my weight or my relationship. I’m still fat, unfit and unloved.”
pervasive / global spin-off benefits for the rest of my life “It’s great because I’ll get to learn loads and meet new people. We might even get the opportunity to go and live abroad if I play my cards right.” 49
I can vividly remember a time, a few years ago now, when I was out with my two small children. To cut a long story short, I ended up changing a screaming baby‟s nappy on a hard concrete car park floor whilst a starving hungry toddler went into meltdown over something or other, I can‟t remember what! Before long I was weeping and wailing too. My thinking spiralled into negativity and, within seconds, I was doing the “I‟m such a crap mother” thing. Somehow I managed to turn a one-off incident into something permanent, personal and pervasive, like a true pessimist! It wasn‟t until quite a while later that I was able to re-examine the whole scenario and realise that I wasn‟t actually a bad mum, I‟d just got my timings horribly wrong!
Oh for goodness sake, get it in perspective, will you?!!
‚A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.‛ Winston Churchill, British orator, author and Prime Minister, 1874-1965 50
If you want to change your outlook on life so that you‟re better at dealing with difficulties, you need to catch any negative thoughts and challenge them as quickly as you can. So you burn the dinner. That doesn‟t make you a bad cook. So your book gets rejected by the first publisher you send it to. That doesn‟t mean that it‟ll never get published, you‟re a rubbish writer, and you should throw your manuscript in the bin! Remember the „stop - challenge - choose‟ technique (see page 12). Look for evidence for and against the claims you are making in your thoughts. For example, you may have burnt the dinner once or twice but your children say “yum” far more often than they say “yuk”! You may have had a “no” from one publisher but you‟ve had lots of positive feedback from your writing group, you‟ve already had a short story published in a magazine, you‟ve got plenty of other publishers you can send it to and you know that most successful authors have files-full of rejection letters! Imagine that you are both prosecution and defence lawyer for yourself. Put more energy into defending yourself, because you‟ll probably find this harder to start off with. As with everything, though, the more you practise the better you‟ll get!
‚All that we are is the result of what we have thought.‛ Buddha
In addition, remember the following pointers to help you develop persistence ...
Understand that success rarely comes easy study the lives of successful people and you‟ll soon find out that they‟ve had plenty of hard work and mistakes / failures / learning experiences along the way! 51
Set realistic expectations if you expect things to be easy, you are likely to be unpleasantly surprised if / when they turn out not to be, and that‟s when you may be tempted to give up it‟s better to over-estimate rather than under-estimate the amount of time and effort required to achieve your goals
Have a big ‘why’ make sure that you have very good reasons for doing whatever you‟re wanting or needing to do, reasons that genuinely motivate you - these will help you to keep going when the going gets tough even if it‟s a case of just getting through a difficult time, give yourself good reasons as to why you should be persistent and handle the situation in a positive way - what will that give you or do for you, compared to the alternative?
Get to grips with ‘failure’ if you‟re going to achieve anything in life, chances are you‟re going to „fail‟ at some point, so you need to work out ways of handling this the secret, when something doesn‟t go quite as planned, is always to see it as a learning experience ... and learn from it! failure has a purpose, which is to give you the wisdom you need to eventually succeed!
Surround yourself with people who can support you see the next ingredient, on page 54 52
Just keep going you never know when you‟ll turn a corner and see the light at the end of the tunnel! Thomas Edison apparently had a thousand failed attempts at a lightbulb before he created one that worked, but he saw each attempt as taking him a step closer to his goal ‚Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.‛ Thomas A Edison, American inventor, scientist and businessman, 1847-1931
More than what you believe, what matters is what you actually do. So even if you feel like throwing in the towel, burying your head under the duvet and never getting up again ... get up and carry on. It‟s the reality of life for most parents, and in many ways that‟s a blessing. If we ever need a big „why‟, we only have to look at our children. We all want to be the most positive role models we possibly can be for our kids ... so when times are tough and we keep going, we‟re teaching them persistence too.
‚Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.‛ Dale Carnegie, American writer, 1888-1955
a support team
As John Donne said, “No man is an island”, and research shows that warm and genuine connections with other people are a great source of happiness. In fact, the people who score highest on a measure of happiness also score highest for social networks (see research below). They enjoy good relationships with a large circle of friends and family, and also with their wider community. It‟s only natural most of us would prefer to be friends with a positive, happy person than with a miserable one! Let‟s face it, who are you drawn to at a party - the „wallflower‟ moping in the corner or the „life and soul‟ laughing in the limelight?! A 2002 study conducted at the University of Illinois by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that the most salient characteristics shared by the 10 per cent of students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression were their strong ties to friends and family, and commitment to spending time with them.
‚Word needs to be spread. It’s important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy.‛ Ed Diener, American psychologist, author and researcher, b1946
Only you can know how good your relationships are, but it‟s worth thinking about. We have to invest in and nurture relationships, they rarely stay strong without any effort. And if we don‟t feel we have enough, we need to build some new ones. It‟s worth it. Strong relationships with family and friends will not only increase your chances of happiness but will also help to protect your long-term health and wellbeing. In addition, you‟ll have a ready-made support team to bolster you through the tough times (see previous ingredient) and to cheer you on towards success.
So, if you want to build better relationships, here are a few things you can do ...
Connect with other people wherever you go rather than keeping yourself to yourself, as we so often do, make an effort to start conversations in shops, on buses, at the school gates, etc you may think it‟s pointless because you‟ll never see those people again, but it‟ll help to develop your rapport-building skills and you might be pleasantly surprised by who you meet and how much you learn in addition, increase your opportunities to meet new people by taking up new hobbies and activities
Give without expecting to receive anything in return concentrate on what you can offer the other person rather than the other way round (even if it‟s just a listening ear - see below) be generous with your time, expertise, contacts, etc and think co-operation / collaboration rather than competition - “what goes around, comes around” Listen ... actively ... and take a genuine interest this means putting your own thoughts on hold and concentrating on the other person instead of preparing a response to what you think they‟re going to say (which is what we often do!), tune in to what they are actually saying, the underlying feelings as well as the words
you can show that you‟re actively listening by giving validation, such as “Uh-huh”, “I understand”, “Mmm, yes”, or simply nodding ‚You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.‛ Dale Carnegie, American self-help writer, 1888-1955
Be open and trusting research suggests that in order to develop close friendships, you need to engage in a high level of self-disclosure be prepared to reveal personal information about yourself so that the other person can really get to know you (but all in good time, there is such a thing as sharing too much too soon!) Concentrate on positive rather than ‘toxic’ relationships do a friends and family inventory and write down how you feel after seeing each person identify those people who really boost your spirits and add to your life, then take steps to spend as much time as possible with them in contrast, find ways to spend as little time as possible with anyone who drains your energy and drags you down you may also want to think about the effect you have - be brutally honest with yourself, do you make other people feel good or not-so-good? 57
Get up close and personal make an effort to use the „phone or, better still, see your friends and family face-to-face contact via text, email or instant messaging is not the same and won‟t make you, or them, feel nearly as good! remember, physical touch has incredible healing powers - you can‟t put a value on a hug!
‚Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.‛ Leo F Buscaglia, aka ‚Dr Love‛, American author, speaker and professor, 1924-1998
Prioritise your relationships and make time for them don‟t expect a relationship to stay great just because it once was - all relationships, whether with lovers, family or friends, take work make the effort to regularly spend time with, or at least connect with, the people you care about the most 58
All relationships are a two-way street involving give-and-take on both sides. Of course, circumstances may mean that one person in the relationship sometimes does more giving than the other, but the overall balance needs to be fair. If you genuinely care about your family and friends, you will want to give to them rather than take from them ... and by giving first, you open the way for others to give back to you when you need it. The best way to create your own strong support team is to be a loyal supporter yourself.
â€šThe greatest thing youâ€™ll ever learn ... Is just to love and be loved in return.â€› song lyric from Natalie Cole
Are you what psychologists call a „Type H‟ personality: hostile, hurried and humourless? Too busy to have fun?! I hate to admit it but there are days when I‟d definitely fit into that category. I‟m so preoccupied by getting through my „to do‟ list that laughter seems like a luxury. Did you know that children laugh, on average, 300 times a day ... whereas adults only laugh approximately 15 times a day. If you‟re a parent, that probably won‟t surprise you. But how is it that we lose our laughter as we get older? It‟s such a shame because laughter really is the best medicine. It‟s one of the most effective ways to build connectedness which, as we‟ve seen, is probably the most important building block of happiness. It also helps to decrease the production of stress chemicals, particularly cortisol, the primary stress hormone. It raises levels of serotonin and endorphins and is a natural painkiller. It‟s safe, pleasant and free - what‟s not to like?!
‚A laugh is a smile that bursts.‛ Mary H Waldrip,
‚Laughter is the closest distance between two people.‛ Victor Borge
‚Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.‛ Unknown 61
A few interesting facts about laughter, courtesy of the book ‘How to be happy’ by Liz Hoggard (linked to a BBC TV series called ‘Making Slough Happy’): in a 2005 survey, 45 per cent of people admitted to having a total sense of humour failure first thing in the morning the amount of time we spend chuckling nowadays is three times less than in the 1950s (six minutes a day as opposed to 18 minutes) in conversation, speakers are more likely to laugh than listeners laughter is 30 times more likely to occur in a group situation than in a solitary one women laugh most in the presence of men they find attractive (no surprises there!) laughter revs up your immune system, lowers blood pressure and enhances cardio-vascular and respiratory functions ... and big belly laughs can even help to tone your tum!
So, if you want to get more fun and laughter into your life, what can you do? To be honest, it will probably start to happen naturally as you put the other ingredients for happiness into place. As you take on a happy mindset, learn to love yourself better and live in the moment more, you can expect to find yourself laughing more often too. But here, on the next page, are a few other simple steps you can take ... 62
get yourself one really good joke and inscribe it on your memory in indelible ink - pull it out whenever you need it! spend time with the funniest people you know, or seek out new funny people join a laughter club or take up laughter yoga start a collection of comedies and funny films, so that you can just stick one on if you feel a bit down and need cheering up download podcasts by stand-up comedians and listen to them in the car or at the gym (as long as you don‟t mind being seen laughing out loud!) check out the videos on YouTube and watch candid cameratype programmes like „You‟ve been framed‟ - that slapstick, banana skin humour always works! take up a new hobby, something like ice skating or salsa dancing where your first attempts will have you in hysterics! have at least a day a week when you deliberately avoid the news and other depressing programmes on radio or TV share humour - whenever you see something funny, pass it on (just don‟t send it to anyone with a „Type H‟ personality, you‟ll only annoy them!) take life lightly ... and stick smiley faces all over the place to remind you
spend more time with your children - if you‟re open to it, they‟ll soon remind you how to have fun 63
Remember, laughter shouldn‟t be a luxury. It‟s good for your health and, let‟s face it, if it helps to relax you and reduce your stress levels, it‟s good for your family too! A few laughter lines is a small price to pay, don‟t you think?!
“A smile starts on the lips. A grin spreads to the eyes. A chuckle comes from the belly. But a good laugh bursts forth from the soul. Overflows, and bubbles all around ... Carolyn Birmingham
YouTube is always a good place to start if you‟re in need of a laugh. Here‟s a video introduction to laughter yoga with John Cleese ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXEfjVnYkqM
‚Those who can laugh without cause have either found the true meaning of happiness or have gone stark raving mad.‛ Norm Papernick
A word about ‘flow’ ... Whilst laughter is often an outward sign that people are having fun, we all know that it‟s perfectly possible to have fun without laughter being involved! But did you know about „flow‟? Well, if you‟ve ever opened a book after breakfast and then looked up to find it‟s getting dark outside, you probably do. „Flow‟ is a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the kind of experience where you‟re so involved in what you‟re doing that you‟re unaware of anything else. You don‟t notice what‟s going on around you or perceive the passage of time. You‟re focused and alert, totally absorbed. Athletes often call it „being in the zone‟.
‚I always describe ‘flow’ as that moment when you’re so absorbed in a task that you stick your tongue out. Children do it while they are colouring.‛ Richard Reeves, BBC happiness expert, quoted in the book ‘How to be happy’
Csikszentmihalyi interviewed thousands of people from many different walks of life in his study of flow, and concluded that the experience has several specific characteristics: we have to be doing something that stretches and challenges us enough but not too much - if it‟s too easy, we‟ll get bored, if it‟s too difficult, we‟ll get frustrated and demotivated we have to have a sense of control over what we‟re doing, with no fear of failure we have to know what we need to achieve and get immediate feedback on our progress 65
the activity has to be intrinsically rewarding - in other words, it has to be something that we do just because we want to There are advantages and disadvantages to being in flow. It‟s not so great when you forget to cook dinner or don‟t go to bed until four in the morning, but it‟s a brilliant way of being in the present moment. It can also be a very productive kind of fun, through which you learn and develop your skills.
‚The experience of flow leads us to be involved in life (rather than be alienated from it), to enjoy activities (rather than to find them dreary), to have a sense of control (rather than helplessness) and to feel a strong sense of self (rather than unworthiness). All of these factors imbue life with meaning and lend it a ricness and intensity. And happiness.‛ Sonja, Lyubomirsky, American psychologist and author of ‘The How of Happiness’
So what can you do to bring more flow into your life? Well, one way is to work out when you experience flow (for example, when you‟re reading, playing guitar or having sex) and do those things more often. But there‟s another way, which is to develop the skill of getting into flow regardless of what you‟re doing (for example, when you‟re cleaning the bathroom). The secret is attention. You need to direct your attention fully at the task at hand, and then you need to control your attention so that your mind doesn‟t wander. Once again, it‟s about living in the moment. And, given that you can‟t pay attention to everything, it‟s worth bearing this quote in mind ...
‚My experience is what I agree to attend to.‛ Henry James, American writer and‘father’ of psychology, 1843-1916 66
‚My religion is kindness. Dalai Lama
Loving kindness is a term often used in Buddhism. To me, it means a particular way of approaching life, a way that is all about respect, understanding and compassion. It means finding it in your heart to feel warmth and love even when there are lots of potential reasons not to. It means being able to forgive ... yourself and other people. It means realising, deep down, that we‟re all human and we‟re all in this together. Loving kindness = affectionate consideration for others In life, we have lots of choices. We can choose to be happy ... or miserable. We can choose to make friends ... or enemies. We can choose to show loving kindness towards ourselves and others ... or to be cold, uncaring, intolerant, unforgiving. I am a huge believer in the „ripples in a pond‟ philosophy - that it all starts with you and extends outwards from there. When you live life with an attitude of loving kindness, you help to spread happiness. And the more people who do that, the better. But what if you don‟t feel loving or even kind towards others? After all, there are times when the world can feel like an unkind place. Here are some thoughts that I discovered on a Buddhist website www.how-to-meditate.org - and that really changed my perspective: All living beings deserve to be cherished because of the tremendous kindness they have shown us. Our happiness arises through their kindness. The mere fact that we are alive today is testament to their kindness. Even our body is the result of the kindness of others - we did not bring it with us from another life, it developed from the union of our father‟s sperm and mother‟s ovum. 68
Once we had been conceived our mother kindly allowed us to stay in her womb, nourishing our body with her blood and warmth and then going through childbirth for our sake. We came into this world naked and empty-handed and were immediately given a home, food, clothes, and everything else we needed. While we were a helpless baby, we were protected from danger, fed, clothed, washed, loved and cared for. Through receiving a constant supply of food, drink, and care, our body gradually grew from that of a tiny helpless baby to the body we have now. All this nourishment was directly or indirectly provided by countless living beings. Every cell of our body is therefore the result of othersâ€&#x; kindness. Even those who have never known their mother have received nourishment and loving care from other people. It is because we have this present body with human faculties that we are able to enjoy all the pleasures and opportunities of human life. Even simple pleasures such as going for a walk or watching a beautiful sunset can be seen to be a result of the kindness of innumerable living beings. Our skills and abilities all come from the kindness of others; we had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, and how to read and write. Even the language we speak is not our own invention but the product of many generations.
â€šLove and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.â€› Dalai Lama
All the facilities we take for granted, such as houses, cars, roads, shops, schools, hospitals, and cinemas, are produced solely through othersâ€&#x; kindness. When we travel by bus or car we take the roads for granted, but many people worked very hard to build them and make them safe for us to use. The fact that some of the people who help us may have no intention of doing so is irrelevant. We receive benefit from their actions, so from our point of view this is a kindness. Rather than focusing on their motivation, which in any case we do not know, we should focus on the practical benefit we receive. Yes, it is true that we generally have to pay for things and work to earn the money to pay for them. But from where do we get this money? It is others who employ us or buy our goods, and so indirectly it is they who provide us with money. Moreover, the reason we are able to do a particular job is that we have received the necessary training or education from other people. Wherever we look, we find only the kindness of others. We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourselves.
â€šKindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person. C Neil Strait
â€šIn short, we need others for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare whilst neglecting that of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic.â€›. source
A Yogi teabag quote! 71
Do you feel as though you‟re part of a giant “web of kindness” that spreads across the globe, or do you feel more like an island, stranded in a sea of isolation? In today‟s society, I think it‟s easy to lose touch with the universal inter-connectedness of things. For a start, most of us have far less contact with our extended families than we might once have done, and in many areas there is little sense of community. These days, you can live in a street for years and never get to know your neighbours! In order to survive the hectic pace of modern life, it seems as though we often withdraw into the safe havens of our immediate families and shut the rest of the world out. I guess it‟s understandable - when you‟re paddling frantically just to stay afloat, you have no energy left for anyone else. So what can we do to change this? Well, here are a few simple suggestions to help you live with an attitude of loving kindness ...
Start by loving yourself Think back to when you were little and picture yourself as a child. Small, innocent and vulnerable. Now think about how you love your own children. I‟d put money on the fact that you love them unconditionally. Okay, you may get cross with them or feel disappointed in them sometimes, but nothing ever detracts from the love you feel for them. See if you can cultivate the same sort of love for yourself. Cherish yourself, recognise your faults but accept and love yourself nonetheless. Once you can feel this kind of love for yourself, you‟re in a far better position to “spread the love”! For more on this, see ingredient 2 - self esteem - on page 14. ‚You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.‛ Buddha 72
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes Make a conscious effort to see the world from other people‟s perspectives rather than just from your own. For example, instead of walking straight past the homeless person outside your local supermarket, imagine what it must be like to sit in the freezing cold for hours on end begging for a few coppers. Imagine how desperate you must have to be to do that. Imagine what might have happened to you for you to end up in that position. Whenever you possibly can, kick off your own shoes for a moment and try on someone else‟s - this is the first step in developing empathy and compassion. You may find it helpful to: imagine a day in the other person‟s life - for example, when you‟re frustrated with your teenage son, walk yourself through a typical day of his and see what insights you gain
imagine the thoughts running through the other person‟s head - for example, when someone cuts you up on the road, have a guess at what they‟re thinking and feeling at that moment
write a letter from the other person to you - for example, if you‟re in conflict with someone, write down what you think they might want to say to you
You may not be 100% accurate in what you imagine but it doesn‟t really matter - the important thing is that you‟ve tried to empathise. Note: There’s a big difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy creates a feeling of connectedness between you and the other person. You are them and they are you. Sympathy, on the other hand, creates a feeling of separateness - you’re thankful that you’re not experiencing the other person’s suffering. Aim for empathy.
Stepping into someone else‟s shoes is the quickest way to develop tolerance and understanding. After all, if we want to live in a peaceful world, it‟s vital that we are able to respect other people‟s points of view even when we disagree with them. Then, at least, we have a starting point for negotiation and compromise. 73
‚Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.‛ Thomas Merton
‚If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.‛ Dalai Lama
Let’s join the ...
‚To love our enemy is impossible. The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him/her, and he/she is no longer our enemy.‛ Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist, b1926
Carry out random acts of kindness It‟s often the case that we „restrict‟ our kindnesses to the people we already know and care about. And yet, there‟s something incredibly powerful about being kind to a complete stranger. Not only does it make that person feel better (well, hopefully at least!) but research shows that it‟ll make you a whole lot happier, too. In fact, Allan Luks, one of the world‟s experts on volunteering, discovered a phenomenon known as ‘helper’s high’. This is a euphoric feeling caused by the release of feel-good hormones known as endorphins that the helper experiences when they carry out a kind act. It is followed by a longer-lasting period of calm and wellbeing that has profoundly beneficial effects on the helper‟s physical and mental health. So, in short, doing good is good for you! Try doing little (or big!) things to help someone you don‟t even know. Check out these websites for ideas: The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation Danny Wallace‟s „Join Me‟ blog The Pay It Forward Movement (inspired by the book „Pay It Forward‟ and also the film) Of course, if you want to really reap the benefits of doing good, you could always become a regular volunteer somewhere: Do-it.org.uk Volunteering.org.uk 75
Send friendly wishes Loving kindness meditation is a great thing to do if you‟re so inclined. But you don‟t have to sit cross-legged with your eyes closed to practise thinking loving thoughts about other people. Try doing what Susan Kaiser Greenland suggests in her book „The Mindful Child‟ and sending “friendly wishes”. This is a lovely thing to do with children (video). To begin with, send yourself friendly wishes - for example, “May I be happy and healthy, May I have lots of love in my life, May I be calm and peaceful, May I be safe.” Next, focus on the people closest to you - for example, your family and friends - and send them similar friendly wishes. Then extend this outwards to include, say, work colleagues and clients, or school friends, or neighbours. Include people towards whom you feel neutral, and even people towards whom you feel hostile. (That‟s a bit more of a challenge, of course, but well worth doing!) Finally, extend your friendly wishes to people in other cities, other countries, and to all living things. By the time you‟ve done that, you should be positively glowing with warmth and compassion!
Repeat to yourself ... often ...
I am filled with loving kindness I am well I am peaceful and at ease I am happy
The specific words you use don‟t really matter, as long as they are positive and loving. You‟re aiming to cultivate a deep sense of inner wellbeing. You‟ll be amazed - once you feel good in yourself, it‟s so easy to be generous in your feelings towards others! 76
and finally ....
I don‟t know about you but I believe you only get one life ... this is it! And that, to my mind, makes it all the more important that we really live it to the full and squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it. In this report, I‟ve outlined what I consider to be the top ten essential ingredients for happiness. Of course, you may not entirely agree with my list, and that‟s fine. What‟s important is to prioritise happiness in your life, however you choose to do that. I don‟t mean spending all day long navel-gazing and pondering the meaning of life or the how of happiness. I just mean making a conscious choice to be happy NOW. To do the things that you know make you happy. To tap into the happiness that is already inside you, that doesn‟t need anything to be different from how it is. Why? Well, firstly, because it will make your life more enjoyable and more meaningful. And secondly, because it will enhance the lives of everyone around you! Ripples in a pond. If you‟re a parent, that‟s especially important. You can learn a lot about happiness from your children, but they also learn about happiness from you. So make it your mission to show them how to live a happy life. The best (if not the only) way to do that is to live a happy life yourself ...
‚Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.‛ Groucho Marx, American comedian and actor, 1890-1977
Thank you for taking the time to read this report, I hope you have enjoyed it and found it useful. If so, please recommend it to all your friends and contacts and point them towards the big happiness blog! 78
Photo credits A huge big thank you to all the photographers who have created the images in this report and, in most cases, been generous enough to make them available under a Creative Commons license. They are, as follows: Front cover Pages 2 and 3 Pages 4 and 5 Page 7 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 14 Page 17 Page 17 Page 19 Page 20 Page 24 Page 25 Page 27 Page 30 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 40 Page 42 Page 44 Page 45 Page 47 Page 50 Page 53 Page 54 Page 58 Page 59 Page 60 Page 61 Page 62 Page 64 Page 67 Page 69 Page 70 Page 71 Page 74 Page 74 Page 77 Page 79
D Sharon Pruitt D Sharon Pruitt vdepizzol CWLawrence chotda D Sharon Pruitt Worldâ€&#x;s Strongest Librarian D Sharon Pruitt Monroeâ€&#x;s Dragonfly Lady Miss Helen godoflite D Sharon Pruitt J. Star D Sharon Pruitt drewm fofurasfelinas mar___ shawnzrossi D Sharon Pruitt D Sharon Pruitt scottwills craig Quimby D Sharon Pruitt yeowatzup London looks (modified by me!) cromacom D Sharon Pruitt kevindooley D Sharon Pruitt D Sharon Pruitt merala Frederic Poirot Stuck in Customs D Sharon Pruitt arimoore luc.viatour katerha Quiplash! theloushe D Sharon Pruitt Zedzap 79
a recipe for happiness ÂŠ Jo Rheam, Mummo Ltd January 2011
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