Your happiness toolkit : 12 baby steps to fulfilment

happiness toolkit
happiness toolkit

When asked ‘Do you want to be happy?’, the majority of people would not hesitate with their answer. Happiness and well-being have been subjects of major interest for centuries, from ancient Greek philosophers to current quality of life research in social, political and economic sciences. Yet, despite striving to be happy, we often go for shortcuts that don’t bring us the desired fulfilment (think wine, TV or shopping). So what does actually make us happy? A review of the most up-to-date evidence suggests that building the following twelve actions into our day-to-day lives is likely to make a real difference:

1.   Exercise…

When we think of happiness, we are ready to look for psychological solutions and are often surprised to discover research suggesting that exercise may be the most reliable happiness booster of all activities. Go for a walk or a run. Do some gardening or cycle. Dance or play a game. Exercising makes you feel good, protects you from depression, anxiety and stress and improves not only physical but also cognitive functioning. Discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness. It does not need to be boring and dull, or always performed in a gym!

2.   Sleep…

Getting the basics sorted before progressing any further, a simple good sleep is another major key. People who sleep an average of six to eight and a half hours per night have better psychological and subjective wellbeing than people who sleep either less than six or more than nine hours. These so-called ‘optimal sleepers’ report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, more positive relations with others and feel more in control of their lives.

3.   Smile…

How often do you smile every day? You actually needn’t wait for something good to happen before you smile; recent research has confirmed what Darwin suggested as far back as the 1870s, that whether you’re furrowing your brow or giving a big cheesy grin, showing your emotions physically intensifies them. Yes, it is true, smiling prompts your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happier!

4.   Relate…

Connect with the people around you, with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Think of these connections as the cornerstones of your life and invest daily time in developing them. One of the fundamental characteristics of humanity is the ‘need to belong’. When this need is satisfied, we feel positive emotions, while long-lasting periods of loneliness can bring us down. Relationships, especially intimate ones and our friendships, are considered amongst the best predictors of happiness. Having a network of social support increases our immunity to infection, lowers our risk of heart diseases and also reduces mental decline as we get older.

5.   Seize the moment…

Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the usual. Savour the moment by slowing down intentionally, consciously paying attention to all your senses (touch, taste, sight, sound, smell). You can stretch out the moment, concentrating on noticing what it is about the experience that you enjoy, whether it’s something as simple as sipping a glass of wine, stroking the cat, or looking at the sky. If you want to take it a step further, take a mindfulness class.

6.   Be grateful…

Before going to sleep at night, think of three things that happened to you today that you feel grateful for. These can be significant or relatively unimportant events, it doesn’t matter. For each thing, reflect on why you feel grateful. Write an email to a work colleague thanking them for helping you today, or send a thank you text to your boyfriend. Expressing your gratitude for something or someone, whether in writing or not, is one of the simplest but most effective means to increase your happiness that we know of.

7.   Learn…

What have you enjoyed learning recently? It could be a skill such as playing an instrument, a new book, something interesting from a TV programme, or insights that you gained from discussing certain issues. Try something new or rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident and more alive.  

8.   Use your strengths…

What makes you feel you are being who your really are? What are you most proud of?  Knowing and using one’s strengths and talents is considered to be one of the most direct routes to personal and professional fulfilment. Making sure you put your strengths to work on a daily basis has a lasting effect on increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for up to 6 months.

9.   Change perspective…

Are you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty person? The type who looks on the bright side of life or the one who finds something wrong in everything? Given that things are rarely totally black or white, but the benefits of seeing the white overweigh focusing on the problems, practice asking yourself “What is good about it?” or “What can I learn from it?” every time something bad happens.

10.        Accept…

Following the centuries old adage “Change what you can, accept what you can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference”, acceptance had gained scientific credibility over the last twenty years. No one is perfect, and chances are pretty high that there are some parts of yourself that you do not accept. Yet, dwelling on our flaws – what we’re not rather than what we’ve got – makes it much harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong, increases your enjoyment of life, your resilience and overall happiness. It also helps you accept others as they are. 

11.        Take some time…

Do you ever get the feeling that time is speeding up, that there are fewer hours in the day than there used to be? According to a worldwide survey, we feel a lot happier when we are time rich rather than time starved and especially when we have some “me time” on a daily basis. What you do with this time is entirely up to you – walking in the nature, listening to music, painting, pottering or reading a magazine with a cup of coffee in a café – as long as this activity makes you feel you are taking the time for you.

12.        Give…

Do something selfless or simply something nice for a friend or a stranger. Volunteer your time. Join an association. Studies in neuroscience have shown that cooperative behaviour activates reward areas of the brain, suggesting we are hard wired to enjoy helping one another. But it is not simply about a one-way transaction of giving. Building reciprocity and mutual exchange – through giving and receiving – is also the simplest and most fundamental way of establishing trust between people.

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