Colour me happy: Three ways to create a happier lifeby
Being happy has lots of great benefits including better relationships, improved wellbeing, engagement at work and less stress. So why do we struggle to find our smile? Nicky Marshall uncovers the steps you can take to make yourself happier and more content.
Being happy ought to be easy. We all know that it improves mood, rubs off on others and is the source of contentedness, yet so many of us struggle to find it. For example, do you always add a caveat to your happiness?
Do you think you need to wait until you've achieved a particular goal before you can achieve happiness? It really does feel sometimes that 'happy' is just out of reach and can only be attained when we have checked things off our lists.
Internal happiness occurs when we are living on purpose, creating the elements we desire in our life through our own actions
We know that being happy has lots of great benefits: better relationships; more productivity; greater health and longevity and less stress. We are also better to be around; happy teams are more productive and creative.
On entering a room, when we are greeted with a smile, the mirror neurons in our face react and we find that we are also smiling. And of course, when people around us are stressed or anxious, it just doesn’t feel good, it can affect the entire room, and bring down your mood.
Finding that elusive happiness
Well firstly, I can tell you what won’t work. Trying to impress others, trying to ‘crush it’ or ‘striving’. This will zap our energy and lead to exhaustion and comparisonitis. When we are fearful, dwelling on the past or worrying about the future these are guaranteed to reduce our happiness. Similarly, being around negative people, or spending too much time in isolation can be mood hoovers.
Discovering the two states of happiness
There are two types of happiness: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic happiness relies on something outside of us happening. Perhaps it is the environment we spend time in, the relationships we have or the activities we involve ourselves with. It can also be due to a life event: a promotion, getting married or completing something.
Extrinsic happiness is great, but it’s finite. There will come a point where the euphoria will subside when we either look for the next shiny thing, or we start to feel unhappy.
Intrinsic happiness may be seen more as contentment, fulfilment or peace. It’s long-lasting, as nothing reduces it and we don’t need to ‘do’ or ‘be’ anything to have it.
Internal happiness occurs when we are living on purpose, creating the elements we desire in our life through our own actions. It also comes from feeling healthy and well. We have the power to bring in more of it and we can also lose it if we let elements slide.
I know personally that when I swim twice a week and get to my dance classes I am more likely to have a good week. Similarly, in the past when I expanded my comfort zone by learning to ski, I noticed how I loved physical movement. During the lockdown, as our freedom to get outside was restricted, I realised how much I needed to be outside for my own mental calm.
We are social beings and, even if we do enjoy alone time, we thrive when we find our tribe
Ask yourself: What makes you happy?
Perhaps there are certain activities that you enjoy? Maybe you notice a dip in your mood when you don’t do them. Does your happiness increase when you spend time with people? Or do you relax more in your own company? Are there certain seasons that make you smile? Do you like life to be busy? Or do you prefer a slower pace?
Understanding the elements you need to create more happiness now, can lead to years of contentment. Perhaps take some time now to contemplate the key factors to your happiness. Track back through times when you were happy and unhappy – what was present and what was missing?
Three ways to create a happier life
1. Consider your wellbeing
Make sure you sleep well, stay hydrated and eat good nutrition. A bad night’s sleep can reduce your mood by up to 30% and sugar can also affect your mood. Think about boosting the feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine by laughing, sleeping and rewarding yourself at the end of each day. Feeling gratitude or meditating are great mood boosters.
2. Find your community
We are social beings and, even if we do enjoy alone time, we thrive when we find our tribe. Perhaps it’s a band of friends or a group with a shared interest. Perhaps it’s work colleagues…or maybe it’s time to find a new community that will give you a new social life.
3. Build resilience
What elements do you need to keep you happy? Perhaps it’s art, reading, or good music – whatever good is for you! Perhaps you love to learn or to give back by volunteering. Create a vision of what good looks like and notice when an opportunity arises to take that first step.
Ask yourself every day what would make you happy and try to do at least one thing from this list
Don't forget to be kind to yourself
If you are struggling to be happy today, be gentle with yourself and know that baby steps reap big rewards over time. Share your quest with someone, you may find that they encourage you to go to that first meeting (that’s how I returned to ballet after a 30-year break!).
Ask yourself every day what would make you happy and try to do at least one thing from this list. You may find that in a few months’ time you are the one giving out the happy tips!