Tuesday, 13 December 2011

How to Be Happy

Image thanks to yvette

Being happy should be so simple, and yet it isn’t. How to be happy is a question many people struggle with everyday. Some days perhaps you feel elated, invigorated, inspired – but then some you feel dismal, down, distraught. What you should know is that happiness is a continual evolution – not a conclusion. You can be happy without a happy ending by making it a priority to perpetuate practices of happiness in your day-to-day life.

Here are nine easy, proactive steps you can take in your quest for that elusive halo of happiness.

Write an ‘it’s done!’ list. I love writing lists, but recently I’ve noticed just how many To Do lists I write, without ever stopping to notice or reward myself for what I’ve done. As the year draws to a close, of course you should get excited about all the magic you’re going to make for yourself in 2012 – but I encourage you to celebrate the ways in which 2011 was a great year, and all the things you gained from it as an individual: emotionally, physically, spiritually, materially, financially... For example, I got a First Class degree – it’s done! I got a lovely place to live – it’s done! I significantly grew my web of wonderful international friends – it’s done! I doubled my blog income – it’s done! It feels GOOD to focus on your achievements rather than your aspirations for a change.

Give Up. Give up on the goal that your heart isn’t really in. Give up dreaming and start doing. Give up the thread. Lighten your load by letting things go – if it isn’t setting you a-spark; if it isn’t exciting and inspiring you anymore – no matter how much you want it to, or how much it once did – give it up. You’ll feel so much better for it, and your energy is always better invested in the things that excite you.

Spend some time alone – and get happy in your own company. Since the end of my long-term relationship, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. Quiet, reflective, often sad, but mainly joyous time in my own company, and I can tell you it has been so incredibly enlightening. I’ve learnt to listen to my own voice – to the things I tell myself, good and bad. I’ve learnt to look after myself – to make wholesome meals, to keep the space around me tidy, to cheer myself up (a revelation!), to let myself off when I need to and also to push myself when it’s necessary. I’ve learnt to be my own favourite person to be around and I believe this will be so incredibly beneficial to my next relationship, because I won’t be reliant on a partner for emotional support; they will be in my life purely to love and be loved by me. I will strive to treat them with the respect and care that I’ve learnt to treat myself with, whilst continuing to care for myself so that it won’t frustrate me when they can’t be my sole source of support – I’ll be supporting myself too. Even if you are in a great relationship, and even if the thought scares you, try to spend a little bit of time alone – a long quiet walk in the country, an afternoon reading books in bed, an evening at home cooking for just you – try aloneness on for size and find the bliss in it.

Be your own best friend. I know that the above isn’t easy for everyone, but loving your own company is such a valuable practice – because you never know when life might ask you to be alone for a while. One way that you can learn to be kinder to yourself – to be your own greatest ally – is one I took from the book, Solemate. Close your eyes and visualise yourself as a small child. See what a precious little light you are in the world, and how you need care and encouragement to reach your potential – then strive to treat yourself with that level of care every day. One thing that is bugging me about living alone is washing the dishes – I loathe washing dishes! And now I don’t have a sweet boy to do them for me when I don’t feel like it. Rather than feeling angered every day by this inevitable task, however, I decided to change my mindset, and now I dutifully do them because it is a nice thing to do for myself – just like it would be a nice thing for somebody else to do for me. If I leave them, the mess is only going to get in my own way, so I recognise that in doing them I am giving my future self the joy of a clean kitchen! Simple but revolutionary.

Image thanks to amy

Reach out. Whilst it is important to love your own company, it is also important to build a group around you whose company you also love – and who inspire you. This is especially important if you verge on the introverted, like I do. As life is always changing and evolving for us, it is so important that we are continually challenging ourselves to meet new people; to thrash around outside of our comfort zone. This doesn’t make our old friends any less important, it just means we can learn to put a little less pressure on them to fulfil our friendship needs. It also means we are constantly learning – because there is nothing like a new person to surprise and educate you in different ways of seeing the world. How you do this is down to you – you know the usual suggestions of going to a new class, volunteering etc. – what’s important is that you are nudging yourself into challenging but ultimately rewarding situations.

Set your own goal-posts for happiness – and make them stick. Isn’t it funny how the goal-posts for what makes us happy are always shifting? For the last, oh, lifetime, it has been an important goal of mine to have my own home – that was a kind of happiness. Now I have it – I’m living in that goal. And yet, inevitably, I have mentally illustrated a whole new version of happiness. Happiness would be solid wood floors; a free standing kitchen; a pastel green Smeg fridge; an iron bed; a wall covered in vintage mirrors... the list goes on! Unless I’m prepared to sink myself into unholy amounts of debt, however, I cannot have these things right now. So does that mean I’m officially unhappy? And, when I do eventually get those things – two, three, or five years down the line – from experience, won’t I just illustrate a new version of happiness? A wet room and sauna, a pony paddock, an open fire... The material hunt for happiness has to be stopped in its tracks, because it will never end in satisfaction – that is the very nature of consumerism: to keep consuming.

The solution is to set your own goal-posts, beyond the material and external conditions that life might freely give, but also freely take away. This is probably just a case of re-focusing yourself to look at the great gifts that you already have – your health; your family; meaningful work; your own precious path that comes with inevitable trip-ups but that you walk with joy regardless; money in the bank which spells freedom and opportunity not just a heap of stuff, and a comfortable place to live that you can adorn in myriad ways without any financial investment whatsoever (see below).

Happy-fy your environment. Despite the above, an environment that brings us joy is so important – we just need to re-imagine how exactly we gain joy from it. Life is short so use your ‘best’ possessions – roll around in your ‘best’ sheets, wear your ‘best’ dresses, use that ancient tea-set that you’re scared of breaking but that begs to be used. String up some cheap fairy-lights to add magic and warmth to a dark space. Put the items you love – like your shoes, or your favourite books, or all those photos of loved ones you have stuffed in storage – on display. Take a day off to spend entirely on making your environment – whether it be your dorm room, your old bedroom at home, or a rented flat – a space that makes you happy. Be imaginative. Hang your favourite dresses out on display; cover a whole wall in gorgeous magazine clippings; get an enormous map and place different colour pins in it for the places you’ve been and the places you want to go to. Place your most artistic CD cases facing outward on a shelf so that you can appreciate them (my friend used to have two spaced-apart pins in the wall where she would prop up a CD next to her CD player and a little notice saying ‘Now Playing’ – how cute!) Gather up a load of junk that is cluttering your space and dampening your enjoyment of it and take it to the charity shop.

When I moved into my flat I got rid of loads of stuff. Even though it was difficult, eventually I started just throwing stuff in a box and then refused to look back in the box in case I changed my mind; I gave it to my mum to take so I couldn’t chicken out! In the end if you can forget something, why did you have it in the first place? Sometimes I look around and think – where did all my stuff go? – but generally I feel so much freer having only the essential, exquisite items which I adore surrounding me.

Happy-fy your relationships. I briefly touched on this topic with my recent article on ways to celebrate yourself; I asked you to celebrate others. An extension of this is to be happy for others, and happy to be around them, and happy to have them as a blessing in your life. Great relationships – be it family, friends, lovers – are not a given in life. Not even close. Not everybody has a mum for amazing advice; a dad for practical support; a sister for unerring love; great friends for eternal giggles... But we forget to be thankful for them all the time. Tell the people in your life that you’re happy to see them; tell them you are happy for them when they meet successes. Strengthen your relationships with gratitude; happy-fy them by giving them your whole heart.

Hug it out. As tribal creatures, human contact feeds us. That’s why we run into our mother’s arms when we hurt ourselves as a child: our confidence has been knocked and her embrace will go a little way towards putting it back. It’s why we’ve developed a physical language such as hand-shaking, pats on the back, and shoulder-rubbing in times of tension. It’s also why we might seek validation through promiscuity when we are without a fulfilling relationship. But as we get older and more independent, hugs can often stop being part of our physical language, particularly that of the day-to-day. A hug from someone close to you says so much. It says “it’s okay”, “I’m here”, “I believe in you”, “you’re not alone”, “I empathise” etc. etc. These are all things we need to hear in low moments, so why not hear them through a hug?

What are your daily happy practices? And will you be implementing any of mine?
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it has inspired you a little way in How to Be Happy. As much as I don’t want to sully this post with shameless self-promotion, if you like the tips given here, it is really very likely that you will love the Ambitious Happiness eCourse – have a quick read about what I’m offering here. The course is stuffed to the brim with practical, actionable, inspiring steps to imagining and crafting some heartfelt happiness. Maybe even grab one to download immediately!


Amber-Rose said...

I love this post, wholeheartedly. And if I had any money to my name at this moment; I would so buy your eBook as I'm in desperate need of regular cheering up.

I am finding quite a bit of joy in being able to just do things without having to check in with somebody, and be constantly glued to my mobile texting them.. It's rather liberating.


Eternal*Voyageur (Venusian*Glow) said...

This post is sweet! I especially loved the part about the done list and prettyfying the surroundings.

Megan said...

Amber - It is SO liberating, and I keep thinking that I'll look back with envy on this time where I can be completely selfish when I'm married with kiddies! Maybe somebody nice will get you AH for Christmas ;) (did you get the email with the deal?) I'd really love to get your feedback.

E*V - The 'It's Done!' list is my favourite part too :) so satisfying!

Nick said...

You know, an "it's done" list would make me feel pretty bood about myself. Sadly, I set goals for 2011 and failed on almost all of them... I think I'll try the it's done list for 2012. Good stuff. And great post.

Megan said...

Nick, Nick, Nick! I believe you have entirely missed the point of the humble "it's done" list! Sure, there are a heck-tonne of goals I failed to achieve too - but the concept is to focus on what you DID do, whether it was a set goal or not. Even if it's that you learnt not to set yourself too many goals ;) You didn't spend the whole year twiddling your thumbs now did you... :)

Emma said...

Great post! I had a go at creating my own "It's done!" list and posted on my blog. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I got my list to ten items. Thank you :-D

Joisey Dani said...

Another wonderful post! Might make me write a piece on how I keep myself happy...


Nick said...

Good point Megan! I'll make sure to include all things I do, including setting fewer (or more realistic) goals... You know, I'm pretty sure I didn't twiddle the hear away, but I don't have an "it's done" list for 2011 to confirm :)

Post a Comment