17 Apr 2023 Um Mental Health Series – #1 Cultivating Happiness
If you have ever found yourself wondering “who has the time to be happy?”, you are not alone.
I know that I’m often caught up in my day-to-day responsibilities and forget that cultivating happiness is a choice – and an important one at that.
Happiness is something we all want more of, but it is often difficult to find moments of joy amid the grind of everyday life. Fortunately, science is proving that it’s possible for us all to experience greater joy and satisfaction on a regular basis by making small changes in our lives. These changes include being compassionate towards ourselves, practising gratitude, helping others, making relationships a priority, living with purpose, taking time for mindfulness (among others).
The good news is that each one of these things can be achieved simply by spending some time focusing on them every day.
BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS YOURSELF
Self-compassion is an important skill to learn and practise, as it can help you become happier. It involves being kind towards yourself when you experience failure or feelings of inadequacy.
A simple way to practise self-compassion is by recognising that everyone fails at things at some time, and that failing is not something to beat yourself up about. You can also be compassionate towards yourself if you experience something negative in this moment.
The concept of gratitude has been a popular topic in the field of psychology for years, but only recently have we begun to understand just how powerful it can be. One recent study found that people who kept gratitude journals had increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms. Other research suggests that cultivating gratitude is an effective tool for combating anger, and yet another study found that gratitude improves sleep quality. So there must be something positive in it!
So why do we need to practise gratitude? Well, because it’s fun! And because it makes us feel good about ourselves. People who are grateful are happier than those who aren’t – and studies show this applies across cultures, regardless of whether you’re religious or spiritual. The benefits extend beyond our own well-being: being grateful is linked with higher levels of self-esteem, which in turn leads us to make healthier decisions about dieting and exercise.
Gratitude can even help when dealing with difficult times – those things called “stressors” by psychologists – because it encourages us to look at life from a different perspective. This shift may mean feeling differently about things like suffering and failure; but even more importantly, it helps us see how lucky we are overall!
To cultivate more gratitude in your life, start by writing down three things each day for which you’re grateful as soon as possible after waking up in the morning. You could try making these items part of your daily routine, so they become second nature over time; however, there is no harm done if you miss a day here or there either! Don’t hold yourself accountable; just keep trying until something works out for you.
Helping others makes you feel good. There’s a reason we call them “feel good” chemicals: when you give to others, your body produces endorphins that make you feel great. And as if that weren’t enough, helping others also increases levels of serotonin – the neurotransmitter associated with feeling calm and relaxed.
It helps us see things from another person’s point of view. When we are stuck in our own headspace or experiencing negative thoughts or emotions, it is easy for us to forget that there are other perspectives out there – ones that might have something valuable to teach us about ourselves or about what is going on around us. By helping others in need and learning about their struggles, challenges and experiences first-hand, we will be much better able to understand what life is like for them – and this knowledge will deepen our empathy for others’ challenges as well as allow us access into new perspectives on our own lives.
MAKE RELATIONSHIPS A PRIORITY
I would argue that cultivating relationships is the best way to cultivate happiness.
So how do we find a balance between being there for others and taking care of ourselves? How can we ensure that we stay connected with those who matter most while still prioritising our own needs? These are questions I ask myself regularly. And while I don’t have all the answers yet (and probably never will), I do know one thing: spending quality time and connecting with loved ones at each opportunity is important.
LIVE WITH PURPOSE
The first step towards finding purpose is to determine what kind of person you want to be: kind, generous, honest? Once you know what traits matter most to you (and which ones don’t), everything else falls into place much more easily than before. Everyone has their own definition for “having a purpose in life”.
Optimism is a powerful force that can help you to achieve your goals, and it’s something that you can learn. The best way is to practise positive thinking (as opposed to negative thinking). A study found that people who were optimistic had better mental health than those who weren’t. This is because optimism helps you stay healthy and happy, which also means that you will have more energy for those things that are important to you.
So how do we cultivate our optimism? The first step is to make a list of the things in your life that make you feel good about yourself. Then take some time out each day and think about one thing from the list. You may also want to write down three things that went well during the day so far – then look at them when things get tough!
Mindfulness is a practice of focusing on the present moment with non-judgemental awareness. It encourages you to notice your thoughts and feelings without reacting to them. You may have heard that mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood, or make you happier overall – and the science backs this up!
ALL OF US HAVE THE ABILITY TO CREATE MORE JOY AND SATISFACTION IN OUR LIVES
Happiness is a choice, not an accident. It’s not a result of good luck or fate; it requires deliberate action on your part. You can learn to be happy by actively choosing happiness over other emotions you might feel at any given moment, such as anger or sadness.
The difference between happiness and joy is subtle but important: while both can be enjoyed when they occur naturally (like when you are laughing with friends), happiness involves cultivating positive emotions through intentional activity.
Satisfaction is about looking back over time with gratitude for all the blessings in one’s life – financial security perhaps being one of those blessings! Pleasure is often fleeting because it comes from outside sources such as material objects we purchase ourselves or even food we eat at restaurants rather than cooking ourselves at home.
The good news is that happiness is not just a fleeting feeling. It’s a skill, and the more you practise it, the more natural it will become.
Richard Knighton, Fleet Personnel Director