Actions for happiness
Success tends to be determined in economic terms – what we possess, what we earn, the material stuff we have in our lives.
Perhaps we’ve got it all wrong.
Shouldn’t the currency of success be the happiness we feel and the happiness we can give to others?
What’s the true value of stuff when its power to make us feel good is so shallow and transient?
Happiness might seem an elusive emotion, particularly for survivors of domestic abuse, but perhaps it has the potential to be more attainable than economic success since it can come about through a shift in mindset, a change in thinking, a more optimistic and positive outlook. But to make this shift possible requires hard work and a change of habits.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”– Helen Keller
So long as our basic needs for food, shelter and love are met, happiness can thrive in almost any situation.
It’s a misconception that our sense of happiness is linked largely with our physical circumstances. It’s the thoughts we entertain in our heads, the optimism with which we greet each day and the gratitude we allow ourselves to feel that will lead to real happiness.
What’s so good about this is that because happiness comes largely from within rather than externally, we really have far more control over it than we might previously have thought possible, and we’re less vulnerable to outside forces derailing our sense of well-being. With control comes power, the power to increase our feelings of optimism and well-being.
“We can’t control the world. We can only control our own reactions to it. Happiness is largely a choice, not a right or entitlement.”– David Hill
Not only is a shift in thinking required to make us feel happier, we also need to put in some work and make consistent efforts to sustain a happier mindset.
Effort is needed to change habits.
There are changes in thinking which will help, such as learning mindfulness and gratitude for instance; and changes in behaviour such as volunteering, exercising and taking up challenges that will give us a sense of purpose and achievement.
Happiness is rarely achieved through mindless self-indulgence. Eating a box of chocolates in one sitting will likely give a serotonin high, but this high will be short lived and is often followed by a crash in both blood sugar levels and mood.
“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”– Helen Kelle
It seems that happiness can’t be pursued as a goal in itself, but is more a welcome by-product of various ways of thinking and behaviours.
The following ways of thinking and activities are examples of known ways to increase happiness:
Consistently associated with greater happiness. It seems important to acknowledge, appreciate and feel grateful for the good things in your life.
People who feel gratitude or ‘count their blessings’ will view life with a more positive perspective. Their focus will be on what they have rather than what is missing. The expression ‘glass half full’ will apply to them. Almost always there will be many things to feel grateful for on a daily basis, and when the mind is trained to seek, notice and appreciate, a sense greater well-being can be achieved.
Keeping a gratitude journal, writing thank you notes and voicing your appreciation to others will help reinforce your focus on the positive. Everything is relative, there will always be those with more than you, but it’s not so much what you’ve got but your appreciation of what you have that matters more.
If condensed into pill form and sold at the chemist’s, it would be flying off the shelves and hailed as the next wonder drug, up there in demand with the bottles of exercise and blister packs of gratitude, transforming the nation’s mental health. But kindness isn’t available in drug form, it’s so much easier than that – it’s within all of us all of the time, available whenever we want it, and it’s free!
Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are all words that are associated with kindness. The benefits of being kind are huge, even greater for the giver than the receiver.
Kindness is a win-win, the love spreads both ways! Some people practise kindness habitually: the shop assistant who always smiles and says a few warm words to every customer; the bus driver who enthusiastically greets every passenger; the teacher who shows kindness and concern to every pupil. It’s highly likely that these people are infinitely happier than those who show less kindness.
“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.” – Lady Gaga
The altruistic act of freely giving time for the benefit of another person, group or organisation. As with acts of kindness, volunteering has massive benefits for both the volunteer and recipient.
When we want to improve our mental health, our feelings of happiness, connectedness, value and sense of purpose, volunteering can be the perfect way of progressing all of these issues – and the bonus is we’re doing good for others too!
Volunteering has been seen as so critical to physical and emotional health and well-being that some progressive GP practices have developed a ‘social prescribing’ model to health care, encouraging patients, where appropriate, to take up volunteering as complementary to long-term medical treatment. Some of the physical health benefits include lowering blood pressure, and improving fitness.
The majority of those who volunteer on a regular basis believe it makes them physically healthier. The benefits of reducing isolation, improving sense of self-esteem, enhancing happiness, providing sense of purpose and enhancing skills all have a significant benefit to mental health. Volunteering is also associated with the lowering of stress and anxiety.
We’ve been brought up being told that giving feels better than receiving and this really seems to be true.
Exercise and looking after our physical health not only makes us feel worthy by the very fact we’re doing something for ourselves, but it will also make us feel physically better and mentally happier. By exercising, we’re telling ourselves that we matter, we’re taking time for ourselves and we’re also improving our health in the process.
Exercise has the added benefit of encouraging the release of feel- good hormones such as endorphins. Regular exercise has often been cited as more effective than medication for depression, particularly when the exercise is outdoors and with friends.
Self-care is the action we take to look after ourselves, physically, emotionally and mentally. It incorporates:
- looking after our health by exercising and eating well
- ensuring we get good-quality sleep
- improving our living space by decluttering, and creating a happy home.
- It also includes mindfully challenging negative thoughts and being self-compassionate.
Self-care never stops being a work in progress – as soon as we stop, things can slide downhill – but it is always worth the effort. Self-care can fall into various categories. If we’re caring about our emotional health, we might become aware of negative thoughts and learn self-compassion. Keeping a journal to remind us of our strengths can be helpful, as can counting our blessings.
Reviewing our friends can also be useful. Some friends make us feel bad by subtly undermining us; other friends make us feel worthy. Self-care might mean spending more time with our true friends and distancing ourselves from others.
When practising good self-care, we’re doing something for ourselves and improving our emotional health in the process, which is arguably the most important area in our wellbeing.
Sense of purpose
Research suggests that having a strong sense of purpose leads to long lasting satisfaction and happiness. Helping others seems to be a particularly effective way of achieving fulfilment and a sense of purpose. Discovering your passion and progressing it by goal setting is not only linked with happiness, but also positive health outcomes and longer life expectancy.
“Finding meaning in your experiences, and having a purpose, can create a fortress of the mind that’ll shield you from life’s many hardships.” – Viktor Frankl
Surviving difficult times, including domestically abusive relationships, can be extremely hard. It might seem impossible to recover any sense of happiness. But qualities such as toughness and resilience, can develop from such hardships, together with a better appreciation of life when it’s free from the torment of abuse.
Life for many is very tough just now, but whatever your current circumstances, there is much we can do to improve our feelings of happiness and well-being. When we remind ourselves that we don’t need huge wealth or material possessions to be happy, but that small shifts in thinking and behaviour really can make a positive difference, happiness seems so much more achievable.
“In my life I’ve learned that true happiness comes from giving. Helping others along the way makes you evaluate who you are. I think that love is what we’re all searching for. I haven’t come across anyone who didn’t become a better person through love.”– Marla Gibbs
Written by: Sandra Reddish