Every year, researchers compile the World Happiness Report, which invites governments to give more importance to happiness and well-being. The report ranks global happiness in countries around the world. This year the UK fell 5 places from 13th to 18th.
How to Increase Happiness
Many people, when contacting me, tell me they’re not happy. My job is to help them unpack what that means, and discover what they want instead. If you think about it, ‘being happy’ is a pretty nebulous goal. It doesn’t really mean anything. And how do you know when you’ve got there? So before embarking on your own happiness project and trying to figure out how to increase happiness, you might like to think what happiness means to you. It probably includes feelings such as more fulfilment, satisfaction, joy, and to experience more positive emotions than negative ones, as well as specific goals.
Once you’ve got a clearer idea of what happiness means to you, then we can look at ways to create this in your life. Here are some simple ideas that I frequently share with clients. Don’t let their simplicity deter from their effectiveness!
Take in the good
Author Rick Hanson, has a brilliant, simple, yet effective exercise called ‘taking in the good‘. Have you ever noticed how some of the good experiences in life seem to fall away like Teflon, yet the negative ones stick like Velcro? Hanson’s suggestion is that whenever anything good happens, you stop, notice it and to take it in. It’s a practical way to stop and smell the roses! So whenever you’re savouring your first cup of coffee in the morning, watching an amazing sunset, or laughing with friends (or indeed, stopping to smell a rose), just pause and allow yourself to take a moment to really feel those feelings of joy, contentment, love and satisfaction. And allow them to grow in your body so you embody the felt-sense of those emotions. It’s a beautiful mindfulness practice, that has instant benefits. And if you get into the habit of doing this daily, your happiness will soon increase.
Deposits and withdrawals
You can think of your emotional health like a bank account. There are things you experience which are like deposits into your emotional health account, and those which are withdrawals. Nobody can tell you what your deposits and withdrawals look like, so you need to reflect on this in your own life. For example deposits might include listening to your favourite playlist, making time to draw or read, getting a massage or taking a hot shower with your favourite products. Withdrawals might be doomscrolling through Facebook for hours on end, saying yes when you’d rather say no, hanging out with a certain person that pulls down your energy, or going to bed too late for days in a row. The goal of this exercise is to gain awareness about what increases and decreases your own happiness, so that you can make conscious choices and begin to take more control.
Clean your windows!
In the book “The Happiness Revolution – a manifesto for living your best life”, authors Andy Cope and Paul McGee outline a 10-point Happiness Manifesto. What I enjoy about this book is its humour. So many books that focus on the ‘self improvement’ genre are serious, which, when you’re trying to increase your own happiness levels can seem a bit of a hard slog. Yes, this one is a bit childish at times, but I have an inner child who enjoys respite from the serious grown-up world every once in a while. At the same time as being light hearted, this book still shares deep truths and some fantastic stories, with sentences that stop you in your tracks and anecdotes that you’ll relate to. Here’s a fantastic story about the lens we view life through:
A young couple moved into a swanky apartment in a new neighbourhood. They sat in their kitchen having breakfast, watching the world go by. The woman saw her neighbour pegging out the washing. “That laundry is not very clean,” she tutted. “She either needs a new washing machine or better washing powder.”
Other than the crunching on his toast, the husband remained silent.
His wife’s comments was exactly the same the next day. And the next. “Why on earth is that women hanging out dirty washing?” She sighed in disgust. “She needs lessons in basic hygiene!”
And her husband crunched, knowingly.
On the 4th day his wife plunked herself at the breakfast table with a gleeful smile. “At last,” she said, pointing at their neighbors washing line. Her husband followed her gaze to the neatly arranged clothesline where the whites sparkled and the colors shone. “All of a sudden she seems to have learned to clean properly.”
And her husband broke his silence. “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”
Could you clean your windows and view your life through the lens of happiness? The following daily practise is a great way to get started…
Gratitude journalling is a really popular practise with the likes of Oprah and Emma Watson being raving fans. It’s also a positive way to finish your day. Rather than focusing on everything that’s gone wrong (and don’t be harsh on yourself if this is the case for you, there is increasing scientific evidence that shows we have a ‘negativity bias’), a gratitude journal will put your mind in a more positive space before you drift off to sleep. And here’s a confession from me that has led to the ‘secret sauce’ of a gratitude practise. I soon realised that my gratitude journalling became yet another chore that I had to do, and I found myself doing it in a mechanical way. That’s not going to increase my happiness is it?
So the secret here is to make your journalling practice really enjoyable – the human brain loves reward. And here is where we can come back to Rick Hanson’s idea so that as you complete your journal, you also stop and feel the feelings. If you invite feelings of gratitude and appreciation in as you are writing, you will automatically increase your feelings of happiness and begin to hack that pesky negativity bias of yours.
Ask yourself this question
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself before doing something is “is what I’m about to do, taking me closer to my goal or further away?” If you remember back to the deposits and the withdrawals in your personal health account, then invariably those things that distract you from achieving your goals can suck your energy and joy out of life. It’s also a useful practice because you’ll see why you are giving your power away – to people or situations – and you will begin to recognise some of your limiting beliefs. These challenging patterns that keep you stuck and their corresponding limiting beliefs and blocks are all things that you can bring to your sessions with me and we can start to clear, using a combination of EFT and coaching. Clearing these blocks, is one of the sure ways to lasting, life-long happiness!
This idea is such a no brainer, but I have to share it, because it’s one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to increase your happiness. Research shows that listening to your favourite music increases some of the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain. It’s amazing how an uplifting song can shift your energy and mood in seconds isn’t it? It’s something nearly everyone has experienced. These studies demonstrate that listening to positive music may be an effective way to improve happiness, particularly when it is combined with an intention to become happier. However it gets even better, because research here shows that listening to music can induce euphoria and release dopamine in the brain. The report goes on to says “intense pleasure in response to music can lead to dopamine release…”
If you don’t know where to start, these, apparently are the 10 happiest songs ever!
What’s not to love?!
The true magic in these practices is that you are gradually rewiring your brain to look for happiness, so that it eventually becomes a more natural way of being for you and becomes a virtuous cycle that will enhance your life. I’d love to learn from you how to increase happiness, so please leave a comment on what works for you!