10 Keys to Happier Living, By Vanessa King
Posted by Nicola Elliott
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” The Dalai Lama, Patron of Action for Happiness. "That says it all – you, yes you, have the ability to increase your happiness." Says Vanessa King, Positive Psychology Expert for Action for Happiness and Author of our 10 Keys to Happier Living book.
1. Live Kind
Has anyone ever made your day with a truly selfless act of kindness? Did you ever forget it? That, right there, is the power of helping others: it builds connection, lights us up, fills us with hope, and also encourages us to pay that kindness forward. This virtuous cycle means that happier people give more, and giving to others makes us happier. Truly win win! TIP: Be specific in your acts of giving, and make sure that your choices are always aligned with your values and the needs of others. Things that don’t take up unfeasible amounts of time are often enough e.g. one or five minute favours, such as stopping to give a stranger directions, offering a quick helping hand, to ensure that you can give freely and autonomously – without depleting yourself in the process.
2. Connect More
“For happiness, remember… other people matter.” Our relationships are an essential ingredient to our own happiness – so it pays to nurture them. Science has also shown that it’s not the number of relationships but the quality of them that counts the most – and that every second counts: don’t dismiss those brief interactions with friends or colleagues as unimportant. Every single interaction adds up to the sum of your relationship. Make them count. TIP: Connecting with people with attention and interest (yes – put away that phone please) is what authentic connection is about. It signals we care about and respect the other person. And the more tuned in we are to others, the calmer and friendlier we are likely to become… which leads to yet more positive moments of social connection (and big psychological benefits!).
3. Move more
Looking after your body looks after your mind – fact. And that’s precisely why you should exercise – NOT because you want to look a certain way or lose weight. By focusing on enjoyment as you swim, cycle, dance or play a team sport, and how great it feels afterwards, your brain benefits, and it boosts self-esteem. Don’t sit down for too long either! So – let happiness and good health be your fitspiration.
4. Be Mindful
Where is your mind right now? Worrying about something you’ve just done or about to do. Planning what’s next? Our minds wander about half the time and when it does we are less likely to be happy. Practising being more in the here and now can have a powerful impact on how happy you are. Try it now! Pause breath notice how your feet feel on the ground or your bottom on the chair. Notice the sounds around you. What’s the furthest sound you can hear? This a brilliant coping strategy for when things are getting on top of us. And the more you practice the happier you are likely to feel overtime.
5. Love Learning
Our brains are malleable and can be remoulded – a bit like plasticine. Neuroplasticity is a whole new discovery of neuroscience, which is disproving that old adage: ‘you can’t teach a dog new tricks.’ The scientific truth is that you absolutely can – and that you should – because learning new skills, having new life experiences, embracing playfulness, and continuing to develop our curiosity and creativity, will literally help your brain to grow into a happier one for life.
6. Set Goals
Goals are the stepping stones from where we are today and what we hope to achieve in the future. They also give us a sense of purpose and direction. But there’s a big difference between those pressurised targets at work, and the freely chosen, values-driven goals you want to realise as part of your future. Planning is a commitment to our future happiness – and even the smallest steps towards that investment really will pay off. You don’t have to sprint to the finishing line every time! TIP: Always start with the specifics – want to be fit enough to run a marathon? Reframe ‘I want to run a marathon’, into, ‘I’m going to run for 30 minutes, three times a week.’ Start with what’s achievable, share your goal with friends (research shows that social support plays a big part in sticking to our goals), and identify your obstacles (the Ifs) with a solution (then..) e.g. if it’s pouring with rain I won’t run, but I’ll do 30 minutes of yoga inside instead.
7. Bounce Back
Life won’t always go to plan and tough times are inevitable – but how we cope with them can determine our healthy and happy we go on to be. Prevention is better than cure: by looking after our wellbeing all the time, we can then deal with the tough stuff as and when it happens with a more positive mindset, and recover more quickly. We can also hugely reduce our stress levels in the first place by reducing how readily our own negative emotions are triggered. TIP: There’s a simple action to practice – When you feel your emotions rising. PAUSE before you react and do a quick check of the facts. Look at the situation objectively rather than jumping to conclusions, then you’ll have more choice over how to react appropriately and constructively.
8. Practice Positivity
Feeling good does us good. ,But the tricky news first: humans have a natural negativity bias (damn). We’re also programmed to feel negative emotions more strongly than positive ones (yep). Our natural negativity bias means we tend to overlook the many good things that happen in our day. The good news? We can train our brain to get better at focusing on and savouring the good and positive things in our day, even if these are small shift our bias more towards happiness and positivity. This ‘attitude of gratitude’ can literally be life-changing. Tip: Train your brain by spending a few moments daily reflecting what you’ve enjoyed and are gratefully for that day.
9. Self Love
How you accept and treat yourself is central to your wellbeing. If you’re always criticising yourself and focusing on the things you can’t do, you could be seriously depleting your happiness, and mental health, in the process. So – enough is enough – it’s time to see the person in the mirror as who they truly are: a best friend, a soul mate, and worthy of love, comfort, kindness, in every way.
TIP: We’re all brilliant in myriad different ways – and by identifying your own personal strengths and making your talents central to the way you live your life, you will benefit in your own wellbeing and happiness. And if you mess up along the way, help yourself as you would a good friend.
10. Find Meaning and PurposeLots of things can contribute to having a sense of meaning and purpose – our relationships, work, creativity or faith. But meaning isn’t necessarily something that comes automatically to us – we may have to actively seek it. One of the best ways to find ‘meaning and purpose’ in your life is through contributing something that’s for others – bigger and beyond yourself. Identifying several sources and making sure we nurture these can lead to a sense of fulfilment and help us when times are tough. It helps us to identify our goals and prioritise too.