March 20 was the second annual International Day of Happiness. It was started by the United Nations to promote the idea that happiness improves not only our mood, but our overall physical and mental health too. It has even been linked to economic prosperity!
We could all stand to be a little better in this department. To worry less and focus more on the good things in our lives. To be grateful. To be...happy.
So, be happier. Done? Good.
While it might not be that simple, there are countless blogs, self-help books, and self-help gurus devoted to this endeavour. It’s a thriving industry, so many of us are obviously trying to do it. Here are seven of the leading ideas to live a better, happier life.
Get a Pet
The latest research suggests that the love, support, and affection provided by a pet (maybe not a goldfish…) is equal in many ways to that provided by parents and siblings. Coming home to a dog waiting patiently at the door for your return can’t help but bring a smile to anyone’s face.
While something cute and furry is preferable (dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchilla, etc.), you can still get many of the benefits from reptiles, too. The key seems to be having something that you can hold, and pet, and ideally take outside for a walk (added bonus for you).
Nurture Happy Relationships
We tend to delude ourselves when it comes to bad relationships, thinking that it’s better than no relationship at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Toxic relationships - whether our partner or friends - can and do affect our overall health. Increased risk of depression, higher blood pressure, and a general feeling of despair are not uncommon.
If you’re in a bad relationship, get out. No marriage is better than a bad one. If you have toxic, negative people in your life, cut them loose. Surround yourself with positive people. The kind of people you want to be around.
Volunteering is a natural wonder drug. It has too many positive benefits to mention, but some of the obvious ones include:
- Helping your community and those less fortunate than you.
- Opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, all of whom are also volunteering and trying to make a difference (remember what we said about positive relationships).
- Studies show that volunteering increases self-confidence, improves social skills, combats depression, and connects you to people in a meaningful way.
- Gets you out of the house (good) and physically active (also good).
- The Happiness Effect - the London School of Economics conducted a study that found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, and the happier they were, the more successful there were at work, which lead to increased earnings. Win-win-win-win.
- Teaches you new skills
- And on and on and on…
If you do only one thing from this list, make it volunteering. The return on investment is unreal. Simply Google “volunteer opportunities” (or words to that effect) and your city or town name to find plenty of great opportunities.
Be Thankful. Say “Thanks” and Mean It.
We’ve been hearing about the benefits of gratitude for some time now. But it does seem to be true for everyone. Focusing on the good things in your life will obviously improve your satisfaction and mood. Many people have started keeping a “Gratitude Journal”, where they write down everything they are thankful for over the course of the day. Once you get in the habit, it gives you laser-like precision for seeing everything that went well that day, whereas humans tend to focus only on the negative. Found the perfect parking spot in front of your office? Be thankful and jot it down. Discovered a great new cafe with a fantastic outdoors terrace? Be thankful and write it down. Boss was impressed with your presentation. Be thankful and write it down. Then, take five minutes at the end of the day and review all the good things that happened to you, lean back, and smile.
Also remember to say “thank you” and mean it. A simple, sincere “thanks” can brighten anyone’s day, and we often forget that (even though we are good people).
Get Your Sweat On
Much has been written on exercise and its positive effect on us. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, any exercise does us good. If it’s not part of your routine, make it so. Join a gym. Start doing yoga. Play a sport. Walk the dog (see how these all connect?). Get an app for your phone or tablet. Even a little is better than nothing.
Forgive and Move On
File this one under “easier said than done”. But it is crucial to your mental health and happiness. We all cling to anger and hurt in our lives. We need to forgive (but not necessarily forget) and move on. And there is a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Both might be possible, but are not necessary. If someone has hurt or betrayed you, they may be a toxic presence in your life, in which case you should break that bond. You do not reconcile with them, but you must forgive them. Otherwise, the hurt and anger consume you from the inside. It grows and festers, and affects all your future relationships.
When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge. You don’t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep [you] ensnarled… ~Buddha
Find Meaning in Life that Reflects Your Authentic Self
This last one is hard as it requires identifying your authentic self, and not the masks and roles we play for others. Find what makes you happy - really happy - and do that. Identify your core beliefs and values, and never ignore them. Find at least one thing that fulfills you (may I suggest volunteering?) and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.
The Dalai Lama says the purpose of our lives is to be happy. Are you doing everything you can to be happy? Your comments below please…