We all want to feel happier, right?
If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for new “happiness hacks” to help you live a fabulously stress-free life.
However, I’ve found that the search for happiness is somewhat paradoxical; the less I chase after happiness, the more it seems to sneak up on me.
There was a time in my life where I desperately wanted to be happy. I would’ve given anything to just feel content – as opposed to constantly feeling stressed, burnt out, and totally overwhelmed. But the more I despaired about how much I wished things were different, the further away happiness seemed to be.
Then something changed.
I started thinking about happiness like a habit. I began trying to build up my happiness muscle in the same way I would any other muscle in my body.
I started by doing small, achievable activities (only trying to “lift” what I could actually manage), played around with their frequency over time (increasing my reps, baby), and tried out different exercises until I found the ones that worked for me.
And in the process of building this happiness muscle, I accidentally discovered three incredible ways to boost my happiness in an instant – no matter how I’m feeling.
Take a second to think about how often we live in our heads, either reliving the past or predicting the future. And how often we’re picturing negative experiences.
We do this so much, we barely even notice when our minds wander off into this alternative universe.
Even just this morning, I found myself ruminating about an argument I’d had with someone right before I set off for work. I was reliving all the things they’d said, all the things I wish I’d said, and worrying about what might happen when we next see each other (will they apologise first? If they don’t, should I? What should I say?).
The problem is, I was creating unhappiness for myself in that moment by living in my head. If I had been truly present, I’d see that it was a beautiful sunny day, I was eating a delicious breakfast, and I had a little spare time to people-watch (one of my all-time favourite activities).
The solution to come back to reality? Grounding myself in the present moment.
1. First, take a deep breath – in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
2. Close your eyes if possible, or simply lower your gaze.
3. Pay attention to the soles of your feet – notice any sensations there, and visualise roots emerging from your feet and grounding you into the earth.
4. Notice your breath in your belly (placing a hand on your belly helps). Notice how your breath rises and falls, without you having to do anything.
5. Turn your attention outwards. Notice where you are, and what’s happening around you right now.
Ever been guilty of saying “I can’t wait until […] then I’ll be happy”?
Yup, been there.
Us humans seem to be constantly projecting forwards, waiting for something to make us happy. So often, I’ve thought that if only I had X amount of money, or a loving relationship, or a certain job title, then I’d be happy.
The funny thing is, every time I’ve actually achieved any of these goals, I’ve asked myself, “oh, is that it?”. Most of the time our achievements don’t bring us the happiness we expect; so we simply assume our goal wasn’t big enough, and move the bar.
The flaw in this plan is that we can continue to move this metaphorical bar forever – and many of us do.
To put a halt to this, however, we can try asking ourselves, “what will life look like when I have this thing I’m working towards? How could I bring a taste of this into my life right now?”
Today, I was absolutely convinced that I would only feel happy today if the person I’d been arguing with apologised first. Then when I realised I was waiting for another person to make me happy (not a great plan), I started to shift my focus on to how I wanted to that apology to make me feel.
In this example, I was hoping to feel love, intimacy and connection. Okay, great. So instead of waiting for my apology, maybe I could reach out to a few close friends or family. Maybe I could do something I loved. Maybe I could practice a little self-love. The options were many.
1.Take a moment to think about what you’re expecting will make you happy. This could be money, a partner, a job, an event, a house, or something else.
2. Visualise your future in detail. What will life be like when you have this? Either meditate on this, or write it down.
3. What emotions or needs do you notice in there? Are you expecting you’ll experience love, freedom, respect, or anything else?
4. How could you experience more of this in your life right now? Get creative and brainstorm here.
5. How could you bring a little bit of what you want into your life now, and make it real? For example, if you want a new car, you could take one for a test drive. If you’re looking for your soulmate, you could hang out with your favourite couple (and ask them how they did it).
Gratitude is huge right now.
And it’s getting a great rep for a reason. Gratitude is the ultimate “happiness hack” – it’s an incredible shortcut to help you feel good about yourself, your life, and the people around you, as well as to put things into perspective.
Think about it; it’s almost impossible to feel grateful and crappy at the same time.
If I’m in a really terrible mood, and I start noting all the things I’m grateful for, all of a sudden everything doesn’t seem so bad. I remember how privileged I am to have all the things I do, and I start to feel silly for worrying so much.
Take this morning, when I’d been ruminating about the argument. Once I’d grounded myself in the moment and thought about what I wanted to feel, I started practicing gratitude for the person who I’d been arguing with, and for the argument itself.
I was grateful that the argument itself allowed me to finally express my frustration about something that had been bothering me (and gave the other person the opportunity to do the same). And despite our run-in, I was grateful for how this person had supported me, cared for me, and loved me over the years. This made it pretty impossible for me to hold on to my negative feelings.
1.Set a timer for 5 minutes and either settle down to meditate or grab a journal to write a list.
2. Start by saying, “I’m grateful for…”, and list as many things as you can think of that you’re grateful for, including people, possessions, and circumstances.
3. Move on to listing things you’re grateful for that will be coming in the future, phasing them in the present tense e.g. I’m so grateful for my new house.
4. Turn your gratitude towards negative or unpleasant events or people, and think about what good has or might come from them.
5. Add to this list as often as possible, and try to run through it in your head when you feel yourself slipping!
Over to you – have you tried any of these techniques before? Are there any others you recommend for boosting happiness? Share your tips in the comments below!