It is a pleasure to share psychotherapist, counsellor and author of Finding A Balanced Connection, John-Paul Davies’ tips for a happier life. I’ll be bookmarking this post and reminding myself of his wisdom every single day. An unmissable post on how to achieve a happy life. Thanks John-Paul!
Attention on the good and gratitude
Because your brain just isn’t naturally going to turn any happy experiences into pathways you can go back to, you need to do that yourself whenever you can, by deliberately remembering them. Spend even a small amount of time pondering the good times, the funny moments, the laugh-out-loud situations.
A ‘gratitude practice’ is also helpful and it’s nothing heavy! Just think of three things each day that you’re grateful for. Some people like to write them down in a journal, others like to just think about them maybe before they fall asleep or while they’re having their morning shower. Don’t forget to include aspects of your body in this – as it’s also a great way to improve your body image and self-esteem.
Knowing and valuing who you are, what you’re good at and what you want, need and enjoy
You need to know who you are; it’s probably not a question many of us often ask. Try to base the answer on achievements and what you’re good at rather than past problems or your perceived ‘flaws’. Take stock of how far you’ve come in life and the skills/qualities/competencies you already possess to be proud of and value. For (internal) happiness, you need easy access in your own mind to what you’re good at, what you like about yourself and what you want, need and enjoy.
Once you’re aware of the above, then make sure you do more of what makes you happy and what you’re good at. This will also help give you the meaning and purpose in life that’s key to happiness. Maybe even add a couple of recurring diary entries for them today.
Work on maintaining good relationships with other people as you’re naturally going to feel happier around people you like. Think about who’s currently in your life and why. Do you most often feel happy around these people? Remember that if there are people in your life you consistently struggle with, you no longer have to consent to it.
Also, try to notice any tendency to compete all the time with others. Some competition is motivating, but always competing with people is always being psychologically disconnected from them as a potential source of long-term happiness. And in terms of comparisons, try your best to only compare yourself to you in the past, rather than to others.
Know how to both calm both yourself and what helps you feel alive. Then balance the two
Deep breathing, sleep, spending time outdoors, mindfulness and meditation will all help to introduce and sustain the balance between calmness and aliveness that can characterise a state of happiness. Yoga, light jogging, laughter, massage and singing, similarly. These can also all help to connect mind, body, feelings and behaviour which again is key. Make sure some of these are part of your daily/weekly routine.
Specifically in terms of keeping calm, next time you’re stressed, whether that’s waiting in a queue or when your child isn’t getting ready quickly enough, use these moments as opportunities to focus on slowing your breath, particularly the exhale, and see if you can calm your body. If you’re in the habit of doing this, it’ll be easier to keep cool at times when reacting could lead to days of unhappiness.
Balance pleasure and peace
Hold in mind that as great as the ‘fun’ stuff in life is, other than a temporary high, you’ll always want more. Make sure you try to balance fun, pleasure and entertainment with silence, relaxation and peace: again, the calmness and aliveness mentioned in tip number four.
Keep an eye on social media use and the media you consume. Although they’re great ways of connecting/having fun and therefore maintaining happiness, they can also feed the comparisons, anger and fear that lead to unhappiness. Try to notice what’s happening from a feeling/body point of view when you watch that film, check Instagram or even read the news. Balance these more passive behaviours with inward focus and awareness and with behaviours that involve movement, action and active interaction with others.
Use your imagination
Because you live through your imagination, you can maintain your happiness with it. You can do this in a structured way such as putting together a vision board or through less structured means like spending some time picturing your ideal day. Exercises such as imagining the person you love most, as well as a particular moment that you felt really confident in life are also good to have easily to hand as sources of happiness in your mind/imagination.
Helping and taking care of other people and animals, as long as it’s not to the detriment of your own self-care, is a great way to maintain happiness. In neuroscientific terms, caring for others activates your happiness in the same way that being cared for does. And the other person feels good too – it’s a win–win.
Often, the way in which you communicate with others was set up years ago and now happens below the radar. Be really conscious of what you’re saying to others and how you say it. Try to avoid criticising and complaining too often. Happy relationships are ones that are, more often than not, loving, so ask yourself how you communicate love in relationships. Think in terms of kindness, patience, boundaries, gratitude and forgiveness. And remember, it’s also your body language and your tone that communicate whether or not you really love someone. So maybe put down your phone and give your full attention to them when you’re speaking.
Make you sure that, wherever possible, you respond rather than react
Anger is often the emotion that disconnects you from yourself and others and therefore from happiness. If you get angry or frightened (and it’s usually fear or pain beneath anger), give yourself some space to look at what’s going on inside you before you react. Try to ‘drop inside’ and choose whether or not to respond, rather than reacting. Relationships are a long game, so avoid any short-term need to ‘win’.
Always be kind to yourself
If you want to be consistently happy, no one should treat you better than you do.
John’s book Finding a Balanced Connection, is out now. Buy it here.
If you enjoyed this, you might like my tips on beating the imposter syndrome.