Think a new house or a better body will make you truly happy? Think again, says Tracy Branfield
It’s been a long Monday and you’ve been waiting in the queue to pay for your groceries for ages. The cashier asks how you are in greeting, to which you respond with a curt ‘Fine’ – but you’re not really fine at all. On your way home, you ignore the guy at the traffic lights trying to sell you The Big Issue. He still has a huge pile of magazines to move, yet his smile seems genuine and infectious…
It’s moments like these that make us realise fortune, success and material possessions don’t guarantee real happiness. Sure, you’ll look better crying in your shiny Ferrari, but we’d all much rather have the keys to a happy and fulfilled life. Here’s how to get them.
As Warren Munitz, founder of Integrative Life Coaching and a life coach himself, explains, ‘Happiness is a completely subjective experience and differs according to each individual.’ He adds, ‘Truly happy people have a balanced perspective, meaning the conscious and the unconscious mind are in harmony with one another.’
In order to create this balance, Warren suggests expanding your self-awareness. ‘By connecting with your deeper self, you find a sense of purpose, which is what makes people feel fulfilled.’
There are various ways to tap into self-awareness, from doing activities you enjoy, to practising meditation or seeing a therapist or life coach for guidance. And, the better you know yourself, the happier you will be. Happiness is not something you achieve by earning a higher salary or finding your ideal partner; rather it is the acceptance of your true self.
‘Everything in life is a projection of your unconscious thoughts,’ explains Warren. ‘When we resist something, it is usually because we are denying an aspect that is reflected in ourselves.’ This usually ends with us projecting negative feelings on to others, without even being aware that we’re doing it. For this reason, self-reflection – when a person is able to step out of their situation and objectively recognise an insecurity or an uncomfortable feeling they have – is an important part of happiness.
‘We use our senses to interact with the outside world – and our feelings to connect with our inner world. Our emotions are the eyes into our unconscious,’ says Warren. ‘Most people are unhappy simply because they are trying to escape their feelings. But, by looking into ourselves, we are able to recognise our feelings’, including the negative ones, ‘and accept them.’
Alter your attitude
‘If you want enduring satisfaction, you have to approach life with a mindset that allows you to walk on the bright side, no matter what is thrown at you,’ says Dan Baker, co-author of What Happy People Know.
You need to learn to select your thoughts the way you select your clothes in the morning. Try looking at difficult situations and painful experiences as opportunities for learning and growth, trusting that something good will eventually emerge from them. Learning to see things differently will help you to react differently.
Count your blessings
Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving – the more grateful we are for what we have, the more good we will find in our lives. Make a daily mental list of three things or people for which you are grateful. This will slowly retrain your brain to focus on the present and the positive. By telling the people on your list how blessed you are to have them in your life, you will also make them happy.
Give and receive love
Our relationships play a huge role in how happy we are because they provide us with a comforting sense of belonging. ‘Spending time with loved ones strengthens the human connections that silence those self-defeating thoughts and improve your mood,’ says David Niven, PhD, author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People.
Examine the connections you really value and ask yourself how you can be a better friend to your partner, children, family, friends and colleagues. Love and happiness go hand in hand, so love as much as you can and accept love in return.
Embrace the here and now
Everything that has happened in your past has led you to become exactly who you are today. Your family history, your education, your experiences, your choices – these things belong to you and cannot be taken away from you.
Truly, deeply happy people like who they are, take responsibility for where they are in life and are able to enjoy the situation in which they currently find themselves. This means letting go of grudges from the past and forgiving those who may have wronged you. This inner peace will generate even more energy to spend on savouring life’s little joys.
Don’t worry, be happy
• Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, which are feel-good hormones. Even just 10 minutes of exercise a day will lift your spirits.
• Boost your serotonin even further by being kind. Selflessly helping someone is one of the easiest ways to feel good inside.
• If you’re feeling down, force yourself to put a big smile on your face. Just by grinning, you can shift your mental state. Besides, smiling people are always more attractive.