Alongside the Be Happy book that I mentioned in an earlier blog, Robert Holden runs an eight week happiness course, designed to teach attendees to release and embrace the pure joy that we all possess. It has received a phenomenal amount of interest from psychologists and neuroscientists, who have witnessed and recorded the incredible results that have occurred from both his writings and the course itself. They note that by simply changing the psychology of your state of mind and by thinking in a different way, you can literally alter the chemistry of your brain. Which is a fantastic thing to know. By putting your mind to it, you can completely rewrite your attitude towards life and consequently increase your happiness and wellbeing.
'The more you are thankful, the more you attract things to be thankful for’ Anon.
The very act of expressing gratitude, or simply recognising a kindness that has been conveyed upon you, has the intrinsic power to automatically make you feel happy. As an individual, it is very heart-warming to know that one of the easiest ways to feel happy is by acknowledging kindness. That’s pretty amazing.
Gratitude, like satisfaction, is normally motivated by cause and effect. An event has happened for which you are grateful. But that’s awesome. You get the initial enjoyment of an act of kindness bestowed upon you by someone (let’s say a friend cooked you dinner). You had a great evening and ate like a king. As if that isn’t enough, you can now reap even more benefits than you had originally expected to receive, by expressing your sincere thanks and gratitude for such a fantastic evening. Not only have you relived the glory of the night’s entertainment by expressing your thanks, you have also made your friend feel incredibly appreciated for their kindness and made you feel even better for making them feel so good in the process. It’s like a repetitive loop of loving happiness.
Robert Holden’s Be Happy book has a whole chapter dedicated to gratitude and the positive effects it can have on your life. He then sets all his readers the task of composing a list of 100 gratitudes. As a rule, I don’t normally like to circumvent my reading to take part in potentially fruitless activities set by somebody who doesn’t really care whether I do it or not. But if his reasoning was anything to go by, and to be believed, then I would have been foolish to have refused to give it a go. I did do it and I have benefited greatly from the undertaking.
I gained so much from writing down my own 100 gratitudes and I implore you to write your own list. Give each gratitude that you note down as much meaning as possible, note down what it is and why you are grateful for it. For example, I am very grateful for meeting Luke because he introduced me to meditation, which has changed my life inconceivably.
Teaching yourself to be more grateful can have a huge impact on your overall happiness. Research has shown that gratitude helps us to experience more positive emotions and decrease the risk of depression. It helps you to feel better about yourself and it helps to improve your relationships with people around you. It even helps to strengthen your immune system. Recent research has also shown that it helps you to be far more sensible with how you spend your money. For such a simple act, there are so many potential positive outcomes, so it is almost foolish to not give it a go.
100 gratitudes aside, this next practice is for every time you notice that someone has knowingly performed an act of kindness for your benefit.
You may have recently attended a dinner party, or had someone give you a small gift. Whatever the reason, however minute, I want you to write them a letter that goes in the post, to thank them. Not an email or a text, a proper old school letter. You may have problems remembering how to write with an actual pen but as soon as you’ve mastered it again, scribe your appreciation to whoever it is that has made you feel special.
I cannot stress how wonderful it always is to receive a personal, hand written letter in the post, just for you. I hosted a dinner party the other day and someone wrote to thank me for the evening’s food and entertainment. Although I have got into the habit of doing it, myself, I am still so heartened every time I receive one, so I know that everyone who gets a thank you letter from me must also feel equally joyful. It’s such a small thing but I promise that you will feel so much better for the act of writing a letter. Side note: your addressee may not express their appreciation to you for the letter itself, but I promise that it will be heartily received.
Like gratitude but without the cause and effect aspect are compliments. Giving a compliment is another way to make yourself, and potentially a complete stranger, too, feel great. When you meet or pass someone and you like something about them, tell them so. You might like their shoes, or their hair, the way they look, or their cheerful expression, whatever it is, tell them and I can guarantee it will make them feel happy and you too. They might be having a bad day, so what better way to help pick them up.
Similarly, you might also be having a bad day but by making someone else feel worthy and happy, you will be doing the same to yourself. Having a positive attitude will make you a happier person. Getting into the habit of being consciously receptive to and noticing positive things will also help you to maintain perspective when you are having a bad day. If you’re always keeping an eye out for the good in the world, you’ll see it even when the rubbish stuff happens. Giving random compliments can help change your life and maybe someone else’s, too.
Happiness is an equable footing that has the power to completely alter your perspective on life. As such an esteemed life force, you’d think there would be some long standing scientific data to back up happiness, wouldn’t you? Just such an experiment was set up in 1938, known as the ‘Harvard Grant Study’, chronologically collecting the data of 268 then Harvard students, over seventy-five years. George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, wrote a book on the findings, setting out a number of notable habits that lead to a happy, meaningful life.
It may seem obvious, but love, which has already been discussed in a previous blog, is the optimal catalyst for reaching true happiness. A person who has a successful career, lots of money and great physical health, cannot be happy without a supportive, loving relationship. I’m not talking solely about romantic love, I’m talking about deep love for your friends, family, for your animals, and most importantly, yourself. ‘Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse’
The age-old cliché that stipulates money can’t buy you happiness could not have been more true to its word when the results of the experiment came in. A powerful, influential, well-paid job may be a spectacular achievement but it diminishes in importance on the happiness scale when viewed in the context of a full life. In terms of achievement, the only thing that really seemed to matter was whether or not you are content with your work. If you’re not content, you’re sure as hell not going to be happy, regardless of the status of your job.
Irrespective of your prospects at the start of life and how well or badly you are expected to perform, only you can have the final say on how you end up. It is up to you to search for and believe that you will be happy.
Joy is related to connection with others and the more areas of your life in which you can find connection, the better. The study found that people who had strong relationships with their contemporaries and friends were happier. It also found that people who connected with their work and had a passion for it, who didn’t do it purely for the money, were conclusively far happier than those who were salary-driven alone or had no real interest in their role. Social ties and connections also proved to be a fundamental aspect in reducing stress, improving overall wellbeing and leading a longer life.
As I’ve mentioned before, setting yourself goals and then achieving them is the fundamental basis for leading a happy, enriched life. It’s getting perspective from the challenges you set yourself that can make you a happier person. ‘The journey from immaturity to maturity’, says Vaillant, ‘is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection, and a big part of this shift has to do with the way we deal with challenges’.
All in all, happiness is good for your health and vice versa. A compelling amount of evidence has shown that happy people are far more more likely to live longer, healthier lives than their pessimistic peers. Rates of mortality are far higher in anxious, depressed, or simply negative people. The happier you are, the more likely you are to engage in life enhancing activities that will potentially lengthen your life span. Taking care of your physical wellbeing is the number one way to lead a happy life and in turn, a healthy one.
In the same way as with love for others and love for yourself are linked, happiness and altruism are intrinsically linked. Doing good is therefore an essential ingredient to being happy, spurring you on to do more good. How we spend whatever money we make is far more important than the actual amount we earn. Giving to others releases oxytocin, as mentioned in an earlier blog, activating the parts of the brain related to compassion, love and happiness. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness (over spending the money on yourself) which consequently makes you feel good about yourself and will lead to more altruism, creating a positive feedback loop of giving and happiness. Just think about it – buying the perfect present for someone is often way more enjoyable than getting something for yourself.
The simplicity of it is to just be happy. You don’t need drink or drugs for this – just fundamentally decide that you are happy. Smile, laugh and be happy. Make the conscious decision to be happy. Our lives are so busy and stressful that we forget to just be happy. There is no magic pill that helps you achieve this, you just have to reach the place in your mind where happiness is a constant. Find it and then bring it to life.
The Mindful Baker's Tips
Ten things you need to take up if you want to be happy:
Replacing bad thoughts with good thoughts
Challenging yourself (set goals and achieve them)
Forming close connections with friends, loved ones and bonding with animals
Giving yourself purpose and meaning
Intense physical exercise (or sex)
Meditation on your personal depiction of joy
Graciousness and gratitude (and writing letters)
Believing in your happiness
Ten things you need to give up if you want to be happy:
Dwelling on the past or the sadness of others
Worrying about the future
The need to impress and envy
The need to always be right
Resistance to change
The need for others’ approval (see self-love)
Happiness fuels success, not the other way round. Work out what it is that makes you happy. What are your purposes for reaching this happy place? What are the obstacles to these purposes? Once you can mindfully overcome the obstacles, there will be no more barriers between you and happiness.
Good luck guys!
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