>> 18 January 2010
Have you given up smoking/eating cookies/gobbling ice cream/complaining yet?
Have you started exercising/eating healthier/being grateful for the small things/do one good deed a day?
Well, then this post if for you. Here are 15 easy ways to become a happier you without the strain of having to stick to objectives...
- Do one thing at a time
We live in a fast-paced world. But some people, like Tal Ben Shahar, professor of positive psychology at Harvard, can be heard saying 'Stop multitasking!'
Why? The fact of being constantly interrupted - especially at work - is psycho-toxic! The level of anxiety rises and the tendency for frustration also.
So what to do if you have obviously too many things to deal with at the same time?
You start with the most simple things: like switching off your phone for 2 hours a day, concentrating 4 hours in a row, consulting your emails only at certain times in a day and not every 5 minutes...
Happiness is also chemical. According to Tal Ben Shahar, sports is as good as any anti depressant because it stimulates the secretion of dopamine, a carburator with effects similar to cocaine - the same substance one produces when being in love. The minimum rythm necessary: 3 times a week.
'To not move is depressing for certain' says the master of happiness.
- Forgive instead of get even
Happy with your loved ones? Yes, if you decide to forgive and move on instead of insisting on getting even. Instead of blaming everything on your parents, become a spectator of your own family, like in a theater, and develop some humor and compassion.
Your mother has had her share of suffering, your dad has done what he could. In short, do not remain fixated on your infantile, hardheaded principles.
- Hugs, hugs, hugs
According to neurobiologist Jean-Didier Vincent, touch starts a major secretion of oxytocin, the hormone of love and well being. How? As soon as you touch it, the body shivers and informs the brain of its well being via the sensitive nerves. 'With the great apes,' says the neurobiologist 'we call this grooming. Whether its hugs, or grooming touches, even animals know how to get their social well being.'
- Find your mantra
This positive phrase, this affirmation, repeated again and again like a Leitmotiv, is a message, an injunction, sent to the brain.
Buddhists call them 'auto-compassionate mantras': they protect us from our own monkey brain ruminating negative thoughts.
'I am beautiful' - 'I am successful' - 'I am an artist' - 'I am loved'
Such affirmations support your self esteem and also eliminate comparative thoughts such as 'he is better than me' - 'why does this work for her and not for me?'.
It's a psychic force. Try it - repeat often. Stick it on your bathroom mirror.
- Stay objective
Do you know the theory of the 'flat tire'? It means that in the face of a little mishap in life, you stay with what is real - without amplifying the problem like: 'I am crap' - 'These things only happen to me' - 'I wont' make it'. In fact, the flat tire is in itself not a big problem... but become huge if you add a psycho toxic reflection to it.
How do you get the upper hand on this again? According to psychiatrist Christophe André, nothing is better than meditation. Close your eyes and domesticate your brain to remain present, here, now. Even if your monkey brain has the tendency to run off and anticipate, you have to catch it.
How? Sit down in a quiet place, close your eyes, breathe deeply. Slowly, the negative thoughts appear and you let them go. Create a distance to them instead of letting yourself be carried away by them. A daily meditation of 10 to 15 minutes if sufficient. Meditation teaches us to identify our little problems and our habit to amplify them.
Result: people who meditate activate their left prefrontal cortex more, the region of the brain associated with optimism, happiness and well being. Simultaneously, they reduce the left prefrontal cortex, associated with pessimism, depression and doubt.
The more you let yourself dream, the better a picture of your existence you get. You take a step back, you look at the forest, not the tree. 'It is contrary to our autopilot that makes us unhappy' underlines psychiatrists Christophe André. If these instances of inactivity are precious, it is because they allow us to link up with ourselves. We go from the 'doing' mode to the 'being' mode. And that does a hell of good. By 'muscling' our 'being' we become stronger in the face of stress with the result that we are happier on a daily basis.
- Search for smells of the past
Since Proust and the little madeleine, we know the emotional power of smells. Falling back, even for a little moment, into the security of childhood is source of joy. So go and by Parfumaster, a game where you have to identify scents. Not only fun for the kids. You will be able to tap into your olfactory hard disk.
- Eat shrimp
Not the one's you usually buy, but KRILL. This mini-shrimp which the whales eat loads of is full of omega 3 fatty acids but also phospholipids and antioxidants (killing free radicals). What is the link on our mood? A study done at McGill university in Montreal as demonstrated the krill oil has a beneficiary effect on emotional and psychological symptoms. No need to go shrimp fishing, you can find krill oil in tablet form.
It may be nothing, but when you smile, you spread positive waves around you...that come back like a boomerang at some point or other.
The effects of smiling are explained by an interpersonal effect (the social benefits that come back to us) and an intrapersonal (you smile to yourself and does you good). An American study has proven the importance of smiling in the resolution of grief. Women who had lost their partner but who spoke to friends about happy past moments with a smile, were able to put their grief behind them much faster than those who spoke about such moments with a sad face.
source: facial expressions of emotion and the course of conjugal bereavement, journal of abnormal psychology 1997
- Welcome sadness
Paradoxically sadness is not the contrary of happiness...sadness even fully participates in happiness. According to Christophe André, happiness is a mix of 'states of mind' (3/4 positive, 1/4 negative). As such, a sunset can be enjoyed fully if you associate with it the notions of finitude, of death. The problem is to welcome it without ceding to depression. One thing is sure thought: if we push those little 'gray' moments away, they will come back to haunt us.
- Invent an evening ritual (like the kids)
These rituals become chambers of decrompression that allow a better passage from one place to another, or even one emotional state to another allow us to better evacuate the negative points of the day. Choose one, invent one: go for a walk before bedtime, take a relaxing bath, light candles, ... For more ideas check out the book Five Good Minutes in the Evening.
- Accept happiness
...but without chasing it. Don't become a 'euphoria maniac'. The very contemporary injunction to be happy and live life to the fullest is one of the principal enemies of happiness. 'One starts to see it as an obligation and that brings even more suffering when you can't get there.' says writer Pascal Bruckner. So welcome and accept happiness, but don't chase it.
- Cultivate your networks (the real ones)
Facebook and Twitter have nothing to do with these networks. These are 'real' people. Those you meet physically. Seeing your friends does you good - that's not a scoop. But a recent study shows that when our friends are happy, so are we. The researchers calculated that a friend of a happy person living less than 1 km away has a 25% chance to become happy - the next door neighbor has even a 34% chance. The closer the friend lives, the stronger the contagion.
source: british medical journal, 2008
- Be proud to be good
In the book 'A la poursuite du bonheur', by Stéphane Osmont, neuro psychiatrist David Servan Schreiber affirms that the most happy people are teachers, psychologists, fire fighters... basically those who live a relation of helping others. Being good is not a Christian virtue: it helps to develop a pacifying sentiment, for the good reason that it awakes the sensation of 'connection with others', sine qua non condition to being happy.