With so much emphasis these days on being a happy, positive, upbeat person have you ever stopped to really consider what that means?
Does it make you feel lacking in some way because you’re not almost constantly feeling happy or positive? Do you struggle with life’s ups and downs and see others as ‘happy’ but you’re not… you want to be happier than you are and therefore there might be something wrong with you?
There is an important difference between “Happy” and “Happier” – and Happiness is something else again. Most people say that they want to be happy, or happier than they already are, but most of the time they really mean that they want to find a deeper sense of “happiness”; and although the words are used interchangeably, they are different – and that difference is important when pursuing a deeper happiness on a daily basis.
In my work as a Positive Psychology life coach and Music & Sound therapist the people I work with are all looking to move away from problems or pain, an unhelpful belief or behaviour pattern, and they want to move towards or focus on being happier and having more vitality and wellbeing.
Often, they are searching for more meaning in their lives – personal or spiritual.
Aren’t most of us like that? Life is all about balance – and it’s good to understand the different types of happiness so we don’t waste our time pursuing a false goal! The two forms of happiness are known as Hedonic and Eudaimonic:-
Hedonic – Feeling good – “Happy” – Short/er term feelings of Happy
The momentary high
What makes life pleasant
High positive emotion +
High life satisfaction
More common view of Happiness.
Eudaimonic – Functioning well – “Happiness” – The deeper sense of Happiness
How you are at your best
Playing to strengths
Realising your potential
Engagement & Meaning in life
Beyond the self… serving a purpose
Meaning + Effort = fulfilment
“Experience of fulfilment which results from acting in accordance with one’s values (meaning)” (Osin & Boniwell, 2012)
Happiness, then, is more a longer term state of being rather than the momentary emotion of being happy. Happy is good! But happiness, that more deep seated sense of well being, is even better.
So if it’s happiness you’re after, how do you find it. Critically, how do we live a happier, more meaningful life? What can we do to keep us on the upward spiral of positive emotion, in spite of life’s natural ups and downs? Drawing on the tools that I use and share with other people, here are some ideas for you to consider:-
Positive Psychology – I came across positive psychology when I was very ill with M.E./CFS, and the simplest of practices – looking at What Went Well that day, and also keeping a daily Gratitude journal – helped me to hunt out the good stuff, when initially there didn’t seem to be anything good happening at all!
There has been extensive research into these two simple, yet powerful habits and it was found that if you did this for 10 days, the benefits stayed with you for weeks or even months to come.
Try It – Every day, write down three things that have gone well, and three Gratitudes, do this for 10 days, and let me know how you get on?
Meditation – So much is around at the moment about Mindfulness, and it certainly offers significant relief from the incessant unhappy, negative or worrying thoughts that our minds bombard us with. There are many variations, but following the breath – cool air on the inhalation and warmed air on the exhalation for example, is one way to achieve it.
During meditation you don’t have an empty mind, nor do you push away what’s there. But by gently and compassionately acknowledging the thoughts that naturally arise…”Oh yes, angry thoughts about John” or “Hmm, another list of things to do emerging now…” then come back to your breath. In this way we retrain our minds to disengage with thoughts and therefore be less influenced by them.
Try it: sit in an upright, comfortable position and bring your awareness to your breath, just noticing without changing it. Follow the “in breath”….and the “out breath”. When thoughts come, gently bring your focus back to the breath. Do this for three to five minutes and notice the difference. Sometimes our thoughts get noisier! That will pass…there are some good videos on YouTube that will help you on this too.
Laughter – A natural, free-of-charge mood booster! From watching something on TV or a film that makes you laugh, listening to a comedy radio show or maybe a YouTube video, to sharing fun with friends – we all know laughter is good for us, but as adults we don’t laugh nearly as often as children. From mood boosting to immune system strengthening, laughter also breaks down our ‘barriers’ that keep us feeling separate from other people. Did you know..? The body doesn’t know the difference between real and fake laughter – so you really can “fake it ’til you make it.”
Try it…Smile…with willingness, smile and allow that smile to come up into your eyes. This tells your body that a) you’re safe and b) it’s time to relax. Keep that going for a minimum of 15 seconds and it will shift your mood state, increase your endorphins (feel good chemicals) and smooth out a few worry lines! Better still, take a deep breath in, pause, then on the exhale quietly sound “ha ha ha ha ha” – this clears stale air from your lungs and is a simple Laughter yoga exercise that begins the shift from solemn to smiling and happier…Repeat…often! (Sounds crazy? Maybe, but it works!)
Chant and Mantra – this is a huge part of my life and I love it for various reasons! When we chant, there is no room for other thoughts: mentally we are concentrating on the sounds or words, and so our habitual mental patterns are silenced or significantly reduced. There is also the vibration of the sound produced which directly affects us physically and emotionally – calming the nervous system, improving breathing patterns and thus increasing oxygen levels, boosting the immune system, improving inner calm, peace and happiness by the increase in the ‘happy’ neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
Try it: we are all aware of the sound ‘Om’ (also spelt Aum, they are the same). This is a potent mantra that is said to hold all the sounds of the universe within it. But you do not need any belief system to benefit from this simple chant practice. It is a sound, and sound is vibration, which resonates throughout our body and mind.
You pronounce it Ahhh – Oooh – Mmmm. The Ahhh is a clearing and cleansing sound, expelling stale air from our lungs, it is an opening for the heart. Oooh resonates within the torso, calming and grounding, soothing, and finally the Mmmm is has what is called ‘bone conduction’ which means the sound and vibration are felt via the bones, which creates an inner massage for the body and all the organs, nervous system etc.
OR…Humming For Health is a simple alternative. Take a breath in and on the out breath gently hum for the full length of the exhalation. Stay with what’s comfortable, take the next breath when you need to. This humming stimulates the vestibular system, which balances you physically and mentally. It is also grounding, calming and flows to all parts of your nervous system.
Other ways of achieving happiness are also possible.
Be of Service – Volunteering, helping out a friend or neighbour, getting involved in a community event, to be of service to others has long been associated with a sense of meaning and happiness. Who can you help today? This week? And I love RAK – Random Acts of Kindness!
Learn Something New – We gain a great deal of satisfaction from learning a new skill, craft, or investigate a new subject. We go into “flow” where our mind is so focussed on what we are learning/doing that time passes swiftly and, again, it becomes a form of meditation as our habitual thoughts are forgotten. What have you had a hankering to learn about but not yet done? It’s Spring! The perfect time to at least take one step by doing some initial research. I’ve been attending drawing classes and, with the help of a great teacher, actually producing some pictures that look fine. Funnily enough, I’m not bothered by the end result, but love the immersion in concentration and flow…
“True Happiness Relates more to Mind & Heart”
So to sum up…Enjoy the good coffee, have fun at the concert, get the runner’s high – they are all good and fine and bring bright moments into our lives – but for a true, deeper sense of happiness ask yourself this question:-
“Does this (activity/person/job/situation…delete as appropriate) bring me greater happiness or greater pleasure?”
P.S. Wherever you are on the Spiral, each moment is a choice point…we can start to climb BACK UP THE SPIRAL by taking some small action…
Two books I find helpful and recommend are:-
Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression – Miriam Akhtar
Find Your Power – Chris Johnstone