In the current pandemic that’s confining us to our homes, it’s hard not to feel anxious and worried. We’re all juggling a new normal. Add to that the 24/7 stream of bad news updates and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But the good news is that you can take proactive steps to feel happier. In fact, research shows that happiness may be modifiable and could actually help you stay well. Some research suggests stress can be bad for our immune system and that happy, positive people may suffer from less pain, be healthier and live longer. And in these tough times that’s more important than ever. So, here are six simple steps that you can take to improve your happiness.
These are the first steps you could take to try to improve your happiness, but they are not a substitute for professional care for people dealing with a mental health condition. If you have any concerns about your mental health you should make an appointment to discuss how you're feeling with your GP.
Six simple steps to improve your happiness
1. Gratitude. Counting your blessings is one of the strongest predictors of happiness. This can be easily achieved through keeping a gratitude journal. But don’t overdo it, once or twice a week is enough. Simply write down a few things that you are grateful for. This will remind you of the positive things in your life and draw focus away from the scary stuff.
2. Acts of kindness . People who volunteer or care for others are happier and less depressed and now more than ever that's what society needs. Caring can involve volunteering as part of an organised group or club, but it can be as simple as reaching out to another person and paying it forward.
3. Forgiveness. Holding on to feelings of resentment only serves to help us re-live those negative experiences which is detrimental to our wellbeing. The decision to forgive others releases us from this cycle. However, like anything else, it takes some work to become good at it.
4. Friendship. Nurture your relationships. Happy people devote a lot of time to their friends and family. In return, people who have close friends they can rely on in times of trouble are happier. One way to be a better friend is by showing a genuine interest in what others have to say and responding encouragingly. This is known as active constructive responding and is a powerful way to cultivate positive feelings and nurture your friendships.
5. Exercise. Regular exercise is linked with improved mental wellbeing and a lower incidence of depression. The highly regarded Cochrane Review, linked at the end of this article, analysed 23 studies on exercise and depression. One of the major conclusions was that exercise had a “large clinical impact" on depression. While the gyms are shut, simple things like taking a daily walk may help raise your mood.
6. Purpose and Flow. Happy people often show commitment to lifelong goals and ambitions. This could be committing to a hobby or past time, building a better world or career goals. This sense of purpose can lead to increased levels of happiness. In the same vein, if we are deeply involved in an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “Flow”. This is also known as being “in the zone”. Examples include when we are playing sports, teaching or playing an instrument. So perhaps now is the time to take up a new hobby, pick up the instrument gathering dust in the corner or get that job done in the house. Set yourself goals and fully immerse yourself in them.
Why not try these steps and see if they make a difference to your mood? There are links to further reading below.