Eight steps to happiness
May 06, 2014
Write your own eulogy
When writing a eulogy, imagine you’ve lived your life, and are now at your own funeral. You’re listening to what people are saying – the dreams, the aspirations, the things that meant a lot to you. Perhaps it includes the things that you didn’t get to do, or key opportunities that were lost. What would they say? Now, identify two or three little things that you can do to help move you forward towards creating purposeful, positive change. For some people these might be really small things, such as coming home from work early, or doing more – or even less – around the house. Whatever those action steps are, write them down and do them!
Practice random acts of kindness
We can all experience the benefits of altruism simply by committing random acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness have been scientifically shown to increase happiness and well being. Some simple ways to practice random acts of kindness include letting someone in front of you in the traffic or in a queue, opening the door for someone and saying something nice to everyone you meet today.
In this consumer-based century we’re enticed to want more, buy more, use more, consume more. We are time-poor and worry increasingly about the future. Our heads become so full of this chatter that we fail to notice or simply take for granted the good things in the here and now. To be more mindful, try:
Connection: Connecting with the present, engaging fully through all five senses.
Defusion: Letting thoughts come and go without getting caught up with them.
Expansion: Allowing emotions to freely flow through you without a struggle, whether they are pleasant or painful.
Find your strengths and solutions
Focus on what is good and what works. The simple idea underpinning this is that “what you focus on grows”. If we focus on fear, threat or danger, that is what our minds become attuned to spotting. In much the same way, if we train ourselves to focus on strengths, we can reorient our minds to the positive. Being able to focus on strengths and solutions brings flexibility.
When we take the time to feel grateful, to appreciate things and to express that feeling of appreciation in some way, life seems to be better. Appreciating something involves taking the time to notice it and then acknowledging its value and meaning, as well as feeling a positive emotional connection to it.
Learn to forgive
You might think it impossible to forgive deep-seated hurts and insults, yet the remarkable thing is that people do, and when they do their physical and mental health is the better for it. You can do this by following a simple set of guidelines:
Recall the hurt: Recall it fully, but as you do so begin to think about different aspects of the story. If it is really traumatic, do this in the company of a friend or a therapist.
Empathize with the person: Have compassion for the offender. As you think about the wrong that person did to you, try to understand what their motive might have been. Can you begin to contemplate the notion of taking some of the responsibility for what happened? Even if you can’t, at the very least you can recognize that, however awful the offence, humans are all fallible. So although you don’t condone what they did, you have compassion for them.
Altruistic gift of forgiveness: For you to achieve the benefit from this act of forgiveness, it must be the real thing. This is not as a bargaining tool merely to get rid of bad feelings. As we let go we are no longer the hostile, embittered victim. The story has changed.
Commit yourself to forgiving publicly: Sharing your forgiveness makes it more “real”, and harder to step away from. One powerful way to do this is to write a letter to the offender.
Hold on: If the old feelings return, use these techniques to deal with them and to let go again.
Create social networks
Fundamentally, we are social animals. Many people go to great lengths not to be alone. But being physically alone in itself is not unhealthy. The problem is not being alone. It’s loneliness. Loneliness is the experience of being socially isolated. Social contact is not the same as social connectedness – you can be lonely in a crowd.
Useful tools for building connections include being proactive – if you meet someone you like, don’t be inhibited by fear of rejection. Invite them for coffee. Also be a good listener, keep in touch and treat your friends how you like to be treated.
Reflect, review, renew
There comes a point in every journey when it’s time to stop, pause, take stock and appreciate our progress. By taking the time to reflect, our motivation and enthusiasm is renewed. We deepen our learning. Re-energized, we can make new choices about how to move forward. This is an edited extract from Eight Steps To Happiness Dr Anthony Grant and Alison Leigh (Victory Books)