8 ways to take control of your own happiness and mental health
20 July 2016
Gratitude, self compassion and kindness…All the things that help to make us truly happy.
Our newest contributor at GDG – Wellbeing Specialist Katie Dodsworth, spends her days helping to make people truly happy. Awesome credentials and someone who really knows her stuff.
So here are 8 ways to make yourself truly happy from Katie.
Acceptance, gratitude and appreciation
The grass is not always greener on the other side! Don’t waste energy and the opportunity for your own happiness focusing on what you don’t have or comparing yourself negatively to others. Practice acceptance of what you do or don’t have, be grateful and show appreciation for the good things and people in your life.
Three good things exercise:
Train your mind to focus on the positive things in your life. At the end of the day, write down three good things which you did or which happened to you that day. Read your list from the day before every morning. It might feel a bit strange to start with, but over time you will start to be more tuned in to the good things in your life.
This activity usually runs from 1st Jan to 31st Dec, but you can start it whenever. When you feel particularly happy or grateful for something, write it down and post it into a sealed box. On New Year’s Eve you open the box and read all the notes to remind yourself of the great experiences you’ve had that year.
You can do this for yourself or with your partner, family or flat-mates. Think about the common themes across your happiness notes and set yourself some new year’s resolutions focused on making those themes happen more often. So if your happiest times tend to be with certain people, how can you build in more time with those people next year? If they are times when you are doing certain activities, set yourself goals to do that more often.
Self-esteem is important, but a big risk with self-esteem is it often comes from comparing ourselves to others. The problem with that is not everyone can be the best all the time. The laws of statistics dictate some people have to be average or below average at certain things.
Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself when you aren’t as good at something as you would like. Don’t expect perfection from yourself at all times, and don’t beat yourself up about it when you don’t meet your own standards.
If you make a mistake or get something wrong, ask yourself “could I reasonably have been expected to foresee that/to know what would happen?” Better to focus on “how can I avoid that happening in the future?” rather than dwelling on what you did wrong that time.
Try reading Self Compassion by Kristin Neff
Know and use your strengths
It feels good to do things you are good at. It‘s also much easier and more effective to build on what we are naturally good at and enjoy than to try to “fix a weakness”.
While it’s true no one likes a show off, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t inwardly have a good understanding of what your strengths are and be prepared to deploy them!
Write down at least 8 of your key strengths.
These can be skills, e.g. listening, building rapport with others or working with numbers. Attributes, e.g. optimism, curiosity or tenacity. Or values, e.g. treating people fairly, living life to the full or working hard.
If you struggle to come up with at least 8, ask people close to you such as your partner, parents or best friend what they see as your key strengths. When you face a problem or challenging period in your life, get your list out and think about how you can use those strengths to make the situation better.
If you live in your comfort zone then you will never know what you are truly capable of and are more likely to feel disappointed or dissatisfied. To feel a real sense of achievement you need to stretch and challenge yourself.
Face a fear:
Honestly reflect on fears which are holding you back. Are you not applying for the job of your dreams because you are afraid of the rejection of not getting it? Do you avoid going on trips on your own for fear of what others might think of you? Have you not learnt to drive because you’re scared you’ll fail the test?
Try facing those fears. You’ll probably be surprised at what happens. You don’t have to dive straight in at the deep end, you can create a plan to gradually build up to the “high dive”. As long as each step challenges you a little more and gets you closer to your goal you’re doing great.
Banish your demons:
In a similar vein, think about the self-limiting beliefs you hold about yourself and challenge them. For example, have you always believed you are terrible at maths, rubbish at art or an appalling athlete? These types of beliefs can subconsciously limit what we put ourselves forward for. So, deal with the demon.
If you failed maths at school, go to college (you can do it in the evening), take adult classes and re-take your exams. Often with maturity, experience and teaching aimed at adults, things will suddenly click and you will learn that numbers are not your enemy after all.
You may not be Picasso with a paintbrush, but do you have a flair for photography, fashion, decorating, baking, creating swanky PowerPoint presentations, computer-aided design etc. Not sure? Then have a go and find out! Ditch the personal rhetoric that you are no good at “art” – creativity isn’t just about drawing.
Treat others as you would like to be treated, as your mother used to say. And she’s right – that would make the world a much better place. But she was right for less selfless reasons too. Helping others releases all sorts of feel-good chemicals in our brains.
Random acts of kindness:
For a month, try to carry out 1 random act of kindness a day. This could be anything. It can be for people you know or total strangers. e.g. buy a homeless person a cup of tea, or pay a stranger a genuine compliment.
It could be a big gesture, but remember small things count sometimes even more. Hold the door open or give up your seat. Help someone carry their luggage or push chair up the stairs. Sit and listen to your gran for longer than you normally would. Give your mum an unexpected hug. Leave a note for your partner or friend to tell them how much they mean to you. Think about how those acts make you feel.
Biophilia is a concept which refers to humans’ deep connection to nature. Studies have shown that patients in intensive care recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows.
Try to get outdoors for at least 30 minutes per day.
Look into ways to build a walk through a park or along a river into your daily commute or lunch break.
Where possible, take meetings outside.
Use your own garden more often – sitting outside for breakfast or dinner wherever possible.
Go for a run, walk or bike ride outside rather than in the gym.
Exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic bullet to combat stress. Physical activity releases hormones which counteract stress hormones. Sadly though, when we feel stressed or depressed physical activity is the first thing to go. We feel too tired and are more likely to root ourselves on the sofa under a blanket! But, as emotionally exhausted as you feel, physical activity will actually boost your mood and energy levels.
Do at least 30 minutes physical activity a day
Walk or cycle to work, or at least get off the bus or tube a stop early/park your car further away so you have to walk the rest of the way.
Sign up to exercises classes or go to the gym with a friend. You’re much less likely to cancel if there’s someone going with you.
Find an activity you love. The gym is not for everyone, and is definitely not the only way to get active. Do you like swimming, dancing, ice-skating, trampolining, playing a team sport, horse riding, or just plain walking?
Reward, don’t punish yourself
Reward is ten times more effective and powerful than punishment. So don’t just beat yourself up or “punish” yourself if you don’t stick to your goals or plans or get something wrong Be proactive in rewarding yourself for your positive actions and choices.
For example if you do that thing that really scares you, you’ll buy yourself the new shoes/jeans/handbag etc. you’ve been hankering after. When you complete 10 exercise sessions or avoid cigarettes for a week you’ll treat yourself to a massage/manicure etc. Just don’t make your rewards counter-productive! There’s no point treating yourself to a massive slice of cake for making it through a strenuous work-out, especially if your goal is weight loss!
So those are my 8 ways to make yourself truly happy. They’re not all things that you can achieve over night but over time you’ll hopefully begin to see some positive changes in yourself. Katie.
GDG E-book, Life after Lessons available now!