Category Archives: Happiness strategies

Exercise yourself happier.

It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that being in a low mood can lead to you being significantly less likely to get exercise.

Yet even a little bit of getting physical can work wonders for the mood.

What a pity that doing the right thing in this respect doesn’t come as naturally as it does when, say, we get hungry.

You’re starving, so your body tells you to eat, then you’re no longer famished.

Or you’re chilly, so you put on a coat, and – voila – you’re warm.

Quite often, working on your mood entails you behaving in what can feel like counter-intuitive ways.

One way to help, perhaps, is to be realistic about your expectations.

If you’re feeling below par it may be unreasonable to expect that you’ll suddenly race off to the gym or swimming pool.

It’s much more likely, though, that you could go for a walk.

Or do some gardening.

Or even some house work.

All three of these can release endorphins, making you feel better.

And with the latter two, you’ll also have the added side-effects of being able to enjoy a tidier garden or home.

When negative thoughts intrude.

Last week I treated myself to an hour’s walk along the beach in Pescadero, on California’s Pacific coast.

It was a gorgeous day and an incredible place to be in, so why on earth did I find myself starting to worry about other things?

Why was I beginning to think about all the stuff I might have to do a few days from then?

In fact, I had to have a stiff word with myself.

What was I doing?

What was wrong with just revelling in the moment, making the most of where I was?

By doing this, the worries evaporated – leaving me able to simply enjoy the experience for its own sake.

It’s all too easy to let worries gnaw away at us.

Perhaps we excuse it by telling ourselves that we’re thinking things through, but that’s rarely true, is it?

The next time you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in an agreeable situation, don’t let those pesky negative thoughts keep you from enjoying it.

It’s not always easy, but try to send them packing.

Focus in the here and now, rather than on the there and later.

Being remembered is a wonderful thing.

‘You want your usual, Jon?’

Holy smoke.

To be greeted with this when I returned to a breakfast place I hadn’t visited in, ooh, two and a half years suggests one of two things.

Either I’m a man of enormously predictable choice, or the place in question is run by people with elephantine memories.

Actually it’s a bit of both I suspect.

(Two eggs over-easy, bacon, hash browns, sourdough toast. Always.)

More importantly there’s no denying how very good it is to be remembered by someone.

It makes you feel wanted.

A bit special too.

Technology could pull off a trick like this.

A camera could take your picture as you walk in, facial recognition software would identify you, then it could pull out your past orders from a database.

To be honest though, I don’t think that’s how they do it at this particular restaurant.

It’s down to people who like people, and who take a pride in providing a warm welcome.

Knowing how good it feels to be remembered, of course, suggests that you can make others feel great when you do the same for them.

And in the happy way that these things often work, giving someone else a boost gives you (the booster) a welcome shot in the arm too.

Why not give it a try today?

Scan your mental notes when you’re talking to someone, and ask them about something they might have expected you to forget.

Be careful though, not to ask them about something they’d actually have WANTED you to forget.

How disclosure can bring people closer.

Like me, I expect you know people whose idea of a conversation is that you mainly listen while they mainly talk.

And the only time they encourage you to say something is if you’re asking them a question.

So they can talk even more.

I was brought up to be a listener rather than a ‘teller’, but as I get older I’m realising that there’s sometimes a sweet spot in between these two positions.

You know, it’s not always selfish to talk about yourself.

Particularly when it’s in moderation.

Disclosing something of yourself almost always helps another person understand you better.

But it’s when you both do this, when the confidences are reciprocated, that a conversation takes on a life of its own, allowing you to both walk away from it having had a good experience.

Sometimes even a great experience.

It’s not always easy to do, particularly if your disclosure might relate, say, to the fact that you’re not always a happy bunny.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, to tread carefully, to think before you disclose, and only to do this if you believe it’s not going to make the other person uncomfortable.

An uncomfortable conversational partner rarely makes an exchange a good one.

But there’s not a lot to beat the satisfaction of a genuine two-way flow of honesty.

The spit-in-the-tube stress test.

Some years ago, my British friend David the psychologist did some research that looked at the stress of driving in heavy traffic.

Although both sexes said that they didn’t find it especially stressful, David had a cunning plan which involved getting his participants to spit into a plastic vial before and after a drive.

Nice.

Anyway, the saliva was then subjected to some rigorous lab work which showed that while his female participants remained reasonably calm, the men’s stress levels rocketed – even though they insisted that the situation wasn’t affecting on them.

David’s view was that there’s possibly a kind of ‘fight or flight’ response brewing in men, but you can’t exactly do a lot of fighting or flighting when you’re stuck in a nose-to-tail jam.

So they became frustrated and stressed.

Being unaware of something like stress isn’t clever, as we can be inclined to behave irrationally or even dangerously when we’re massively wound up.

So if you think you know how you’re feeling (and especially, it seems, if you happen to be a man) perhaps it’s worth thinking again.

Pay attention to all the signs around you.

Take notice, too, of what those around you may be telling you.

It makes an awful lot of sense to be in touch with your emotions.

Martial arts for mood. Turning the strength of bad emotions against themselves.

At times we humans can be pretty good at focusing our thoughts, concentrating our thinking on one particular idea or concept.

The trouble is, this single-minded attention can sometimes be aimed at the very thing we shouldn’t be obsessing about.

I’m thinking particularly about the unhealthy behaviour of rumination – turning a concern or worry over and over in your head, to no good.

When you’re thinking bad things, possibly on the way to becoming depressed or anxious, you’re often not in the right frame of mind to benefit from the kind of sensible, rational thoughts which might just be able to help you.

Mainly because the whole process of rumination leads you to be anything but sensible or rational.

(I speak from experience.)

Some years ago I did a little martial arts training.

Whilst I don’t remember it all, I do recall the principle of using an opponent’s own strength against him/her.

And I wonder if we might adapt this as a mechanism as a way of breaking the rumination cycle?

I’ve found I can focus on something entirely unconnected to the source of those destructive thoughts.

Crowding out the bad ones with better ones.

Perhaps it’s getting involved in a long conversation with someone, about (in a Monty Python way) something completely different.

Or maybe it’s getting your teeth into a practical task which demands your full attention.

When the thoughts are going round and round, it may be tempting to sit there and let them.

Tempting, but not good.

At times like this, why not look for something new to focus on?

Then focus on it.

Fully.

The power of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Those who know about these things tell me that an important contributor to a happier life is having the feeling that you’re part of something bigger.

Leading a life of meaning, if you like.

For some this may mean belonging to an organised religious group of some kind, and I’ve certainly heard it said that those who go to church regularly are happier than those who don’t.

(What we don’t know, of course is whether going to church makes people happier, or whether in general it’s happier people who go to church.)

However, I’d say (and I possibly would, being only microscopically religious myself) that we can all live a life of meaning without necessarily being an active member of a religion.

For a start, you can be part of your community.

A more active part, perhaps?

There’s an opportunity for you.

You can be part of your circle of friends.

Again, perhaps a more active part?

Another opportunity.

And of course, I’m happy say you’re part of Moodnudges.

At the end of the day it’s you who chooses what you’ll be part of.

But knowing what an impact it can have on you when you feel a part of this bigger thing makes it all the more important to hunt it down.

In life, as in a maze, there’s nearly always a choice.

In a maze there are generally two ways to go.

Sometimes more, but unless you’ve just reached the exit, there’s usually a decision to make.

Left? Or right?

Often life can feel like a maze.

You know there’s a way through it, but you don’t have a map.

Who knows whether the decisions you make every day are the right ones?

How come some people seem to be able to scoot through it much easier than you can?

But of course, not only do you go through each day faced with a million decisions, you also (and this is the bit that’s easy to forget) generally always have a choice about the way you’ll think about what happens.

Most of us tend to have familiar patterns of thought.

Something happens and we view it in a particular way – in general, the way we always view that kind of thing.

And that’s fine if, for instance, we’re always pleased that something good has happened.

On the other hand it’s not so great if your reaction to bad stuff is to say: Well, it’s all my fault. I bring these things upon myself.

You see, that’s probably not the truth.

Just now and again (maybe even very often) someone else is to blame.

Someone else is the cause.

That’s one branch of the maze, then, one choice.

But almost immediately, there are others.

For example, do you blame the other person?

Or try and understand them?

Why not try and keep this in mind today then?

Emotions, just like life itself, can take the form of a maze.

And the best way to progress (indeed, the only way) is to remember that you’ve got choices.

Always.

Why it can be important to speak up for yourself.

It’s neither the time nor place to go into all the whys and wherefores, but I heard the story of a man who’d been summarily dismissed from his job, despite a spotless history with the company until that point, simply because he’d not reported a minor accident he’d had at work.

Nobody was hurt.

Nothing was damaged.

His instant dismissal was simply down to not having followed rules about reporting things.

Now he’s a very kind, affable and nice man – and I have to tell you that he was utterly mortified by the experience.

I think we all would have been, in similar circumstances.

And the tendency in such circumstances is to be horribly upset, and to curl up into your shell.

Or alternatively to become completely furious with the person or organisation who slighted you.

Except that he didn’t.

He wrote a very polite letter of appeal, and two weeks later he got his job back.

In my mind this doesn’t make what the employer did excusable, but it was a hugely better outcome than might otherwise have transpired.

You’ll have knocks and setbacks in life, always.

Although you’ll need to simply accept some of them, others may warrant something more assertive from you.

It’s not always easy to stand up for yourself, especially if you’re not feeling great.

But it’s always right.

Finding a way to jog your memory.

I do my best, I really do.

But try as I may to keep track of things that friends and family tell me are upcoming for them (medical appointments for example), I often forget.

Then, of course, I kick myself when they subsequently tell me how they got on, when I’d far rather have been in the position of remembering to ask them in the first place.

Maybe it’ll make me feel a little better if I know it’s something which also happens to you, now and then?

But if it is, I don’t think you or I should beat ourselves up over it.

Much more importantly we shouldn’t feel offended when someone forgets something about US.

You’d need a brain like a super-computer to keep track of everything around you, but that’s just not possible.

But simple, practical systems can help.

For me, it’s time to start sticking those Post-It notes on the refrigerator door again.

I like it when I remember things about people.

They do too.