Category Archives: Happiness strategies

When you really, really want to learn.

On the bus the other day, a kid of 12 or so sat next to me.

He’d obviously been out to buy a videogame which he’d unwrapped so he could study its instruction manual.

He was completely engrossed in what looked like highly complicated material.

It’s great to see someone completely absorbed in something they’re doing, particularly so when this young man had probably been in class all day.

He’d been learning the whole school day, yet still had the appetite for more after the bell sounded.

The big difference of course is that the game instructions were something he really wanted to understand.

They’d help him play better when he got home, and he’d maybe be able to impress his friends as a result.

There’s no doubt that learning new things is good for you, and of course the process is much more appetising when you learn about stuff that interests you.

It’s never been easier to discover things.

Google is a great place to start – don’t necessarily think about formal classes (although they absolutely have their place, and are a great way to meet like-minded people as much as anything else) – type whatever interests you into Google, and you’ll soon be off and learning.

What new thing are you going to discover today?

All things bright and colourful.

I’ve a very clear memory of coming out of hospital after an operation when I was really quite young.

On the way home everything around me looked stunningly clear, colourful and super-real.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar feeling yourself?

It’s probably caused by spending time in an environment in which your senses are dulled.

Generally in hospital there’s not much variety around you.

It’s an environment, after all, designed to keep patients calm and (as far as possible) relaxed.

When you’ve been in such an uninspiring place, it’s more than likely that you’ll notice every single thing when you’re released from it.

Noticing your surroundings (really noticing them) can play a big part in how you feel.

Seeing the things about you, and properly taking notice of them, is a sure way to feel good.

It’s a big, colourful, sense-stimulating world out there – as long as you keep your eyes and ears open.

Next time you venture outside (please don’t leave it long), drink in your surroundings.

When you start looking, there’s a lot to see.

Make plans, have stuff to look forward to.

Sad though it is, I’m afraid I’ve known that feeling of believing I had nothing to look forward to.

It’s horrible.

(And of course rarely true, but this doesn’t stop you thinking it at the time.)

A lot of the pleasure of pleasures is in their anticipation.

Having something good that’s up and coming is generally a reason to feel, well, good.

In fact the anticipatory part of the process can occasionally be even more enjoyable than the event itself.

However when life’s got you by the short and curlies, it’s all too easy to forget that in order to have things to look forward to, you need to make plans and arrangements.

This can go by the wayside if you’re extremely busy, or extremely pre-occupied, or extremely glum.

And that’s why I think it can help to have regular arrangements to do things, see people and go places.

Preferably all three.

Even more preferably, all three simultaneously.

Maybe you’ve found that you have a day each week when you’re inclined to feel less positive?

This day is probably a good place on which to focus your plans.

As ever, it doesn’t need to be anything complicated, nor does it need to be a life-long commitment.

But have a think.

What could you start doing on a day to which you generally don’t look forward, so it becomes instead one you keenly anticipate?

Opening up about feelings.

You’ve probably heard the joke about the two psychiatrists who meet in the street.

‘You’re fine,’ says the first, ‘How am I?’.

In fact you don’t need to be a health professional to have a reasonable idea of how those around you are feeling, simply by using your senses.

In my own case, I know that some outward signs of a low mood are having less inflection in my voice when I talk; moving more slowly; having ‘sad eyes’; being less productive.

Some of these may ring a bell for you.

Perhaps you’re aware of having others too.

Of course, while it’s relatively easy to detect a friend’s mood when you’re physically in front of one another, it can be much harder to spot how someone’s feeling when all you’ve got is an email or text message.

(Unless of course the message actually tells you.)

I think in general that it helps when those we’re closest to are able to understand us, and empathise when times aren’t so good.

It’s worth remembering, therefore, that in electronic communication it’s much harder for friends to pick up on our signals.

Taking that step to disclose your emotions and share your feelings could feel scary or even selfish.

But it’s often a good thing to do.

We all want to understand each other, we all want to be understood.

Squeeze out a smile.

I think most of us would take it for granted that we’re inclined to smile more when we’re happy, and to frown more when we’re not.

What’s really intriguing, though, is the experts’ view that it can also work the other way round.

In other words, smiling more could actually help you feel happier in the first place.

Whilst it’s certainly not easy to do, it seems that ‘making yourself’ smile when your spirits are low can give you a welcome boost, just when you need it most.

Of course, if you’re feeling gloomy, you’re unlikely to be striding around town with an inane grin plastered across your face.

Even were you to do so, people are actually pretty good at detecting a fake smile from the real McCoy.

So the trick is perhaps to pick opportunities when your smile is likely to be regarded by the recipient as unexpectedly welcome, rather than eerily misplaced.

Try a (proper) smile to a shop assistant, or to someone who stands back to let you go first.

Try it with a co-worker, fellow student or friend.

Even smiling to yourself can help.

So what are you waiting for?

Say cheese.

Set a timer to set goals.

One of my most useful gizmos is a pretty low-tech device.

I keep a simple kitchen timer on my desk, actually a little electronic one but an old-fashioned wind-up ‘pinger’ would work just as well, I’m sure. Or the timer on your phone.

Its purpose?

Nothing culinary.

It’s simply to help me focus on work (or a chore) if and when my mood has taken a meander downwards.

I don’t know about you but if this happens to me, I can find it pretty darned difficult to knuckle down to things, to focus and be productive.

What might normally take just a few minutes can end up occupying ages.

This is where my trusty timer comes in handy.

I set it for an hour, then promise myself that if I stick to the knitting until it beeps, I’ll take a break when it does so.

And the deal is that I get the break regardless of how much or how little I’ve actually achieved.

Invariably I will get through stuff, probably at a faster rate as the minutes tick away, to be honest.

I think the trick is to recognise that when you’re low, the things you must do can take on a formidable scale if you try to tackle them all in one go.

But break them up into smaller chunks and they can be more easily dealt with.

Where are you off to today?

I love maps.

I found a whole batch of them when I was sorting through some stuff recently, and opening one up instantly transported me to a completely different place.

On a map, everything’s so organised.

If you want to get from A to B, it’s generally pretty easy to see how you should go about it.

You can see where places are, relative to others.

And of course you can take them with you, to help in case you get lost.

Now and then I can’t help thinking how helpful it would be to have a special map that would do for living what a conventional one does for travelling.

But life’s twists and turns are usually pretty unpredictable.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, or perhaps it’s good.

It can certainly keep you on your toes.

However, even if there’s no piece of printed paper that will help you navigate through today, I think it does help to have a broad idea of where you’re headed.

Not always easy, I know.

But I’ve always liked these lines from Alice in Wonderland:

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

Where are you going to go today?

Displacing unwanted thoughts.

At times, I’m sure you’ll have been in the situation of trying to get to sleep whilst being troubled by a pesky thought that won’t go away.

For me, it often happens if I wake up partway through the night and fail to fall back to sleep immediately.

If I’m not careful, there it is. That pesky thought, which all too often is one that goes round and round in my head, generally pretty annoyingly.

Not always, but sometimes, I can send a worry like this packing, by forcing myself to think about something totally different.

It can take a substantial amount of effort to do so, but it can work.

Usually I have to add as much detail to my other thinking as I can – creating pictures and even sounds in my mind.

Of course the same thing can be true during the day, too.

There’s a lot to be said for taking notice of the things around you.

Being aware of your surroundings, savouring sights, and reflecting on what you see can make a great contribution to your general wellbeing.

It can also help prevent that nasty old rumination thing where you think too hard about life’s less-pleasing aspects.

(Most lives have them.)

So keep your eyes about you today.

Take notice – really take notice – of what you see.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

A little learning, a little mood-lifting.

Can you remember how good it felt when you learned to ride a bike?

Or when you learned to swim?

(I’m assuming you did both, apologies if that wasn’t the case.)

Although plenty of people may have fallen out of love with formal education, there’s no denying the joy and satisfaction of learning how to do something new, or even of learning something for learning’s sake.

Making sure you keep learning is a great tip for staying well in the head department, so it’s worth making sure you maximise your opportunities for doing so in the next few days.

Find a new recipe and try it out.

Ask a friend who speaks a language you don’t know to teach you a word or two.

Find out how to fix something around the house (the solution’s certain to be in Google or on YouTube).

Open a big fat dictionary at random and learn a new word in your own language.

Learn a card trick and impress a friend.

When it comes to learning, the world’s your oyster.

What can you explore this week?

What new skill can you acquire in the next few days?

Prioritise your worries.

If you were to sit down right now to make a list of everything you need to do, ever, I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t be able to cross it all off by this time tomorrow.

Or even the day after.

When it comes to To-Do lists, most of us know we must be realistic.

The best course of action is generally to work out what’s most important, then to allocate tasks to the amount of time you have available.

This may seem obvious.

But why don’t we adopt a similar approach when it comes to tackling our concerns and anxieties?

Instead of working out a kind of priority list for worries, it’s very easy to fret about everything, all the time.

If you have too many physical tasks to do, you’ll probably have had that experience of actually getting nothing done.

The same can be true for worries.

If you try to think everything through at once you usually just end up in thought soup.

I’m sure there are lots of things on your mind at the moment, so rather than spending yet another day with them all racing around your head at once, why not prioritise?

Thinking things through one at a time could mean you’ll bring some clarity to your life.

Worth a try, anyway.