Category Archives: Happiness strategies

What you and I can learn from a Super Ball.

Growing up, there were tennis balls, and cricket balls, and footballs, and beach balls.

But I also remember when Super Balls were all the rage.

Super Balls were new (then) and different.

Made of a strangely tough kind of plastic, they bounced astonishingly well.

Throw them down on a concrete floor and they’d bounce as high as a house.

That’s how we saw them anyway, my brother and I.

The ability to bounce is an impressive one, which I think applies to people almost as much as it does to Super Balls.

Before this little story gets very odd, let me reassure you that I’m clearly not for a minute suggesting that it makes sense for people to be bouncing off the floors and walls.

I’m thinking more about that quality we call resilience – the ability to ‘bounce back’ after things have gone wrong.

The fact is – as sure as eggs is eggs – things are going to go wrong now and then.

Life’s going to wobble and twist.

It’ll throw things at you which you weren’t expecting.

And in such cases, what really matters is how you cope, and how quickly you’re able to get back on track.

Think about it, and you should realise that you’ve been able to recover after setbacks have occurred in the past, and this should help you believe that you have it in you to bounce back in the future too.

You’re stronger than you think, you know.

Give yourself a break.

Many years ago, I worked in a printing factory.

It was dark, noisy and smelly, yet friendly, warm and welcoming.

Unlike most other working environments I’ve been in since, I particularly recall the way every day was driven by clocking in and out.

You started and finished at tightly defined times, and also took your lunch break (and even tea breaks) in a very prescribed way.

I know plenty of jobs are still subject to these kinds of rules and regulations, but these days quite a few aren’t.

More importantly perhaps, the chores and duties you perform at home are probably not being controlled by some external task-master, but are rather under your own control.

The owners of that printing factory all those years ago took the somewhat paternalistic view that we workers needed to be told when to down tools and take up our Thermos flasks.

But who’s telling you when to take a break when you’re busy at home?

Probably nobody.

Pushing yourself too hard really doesn’t make sense.

In fact you’ll almost certainly get your stuff done more quickly if you take five every now and then.

Work a bit, rest a bit.

It’s a decent philosophy, and very nearly a chocolate bar’s advertising slogan.

Today, we’ll change the world, you and I.

If you’re up for it, I’d like you to conduct a simple experiment today.

It’s easy to do, and requires no equipment.

The psychologists tell us that we’ll feel good if we do something for someone else – either someone we know, or a complete stranger.

So here’s the methodology.

Sometime today I’d like you to go (a little) out of your way to do a good turn for someone.

It needn’t be complicated or even that substantial.

But the important thing is to be aware of your feelings before and after the good deed.

Will you feel any different after your action?

Experience says you will, and that you’ll get a pleasant buzz.

Reward in itself.

What’s more, as the Moodnudges messages reach thousands of people, our collective actions could just make today a happier one here on Planet Earth.

Not bad for something so easy.

And pretty good for something that should leave you feeling better too.

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?