After continous self-reflection over the course of many years, trying to figure out my life and my place in this crazy/wonderful world, I guess my one ultimate goal in life can be summed up quite simply - TO LIVE WELL. To slightly expand - this means aiming to lead a (mostly) happy, healthy, flourishing life - where improving well-being (of myself and those around) is key. Everything is a means to this end. It's a work in progress, so by no means do I want to come as preachy and all knowing, but I'm constantly trying to learn about what contributes to Living Well (I guess this will be a lifelong journey). For anyone learning about what contributes to happiness, then the area of Positive Psychology is a good area to explore. I've read quite a few books and articles on the subject of Positive Psychology (and perhaps more importantly reflected on the evidence of my own experiences), and there are a lot of tips out there which are based on solid scientific research to help improve our happiness & well-being, lead flourishing lives and ultimately Live Well. I try to apply these tips to my own life and I'd like to share my findings in this article as best as I can...
This article is quite brief and condensed and is intended as a very general overview to hopefully introduce you to some ideas you may not have come across, and then inspire you to want to delve into the topic further (I will share some further reading at the bottom of the page which will provide more substance). The great thing is we can each develop in the areas below no matter where we start out at and any benefit can in some cases be felt within days and you can start as soon as you like.
Useful mental skills:
Our way of thinking is key to our happiness, and I've called the below 'mental skills', as like any skill they need to be developed and should be practiced often for maximum effect. I've found that I need to constantly remind myself to practice & develop these mental skills so they become more habitual (and they do become habitual with effort). It's not enough to read about the below once or twice and then practice them, because over time they will be forgotten. Developing better mental habits is like going to a gym, the benefits soon fade if the practicing isn't on-going!
- GratitudeGratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. When we feel grateful for something we instantly feel more uplifted. Did you know that practicing gratitude can increase your happiness by 25%? It's a skill that we can learn to be better at and it's impact is greatest if we take regular time out to contemplate the things we are grateful for. But many of us take lots of good things in our life for granted. How often do you actually take moments out of your day to say to yourself "I'm really grateful for this?" Or "That went really well" Probably not often, and I don't do it as much as I should. For example, when my health has been struck low, for example I had a back-injury once - it wasn't nice - and when I recovered I was so grateful to get my health & mobility back, and afterwards I felt daily gratitude for my relative good health which made me feel very uplifted….well, for a week or two until I began to take my good health for granted again! There are lots of examples I've had where I have taken for granted a lot of the things in my life - and only really come to fully appreciate them when they haven't been there.
When we really think about it most of us have a lot to be grateful for, and to get started there is a good daily exercise for the end of the day which is to write down (or even just think of) 3 things that happened in that day that you are grateful for. If you do this every day for 2 weeks, studies have shown that you will be measurably happier. Anyone can do this, and if you struggle to get started - then maybe ponder the worst possible life situation you could have (a tad extreme I know - but it helps get into a grateful way of thinking) - and take it from there!
> This web-page is a good starting point www.inspirational-quotes-about-life.net/appreciation.html
> 22 Gratitude Exercises That Will Change Your Life
Being optimistic means having a sense that the future will be bright. If we don't think our future will be good - then it will impact severely on our present experience. Optimistic people understand that a better future can be brought about through their actions - and that any set-backs are temporary and can be overcome.
In our rush through life, we can have a tendency to not slow-down and really enjoy and savour the good experiences we have. A good example is when eating a delicious meal - our mind can be elsewhere and we don't notice & savour the food we eat. So this skill is about being more mindful of our present experience and learning to slow-down, notice and savour & enjoy positive experiences.
This skill is about developing the mental toughness to respond to and overcome life's challenges that we all face. Resilient people understand that life's difficulties can be used to make us wiser, emotionally stronger and more knowledgeable to cope with and deal with future difficulties. When we are resilient we are much better at dealing with challenging times.
People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. Does your life have meaning? Does your life have purpose? Scientific research shows that having a connection to something bigger than ourselves, or spiritual side to our lives makes us happier and healthier.
We need goals to motivate us and provide us with direction and aims in our day to living. These goals need to be meaningful to us, challenging enough to excite us, but also seem achievable. Sometimes big goals that seem hard to achieve need to be broken down into smaller, more achievable sub-goals.
Good health:We all know from experience that being ill impacts our ability to enjoy life - so being healthy encourages our well-being - it's pretty obvious stuff really! Things that contribute to good health:
Not only does exercise improve your bodily health, help you lose weight, combat stress, help you sleep and look better; exercise also releases endorphins in the brain which are shown to provide a quick boost to a feeling of well-being. So whether a 20 min walk, short run, bike-ride or yoga session - it all helps improve your physical & mental well-being.
One of the most obvious, yet under-recognised factors in the development of major trends in mental health is the role of nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. We are what we eat and it follows that the most nutritious & healthy diets are best for our health & well-being.
Quite an easy one to relate too - if ever we've had a bad nights sleep - we feel it the next day and it impacts how we function quite immediately. On the other hand - when we have a really good nights sleep and wake-up feel refreshed - then we can tackle the day with a lot more energy & enthusiasm.
This can be less unknown - but have you ever felt the uplift in well-being that a nice walk in the sunshine in natural surroundings such as the beach or countryside can give? One theory is that our species have evolved for hundreds thousands of years in natural surroundings and we have an in-built bond with the natural world (termed Biophilia). We've only really lived in urban environments for the last couple hundred years and consequently this bond with nature has been cut off - impacting our instinctive well-being.
Good Relationships:Relationships have been shown to be the most important overall contributor to happiness. People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Not having close personal ties poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living/connect-with-people/details.
- Family & friends
Close, loving relationships with family and friends provide love, support & intimacy. Being the social animals we are - this is essential to our well-being.
- Social network
Broader networks bring a sense of belonging and we all need to feel like we belong. Close relationships can develop out of them.
- Giving - Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them and a great thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.
This is more about what we do with our life and using the time we have to fill our days wisely!
Character Strengths are the 24 psychological ingredients that make up what's best in our character and once identified give a clear idea of what our strengths are so we have a better understanding of what the activities will bring out the best in us and make us more happy & engaged.
A great place to start is the online survey here www.viacharacter.org/Character-Strengths. Once you know your strengths take a look at this pdf which lists 340 ways to use your character strengths. If you can then create your day-to-day life so you get chance to use your character strengths often then you will greatly improve your life and well-being!
It's important to have & cultivate interests in life that you love & enjoy doing that gives you tremendous satisfaction from doing them. Our lives are so much more enjoyable when we do the things we enjoy. So the task is to identify those things we really enjoy doing - those things that really make us feel alive, engaged and excited to do them - and then do them often! Must of us know what we enjoy doing - but it will help to identify your character strengths as per above and confirm your passions are aligned with your character strengths. Our passions/interest also take on extra enjoyment if they encourage the mental state of Flow - which can be described as total absorption in what we are doing. Read more about flow on my blog post here.
- Enjoyable work
Many of us tend to spend most of our waking life at work. So it follows that if we are unhappy at work - then we are likely to be unhappy a lot of the time - not good really for our ultimate happiness! The work that contributes most to our well-being is that work which fits in with our character strengths, passions, interests & values and even better if it helps tick some of the boxes up this page! Read more about well-being and work, and improving job satisfaction here.
- Decent standard of living
Some may be surprised that there is a distinct lack of financial or materialistic thinking in this article, after all Western societies are very materialistic and consumption driven, and so we are conditioned to believe that happiness is a result of earning more money and acquiring materialistic goods; bigger car, bigger house etc etc. A good standard or living does contribute to our well-being, and for those in poverty an increase in standard of living will increase well-being significantly. But studies show that while income and material comforts have drastically increased over the last 50 years or so, subjective well-being or happiness has not increased, and in some cases it has fallen. It has also been shown that income affects well-being of people but beyond a threshold level, it ceases to influence well-being. So what does this imply? We need to take a more balanced, less-materialistic/financially driven approach. We should aim for a standard of living that full fills our needs, where we don't need to worry about financial matters - but we shouldn't be too overly materialistic and sacrifice a big chunk of our lives chasing money to buy more expensive things when it's not going to greatly increase our well-being. Sure a decent salary that affords a good standard of living and lets us enjoy a variety of experiences that we enjoy, along with a nice living environment, is conductive to our well-being - but if you wish to greatly increase your well-being - then you would be better off focussing a lot more on the areas further up this page!
For references to studies see www.grossnationalhappiness.com/9-domains/standard-of-living-and-happiness/
So there you go - a brief summary of the key areas which I have understood to lead to an increase in well-being & happiness. I'd like to say though that I'm no qualified expert - so please do your own reading around the topic.
Books:I've created a reading list for my favourite books on well-being here:
Online Articles:To make it easier I have collected all the most useful online articles I have found in one place - and you can view these here:
5 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in the Next 5 Minutes
Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Be Happier, Backed by Science
22 Gratitude Exercises That Will Change Your Life
The How of Happiness: Chapter by Chapter brief summary
My web-projectI love quotes and I've collected all my best inspirational quotes about happiness, well-being, wisdom, love & relationships here - www.inspirational-quotes-about-life.net
Thanks for reading - let me know if you find it useful in the comments section!
Stuart Hodgson is a freelance graphic designer with a passion & interest in health & well-being. His life's purpose is to simply try and Live Better. Stuart is also curator of a popular inspirational quotes website and if you like this blog then you'll probably enjoy the site - visit www.inspirational-quotes-about-life.net