12 guidelines for a happier you
The human race is having a hard time at the moment, but there are behaviours we can adopt to help support us in times of stress and lay the foundation for a more long-term, self-supported way of living.
1. We’re all told to treat others as we’d like to be treated, but it is actually really important to treat ourselves as we expect to be treated by others. If you don’t respect yourself enough to champion yourself and create boundaries which protect you, why should anyone else?
This goes from the smallest acts such as making sure you sleep and eat well, to larger behaviours such as protecting your boundaries by not allowing yourself to be persuaded by others that principles you hold dear are not worth adhering to. Others will take their cue from your own attitude to yourself.
2. You need to treat others with respect and compassion and where possible put yourself into their shoes and try and see situations from their point of view. If you like certain behaviours exhibited towards yourself, you can bet others like them shown towards them.
3. Remember you don’t need to have all the answers. It is okay not to know things and to say so, because this is how we learn. You can’t know things you haven’t been taught or come across before, and that goes for everyone. Even a physics genius may not know how to milk a goat! We all know something that someone else doesn’t. Learning from others is fundamental to growing as a human.
4. If you’re struggling, the brave thing is to ask for help. This is braver than suffering in silence, which can often make things worse and is much less retrievable. There’s a lot of help out there for all sorts of situations—just ask.
5. Embrace your differences and those of others; these are our strengths. Being different is good. We can bring a fresh perspective to tired views, a different way of tackling problems, or just a different way of being. Uniqueness is usually a selling point!
6. Look after your body. It’s got to last you the whole of your life and you don’t want to find yourself with 20 years of making do with a clapped out model when a little bit of care could see you almost to the finish line with very little need for intervention. So move—humans are designed to do just that. Eat in ways that support your health. We all know the drill—plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, good sources of protein, and forget the sugar hits. Sugar has been associated with inflammatory conditions, anxiety, and mood disorders (Anika Knuppel, UCL)
7. Anxiety is like a muscle—the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. If you can learn to divert yourself from over-anxious ruminating thoughts, you will benefit by breaking the cycle. Gentle, supported exposure to anxious situations will lessen their impact over time. Go for a walk, take a bath, phone a friend, practice yoga and meditation—all of these have been proven to lower anxiety and improve mood.
8. Pay attention to your feelings. After all, we have them for a reason. This does not mean you have to dwell on them and ruminate about them (see above) but you do need to acknowledge how you feel and which of your actions contribute to these feelings. In this way, you can repeat the actions that bring happiness, relaxation, and well-being and drop the habits that don’t. If you’re not sure which are which, keep a diary of what you do, who you see, what you eat, how much sleep you get, and so on. Soon you will begin to see patterns that will inform your understanding of how external behaviours impact you internally.
9. Spend time in nature. There is enough research now to know that wildlife and a rural landscape impact us positively. Even something as small as a window box or plant can make a difference to your well-being. This has been admirably demonstrated during this lock-down year when many people have reported how birdsong and glimpses of butterflies have helped them get through gloomy days full of bad news. Taking a walk every day, playing football in the park, even in a city landscape, can get you in touch with trees, sunshine, and air—all for free and all mood-boosting.
10. Kindness is the most important trait we can display, both towards ourselves and others. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in how we feel about ourselves and others; both performing them and receiving them. A friendly wave or smile might be the only contact a neighbour regularly receives. A genuine compliment is always well received and a nice thing to give to others. Helping out when it’s of little cost to yourself may make someone else’s day. Our view of the world starts small, in our own communities so if we can make that positive, then as we go out into the world we take that attitude with us and spread it around.
11. Don’t be afraid of things going wrong. If you never try, you’ll never learn. Don’t give up for every time you fail you learn something to take forward for the next attempt. All of life is a learning process and many successful people had catastrophic failures on their way up. The key? They didn’t stop trying.
12. And remember how powerful the mind is. “If you think you can and if you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Anika Knuppel, Martin J Shipley, Eric J Brunner: Scientific Reports 7, Article 6287, 27 July 2017