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HOW TO BE HAPPY
- First of all, be realistic. Nobody is happy all of the time and it is perfectly normal to have variations in moods and feelings from day to day, month to month, and even year to year. According to a study based on data from the British Household Panel Survey, overall levels of happiness decline from one's teens until one's 40s and then pick up until they peak in one's early 70s [for more data click here]. So the chances are that your happiest days are yet to come. Doesn't that make you happier? At any time and at any age, though, it is possible to feel happier than you have been and here are some ideas for you to consider.
- Most fundamentally, recognise that happiness is a state of mind and not something which can be defined objectively. You can change your state of mind in many ways including these suggestions.
- Perhaps above all, be as healthy as you can. Nothing is more valuable than your health and little is more likely to make you unhappy than ill-health. For many tips on how to be healthy click here
- More importantly than anything else, if you can live with a partner whom you love and respect and who feels the same about you. Kiss and cuddle and compliment often and regularly buy unexpected little gifts. Share your triumphs and your troubles. Evidence shows that a good relationship will not only make you happier; it will enable you to live longer.
- When you're old enough and in a steady relationship, have a son or a daughter. Tell them often how much you love and admire him/her and do anything to help him/her. If you don't have a child, 'borrow' one - spend time with a nephew or niece or a friend's son or daughter or - when you're older - your grandson or granddaughter. Children really do bring joy.
- Have a cat or a dog. Stroke often.
- Keep in close touch with relatives and a small circle of friends. You can't beat their love and support. Don't be afraid to admit when you're down and need a lift. Don't expect them to be mind readers - say how you feel and what you need.
- Conversely, if there's a person in your life who is a negative influence and who is dragging you down in some way, don't be afraid to remove such a person from your life.
- Smile a lot. Smiles make you miles better - and you smiling will make others smile. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) put it: “Always wear a smile. The gift of life will then be yours to give.”
- Laugh a lot. If you need some help click here.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Honesty really is the best policy.
- Be politely assertive. Say how you feel and explain what you want. Friends and colleagues can't be mind readers.
- Get things off your chest. If there's something you've been wanting to say to a partner, a relative, a friend or a colleague, say it either orally or in writing - don't let it wait or fester.
- Don't procrastinate. Instead of worrying about a decision, take it. You'll immediately feel better. Most personal problems do not lend themselves to a simple right or wrong solution. The point is to decide and move on.
- Give lots of compliments. You will make others feel good about themselves and find that this gives you pleasure too.
- Give small gifts to your friends. To give is even more pleasurable than to receive. Or, as the social anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, puts it: "Gifts make friends and friends make gifts."
- For a special thrill, perform acts of kindness anonymously so that the person benefiting does not know that you're responsible. If you don't understand this, watch the French film "Amélie" [for my review click here].
- When your birthday or Christmas is coming, prepare a list of the presents you'd like and give it to a partner, relative or friend to 'manage'. That way people won't struggle to choose a gift for you and you'll receive what you want and like.
- Spend less than you earn. The figures may have changed and the decimal system may have arrived, but the lesson is still the same as when, Charles Dickens in "David Copperfield" had Mr Micawber opine: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen, six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds, nought, and six, result misery".
- Use your credit card as a convenient way to pay for your major expenditures on a monthly basis - not to obtain credit at an outrageous level of interest.
- As Shakespeare put it in "Hamlet", "Neither a borrower nor a lender be". Don't borrow money unless you absolutely have to (for instance, to buy a house or car). Don't lend money - even to relatives - unless you genuinely don't mind if it's not repaid.
- Don't gamble. There's enough uncertainty in your life without you adding more - and anyway, in the long run, you can't win. (A little flutter on the lottery is allowed.)
- Give regularly to the charities of your choice. Make at least one of those charities an organisation addressing world poverty. Regularly increase your contributions as your income rises.
- If you are a woman, get your hair done. This will always make you feel better about yourself. I'm afraid I don't know of a male equivalent to this pick-me-up.
- Surround yourself with pleasant smells. Have flowers, pot-pourri or scented candles in most rooms of the house and in your office.
- Stay close to nature. Have flowers and plants in your home and office [see the website Plants for People click here]. Spend time in the garden or local park. Take walks in the countryside and by the seaside.
- Every so often, spend a little time observing the night sky. As you contemplate the distances and time involved, it will put your life and your concerns into more perspective.
- Read a quality newspaper on a daily basis. Learning is fun and the easiest way to learn is to check out news and features each day so that, over time, your knowledge and interests grow and deepen.
- Take a weekly or monthly magazine reflecting a personal interest. You'll come to really look forward to each new issue, like a visit from a friend.
- Read regularly and widely. Good fiction will widen your vocabulary and put you in touch with your emotions, while a range of non-fiction will extend your knowledge and interests.
- Listen to some rousing music. For classical music, try Saint-Saëns Symphony No 3 (organ) or Beethoven's Symphony No 9 ('Ode To Joy'). For popular music, try "Atomic" by Blondie or "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
- Have a favourite television programme, so that you can really look forward to seeing it. Mine used to be "Friends" and then "The West Wing".
- Watch "It's A Wonderful Life" on Christmas television every few years [for review click here]. It's really life-affirming.
- Go out and see a good movie. A romantic comedy - something like "Bridget Jones's Diary" [for review click here] or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" [for review click here] - usually works well.
- Treat yourself often to something 'cheap and cheerful' that you like - chocolates, flowers, a magazine, a cake, a CD. It costs little and you're worth it.
- Cultivate a few favourite places to eat and drink outside the home. Then, when you go to familiar café or restaurant where you like the ambience and the menu and the staff know you, you'll feel comfortable and content.
- Stretch yourself physically. At the mimimum, regularly go for a brisk walk - it will raise your spirits. If you can, join a gym and take more vigorous exercise - it will make you feel good and lengthen your life. Aerobics, Pilates, and yoga are other possibilities.
- Stretch yourself mentally. Go on courses on different subjects - they don't have to be academic courses (they can be at your local college) and they don't have to be long (they can be as short as a day or even half day). Read books on subjects with which you are unfamiliar but in which you have an interest.
- Stretch yourself geographically. Go to places you've never seen before. Even in your home town, try taking a different route than usual and notice the different locations that you've never seen before.
- Do something you've never done before, like visiting a particular art gallery or museum or going to a ballet or opera (or even just taking a different route to a familiar location). You'll probably surprise yourself at how much love it and you'll have found a new interest.
- Do something creative. This might be writing stories or poems; it might be painting pictures or learning to play an instrument; it might be gardening or growing food.
- Join a group with a purpose that meets regularly. This might be a drama group or choir; it might be a political party or campaign group; it might be a further education course.
- If you can afford it, take regular holidays in different countries and savour different cultures [for some ideas click here].
- Keep a gratitude journal. This is a notebook in which every week or so you list those things for which you're currently grateful.
- Keep a diary. It will give structure to your life, an easy way to revisit good times, and a reminder that bad times don't last.
- Take lots of photos. You'll love looking at happy times and old friends.
- Have a political vision on how to create a better world - and do something to make that vision more of a reality.
- If you can believe, have a religious faith. (I can't. I believe that this life is all there is - so, all the more reason to make it happy).
- Arrange strong IT support. In this age of technological dependence, little is more upsetting than PC or Internet problems, so at work have a great relationship with the IT Department and at home have a techie friend or a local IT professional whom you can call upon when in trouble.
- One way of dealing with a difficult problem is to imagine how you will feel about that problem next week, next month, next year. Now try to bring those feelings into the present. It will give you a sense of perspective. Problems rarely look so formidable in retrospect.
- If you are uncomfortable or frightened about a situation, try to take yourself to a mental safe place which you have previously created in your mind and where you feel relaxed and comfortable. It might be an imaginary garden or beach or just an image of your study or bedroom.
- If you're down, remember it could be a lot worse. If you need reminding, read "Still Me" by Christopher Reeve (quadriplegic) [for details click here] or "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" by Jean-Dominique Baulby (locked-in syndrome) [for review click here] or "Night" by Tony Judt (motor neuron disease) [for text click here] or the interview with Kevin Weller (locked-in syndrome) [for text click here].
- If you've still got problem and you're still down, remember the line from the actor Jason Lee, in his role as Brian Shelby, in the movie "Vanilla Sky": "Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain't as sweet" [for review click here].
- As M People put it in their pop song, "Look for the hero inside yourself". You are someone very special - so you should respect yourself. If you can't, why should anyone else?
- Regularly consider affirmative statements or aphorisms. You'll find a lot on this site [click here] and I'll send you a "Thought For The Week" if you e-mail me.
- Whatever your age, it's never too young to start planning your retirement. Regularly increase your mortgage repayments and pension contributions - this is a sensible use of the money you don't need for current expenditure and it will increase your longer-term lifestyle options.
- Make a will, detailing the arrangement for your funeral and the dispersion of your assets. The only thing certain about your life is that it will end, so have peace of mind that the circumstances that follow your death will as far as possible be as you wish them to be.
- Make arrangements to donate your organs on your death. That way, even your leaving of this world will give something special to others.
- If all else has failed, view this video: click here (turn up the volume!) If you enjoy it, try the sequel: click here. Want some more in the same vein? click here. It's a wonderful world.
- However, if you try out all these suggestions and you're still not happier, you're either an android or an alien. In the former case, see an electronics engineer - or watch "Blade Runner" [for my review click here]. In the latter case, go home to your own planet and tell your people that we humans will survive.
Link: my review of "The How Of Happiness" click here
Last modified on 12 August 2017
(1) These are suggestions for you to pick and choose if you want to be happier than perhaps you have been. This is not a list that you have to follow in order to be happy.
(2) It is probably little consolation to those in their 20s and 30s - the majority of those who e-mail me (a guy in his 60s) about this advice - but there is a substantial body of evidence to show that overall people become happier as they grow older [for further information on the U-bend click here]. So, longer-term things will probably become better for you; meanwhile and even then, these tips should help.
(3) You might be reassured to know that of itself unhappiness will not shorten your life - but then, conversely, happiness in itself does not make you live longer. For information on a recent study demonstrating this click here.
(4) Many people e-mail me to thank me for this advice. But some ask how they can avoid sadness and pain. The answer is: you can't - sadness and pain are part of life and of being human. It is how we respond to these that determines whether we are fundamentally happy and hopeful. I hope that these tips help you.
(5) These suggestions are for people who might be feeling a bit low or who are feeling fine but could be happier. They are not an answer to serious problems such as bereavement or mental illness such as depression. This might require counselling and/or medication and, if you think that you are suffering in this way, you should see a doctor.
If you have some ideas of your own e-mail me
To access all my advice on life skills click here
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