I’d like to be clear about something right from the start. Being ‘happy’ doesn’t mean you are always in a good mood. When I refer to being happy, I’m talking about feeling fundamentally positive and hopeful about your life; being able to really enjoy who you are; feeling pleased and excited about waking up in the morning. There is a lot of pressure on people to be happy these days, especially young people who are exposed to so much social media. It’s overflowing with inspirational quotes and photos of people all having fun. But if you aren’t already in a good place, it can be very unhelpful to see all that stuff. It can even go the other way and be a total turn off to trying to make yourself feel happier.
I want to give you some tips for where to start in your quest to feel better if you don’t feel great right now. I haven’t always felt happy myself, so I’m going with what worked for me in the hope that it will help you too.
1. Set your intention
The first step is to set your intention that you want to be happiER. Deciding that is really huge. Loving your life might seem a long way off today, but commitment to baby steps is all that’s required. If you take a little step in the right direction every day, in a year from now you won’t recognise yourself.
2. Accept that your emotions are giving you information
ALL of your emotions exist to guide you. When you feel unhappy, that is your inner-self telling you something. It’s saying ‘this situation isn’t for me’ or ‘I don’t like this so something needs to change’. It’s all valuable information that will help lead you to understanding yourself better; what feels good for you and what doesn’t. There is always something to be learned from your feelings, but you have to learn to listen to them. Being happy has to start with understanding yourself and what’s going to make you feel better because being happy means something different to everyone.
3. Know that it’s really okay to be you
No two humans are the same; we are all unique. When we are growing up, we are only exposed to a tiny fraction of people, (at school for instance), so that means we have a tiny pool of people to choose our friends from. When we’re young and still finding out about ourselves, it’s much easier and natural to try to fit in and be liked by those people than to be our true self. Being different can feel uncomfortable, but really that’s ridiculous because we are all different! When we try to be like someone else to fit in, we crush our own self into the wrong shaped hole for who we are. And that feels more uncomfortable! It actually leads to UNhappiness.
Know that whoever you are is perfectly okay and that, if you haven’t already, one day you will ‘find your tribe’; people who are happy for you to be exactly who you are without needing to be different. We live in a very large world and it’s not confined to the people we interact with at school, or at any other one stage of our lives. It may take time to meet the people who are right for you, but it will take longer if you cover up who you really are because they won’t be able to find you! Be safe in the knowledge that whatever you feel, think or say, is okay, and what anybody else thinks of you is absolutely none of your business.
4. Spend more time with people who make you feel good
I’ve worded that very carefully because it can be very difficult to just stop spending time with friends who don’t make you feel good. Sometimes we don’t even know initially who those people are. Start by observing how you feel in the presence of your friends or partner, for example. How do you feel physically after you’ve spent time with them? Do you feel tense or have a headache? Do you feel tired or drained? Or do you get excited about seeing them because they make you laugh or feel light hearted? Not everyone who makes us feel bad does so overtly, so it’s important to take notice of your feelings. Be honest with yourself.
This change isn’t something you need to do overnight and you don’t need to be unkind to anybody in the process. Simply start by filling your time up with the people or things who do make you feel good and then you’ll have less time for those that don’t.
5. Always be kind
Sometimes when we feel unhappy we project that onto other people. Sometimes it’s all we can do because ‘unhappy’ is so strong in our own energy, that it’s all we have to give. We kind of see things through a skewed lens. If you ever find yourself being unkind or behaving in a way you wouldn’t like someone to treat you, do your utmost to turn that around. Know that it will never make you feel good inside, no matter how you might feel in that moment. This applies whether the person is in your presence or not. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. When you start being consistently kind to and about people, you will feel better inside and you will also notice other people being kind back to you.
6. Find the things that you like to do
There’s a reason people say ‘do more of what you love’. We are here in this life to have fun. Discovering what you love can take time, trial and error – no matter what your age. Often when we’re young we learn to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing, regardless of whether it feels good to us. We don’t want to be left out or pulled up for being different. But this in itself can be a cause of feeling unhappy. If you want to feel happier, you must start doing what makes your heart sing. Even if it’s only a tiny quiet song to start with.
Think about what you enjoyed doing when you were really little. Was it kicking a football around, or doing arts and crafty things? Did you like nature lessons, dancing or reading books? Often, what we loved doing when we were infants gives us basic information about ourselves when we’re older. As children, we had little regard for what anyone else was doing or what anybody thought of us – we just did what made us feel good! Can you get any clues as to what you might enjoy now by thinking back?
7. Find a little bit of calm
Finding a way to stay calm is really beneficial – for everyone. There is so much drama in the world, it’s in our news, it’s all over the TV, it’s in our social media feeds. Spending just ten minutes a day listening to your breathing, listening to a clock ticking, some calming music or even watching or cuddling a pet will help restore your energy. Looking at social media or watching TV doesn’t count – the idea is to switch your brain off for a few minutes and focus on something that will stop the stimulation and the chatter in your head. It’s why millions of happy and successful people meditate, but if that feels a bit woo woo for you, then start with the quiet time. You will notice the difference in your mood.
Getting outside can also be a fantastic way to calm down. Did you know that we have an innate need to connect with nature – it’s literally part of our make up. Go for a walk or sit in the garden and take your shoes off when you can!
8. If something makes you feel low, stop doing it!
This might sound obvious, but I watched soap operas on TV for years – I was addicted to them. The drama excited me and I wasn’t filling up my time doing anything better. I would say “I have a stressful job – they help me switch off”. But ultimately, I found the storylines depressing and I felt they were normalising dramatic behaviour, so I stopped watching them. I also stopped listening to the news. If anything happens that I need to know about, someone will tell me.
Listen to uplifting music instead of sad songs; don’t ‘follow’ people who get you down; stop doing what you feel you ‘should’ do to make other people happy. It’s really okay to say no – it’s not being selfish; it’s being sensible! If you want to be happy, then supporting your good mood must become your priority.
9. Stop beating up on yourself
Negative self-talk is extremely damaging. The next time you start telling yourself you can’t do something, or you feel cross that you did something ‘wrong’, think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation. Would you offer them the criticism that you give yourself? Do you think it would be helpful to them? We don’t need to beat ourselves up to do better or to learn a lesson. You can damage your own self-esteem just as easily as somebody who is wicked to you can. The average person lives for about 38 million minutes, so think of the damage you could do to yourself in that time! It makes much more sense to become your own friend.
10. Keep a gratitude diary
There are many things I could say about being more positive and reframing how you look at things, but I think practising gratitude is the best place to start. No matter how unhappy you feel, there is always something in your life to be grateful for. Now don’t misinterpret this as me telling you that you should feel differently because there are people out there worse off than you. If you’re feeling low, it won’t help you in the slightest to hear that. In fact, in my experience it’s more likely to make you feel worse because you can add guilt and frustration to the pile of negative emotions you’re feeling!
Making a daily note of what you feel grateful for is so helpful because it forces you to actively look for the things that are going right in your life – no matter how small they are. You start to become very mindful. There may be days when you start, when all you can muster is ‘I have running water’ or ‘I have clothes on my body,’ but I promise you will soon start seeing life in a different way. When I first started this process, my friend made me text her five things every night that I was grateful for. She would nag me if I forgot. I remember one night putting jelly (jello) on the list because I had seen some that day and the way it wobbled had made me smile. It doesn’t have to be the big things you feel grateful for – in fact the whole idea is that you start to notice and appreciate the small things in life. Those are the things that matter and there are millions of them. The more you look, the more you see, and that’s why this practise is so positive. It literally works like magic!
11. Get moving
Well you knew it would be somewhere on the list, didn’t you! You don’t have to go off and join a gym to start feeling better (although it might help!) Just do something to get your heart rate up. Run up and down the stairs, walk the dog a bit more briskly, get on a trampoline! There is so much evidence around the benefits of exercise on mental health, largely due to the effect it has on our hormones. And none of us, male, female, child or adult is getting away from those! Regular exercise is a game changer. It’s empowering, energising and it’s great for overall health too. How can your mind be fresh and excited about life if your body is feeling sluggish? When you look at it like that it’s hard to argue against, right?
12. Make better food choices
This is a big area and one that really does have a huge impact on mental wellbeing. If you struggle to maintain a good mood or you suffer with acne, skin conditions, pms or bloating, then I promise you, some dietary changes will go along way. Start with cutting down (or better still, cutting out) some of the big culprits that mask your own personal algorithms – caffeine, alcohol, sugar. These all give artificial highs and (not so artificial) lows. Without them, you will sleep better (which is HUGE!) and you’ll also have a better understanding of what’s really going on for you as an individual. Sometimes we have so much of these things that our bodies become desensitised to their effects. But don’t be misguided into thinking they aren’t doing you any damage. Did you know that refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine? Or that a hangover puts so much stress on your body that your immune system becomes temporarily ineffective? Or that over 75% of the Western population is believed to be in a chronic state of dehydration? You don’t have to be a saint about it – small changes can go a long way both physically and emotionally.
So, there you have my top twelve tips for stepping closer to happiness. Remember the golden rule that baby steps are fine – in fact they are the ONLY way to go. Depending on how unhappy you might currently feel, you’ve got things to turn around and that may take a little time. Tell yourself you are getting better every day in every way and make a commitment to try these things for a month. Know that you can get there, that anything is possible, and that if you’ve read to the end of this article, you’ve already shown yourself that you are ready for the change. You’ve already stepped in the right direction!