I’d like to be clear about something right from the start. Being ‘happy’ doesn’t mean we’re 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 we are; feeling pleased and excited about waking up in the morning. There’s 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 we 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 ourself feel happier.
Here are some tips for where to start in a quest to feel better when we’re not feeling that zest for life…
1. Set an intention
The first step is to set an intention to be happiER. Deciding that is really huge. Loving life might seem a long way off today, but commitment to baby steps is all that’s required. When we take a little step in the right direction every day, it doesn’t take long for life to look and feel very different.
2. Accept that our emotions are always providing valuable information
ALL of our emotions exist to guide us. When we feel unhappy, that’s our inner-self telling us 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 us understand ourself better; what feels good for us personally and what doesn’t. There is always something to be learned from our feelings, but we have to learn to actively take the time to listen to them. Being happy has to start with understanding ourself and what’s going to make us feel better as individuals because being happy means something different to everyone.
3. Know that it’s really okay to be who we are
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. School years contribute greatly to the beliefs we form about ourselves, yet that time is just a small snapshot of our life so it really doesn’t reflect who we are or who we can become.
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 so 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. The trouble is, often we don’t realise we’ve done this because it’s a slow and subtle process that happens over time.
Whoever we are is perfectly okay. Perhaps if we aren’t yet surrounded by ‘our tribe’ it might be because we aren’t allowing our true self to flourish and be seen. When we cover up or limit who we really are, it takes longer to meet the people who are right for us. Those people who just being around will feed our souls. It’s time to accept that whatever we feel, think or say, is okay, and what anybody else thinks of us is absolutely none of your business.
4. Spend more time with people who make us 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 us feel good. Sometimes we don’t even know initially who those people are. We can start by observing how we feel in the presence of our friends or partner, for example. How do we feel physically after spending time with them? Is it uplifted? Calm? Or tired and drained? Is the thought of seeing them exciting? Or does time spent end with a headache? Not everyone who makes us feel bad does so overtly, so it’s important to take notice of our feelings and be honest with ourself.
This change isn’t something we need to do overnight and we don’t need to be unkind to anybody in the process. We can simply start by filling up our time with the people or things who do make us feel good, so we end up having less time available for those who 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. When we notice ourself being unkind or behaving in a way we wouldn’t like someone to treat us, we have a choice. We can either blame them for making us feel bad, or we can accept that we have the ability to turn things around ourselves. Taking control of our own reactions makes us feel good inside, no matter how bad we might feel in a negative moment. This applies whether the person is in our presence or not. If we can’t say something nice, we can practice the principle of not saying anything at all. When we start being consistently kind to and about people, (whether they are strangers or family), we strengthen the good feelings in ourself. And then we get to notice people being kinder back to us. It’s a lovely result.
6. Find the things that we 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 we love can take time, trial and error – no matter what our 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 we want to feel happier, we must start doing what makes our own heart sing. Even if it’s only a tiny quiet song to start with.
Thinking about what we enjoyed doing when we were really little can help. Was it kicking a football around, or doing arts and crafty things? Was it nature lessons we found most interesting, or 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! Often it can be the case that we didn’t change all that much – it was the life around us that did.
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 our breathing, or a clock ticking, some calming music or even watching or cuddling a pet helps restore our energy. Looking at social media or watching TV doesn’t count – the idea is to switch our brain off for a few minutes and focus on something that will stop the stimulation and the chatter in our heads. 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. I guarantee you’ll 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. Going for a walk or sitting in the garden with our shoes off can completely turn the day around if we want it to!
8. When something makes us feel low, we have to 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; not ‘following’ people who get us down or irritate us; resisting doing what we feel we ‘should’ do to make other people happy. It’s really okay to say no – it’s not being selfish; it’s being sensible! If we want to be happy, then supporting our own good mood MUST become our priority.
9. Stop beating up on yourself
Negative self-talk is extremely damaging. When we tell ourselves we can’t do something, or we feel cross that we did something ‘wrong’, we aren’t being kind to ourselves. Most of us would not reprimand a good friend like we do ourselves. It’s not okay to offer personal criticism like this- it’s extremely damaging to our self-esteem. We don’t need to beat ourselves up to do better or to learn a lesson. On the contrary, what we need is to support ourselves. The average person lives for about 38 million minutes… that’s a long time to be in our head! Think of the damage we can do in that time. It makes much more sense to become your own best 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 we feel, there is always something in our life to be grateful for. Now don’t misinterpret this as me saying we should feel differently because there are people out there worse off. If we’re feeling low, it won’t help in the slightest to hear that. In fact, it’s more likely to make us feel worse because we add guilt and frustration to the pile of negative emotions that we’re feeling!
Making a daily note of what we feel grateful for is so helpful because it forces us to actively look for the things that are going right in our life – no matter how small they are. The result is we start to become very mindful. There may be days at the start, when it’s difficult to muster much more than ‘I have running water’ or ‘I have clothes on my body,’ but I promise that keeping a gratitude diary helps us see life through more positive eyes.
Maybe pair up with a friend and agree to text each other a daily prompt. Or share the things you are grateful for each evening. Aim for about 5 things per day to begin with – the smaller the better because that’s how we train our brain to start to notice and appreciate the detail in life. It’s the detail that offers us millions of good things to focus on every day – and it will never run out. I remember one night putting jelly (jello) on my list because I had seen some that day at a child’s party and the way it wobbled had made me smile and remember being that age myself. 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 it had to be somewhere on the list, didn’t it! We don’t have to go off and join a gym to start feeling better (although it might help!) We can always just do something to get our 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 our mind be fresh and excited about life if our body is feeling sluggish? When we look at it like that it’s hard to deny…
12. Make better food choices
This is a big area and one that really does have a huge impact on mental wellbeing. When we struggle to maintain a good mood or you suffer with acne, skin conditions, pms or bloating, then some dietary changes will go along way. Start with cutting down (or better still, cutting out) some of the big culprits that mask our own personal algorithms – caffeine, alcohol, sugar. These all give artificial highs and (not so artificial) lows. Without them, we sleep better (which is HUGE!) and also have a better understanding of what’s really going on for us as individuals. 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 any damage. Did you know that refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine? Or that a hangover puts so much stress on our body that our immune system becomes temporarily ineffective? Or that over 75% of the Western population is believed to be in a chronic state of dehydration? We don’t have to be saints about it – small changes can go a long way both physically and emotionally.
So there are 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. If you have things to turn around, accept that it may take a little time and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or that you’re failing in any way. Maybe make a commitment to try these things for a month and see how you feel after that. If you’ve read to the end of this article, you’ve already shown yourself that you’ve got the motivation to make some changes. Good luck! x
Kate is the creator of the Happiest You Programme. It’s a self paced, online programme of personal elevation, designed to enlighten, heal and strengthen your inner resolve. Every aspect of life is covered including how to make your relationships more fulfilling, how to improve your financial situation, how to expand the hope and expectations you have for your future and most importantly, how to learn to really love yourself. Each day you receive a 10 minute audio to listen to and at the end of each week there is also an exercise to complete. It’s a comprehensive guide to feeling happy – for the longterm! To find out more, including how you can join the programme, simply click here.