Happiness is such a confusing thing—the more we try to find it, the more complicated it can become. I used to think that happiness would be waiting for me as soon as I achieved “perfect,” and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t reach either. My book, Happy Not Perfect, explores the happiness conundrum in detail. Over the past few years on the Not Perfect Podcast, I have asked every guest the question, “How do you define happiness?” I’ve had thought leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs, and creatives all share their answers, and every one of them has said something completely different. Happiness has been defined as everything from accepting life as what it is to a feeling of contentment, feeling connected, achieving things, being in flow, spending time with family, being in nature, or as one guest said, “Happiness often doesn’t come with a smile but knowing I am living in truth.” How would you answer the question: how do you define happiness?
With happiness meaning something so different to each and every one of us, how can we find simple ways to feel more of it? For the purposes of this article, I am defining “happy” as a feeling of joy, love, and wonder! Here are a few simple tips to get more of that.
1. Be nice to yourself and talk to yourself as you would a friend. It’s hard to feel happy when someone is mean to you all the time, and more often than not that someone is you. My bitchy inner critic loves to tell me that everybody else is better than me and all my work will ultimately fail. She can be such a bitch, and I have to challenge that voice every day to make sure she’s kind. A good tip to help you turn those self-insults around is to use Byron Katie’s “The Work” method. After every negative thought about yourself, such as “I am not enough,” “not pretty enough,” “not successful enough,” “not this enough, not that enough,” please ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is this true?
2. Can I be 100% sure it’s true?
3. How does this thought make me behave, think, or feel?
4. Who would I be without this thought?
After going through these questions, you start to realize that all your self-critical thoughts are NOT true, and without them, you’d be floating around like a happy cloud enjoying life.
“Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” —
2. Don’t believe everything that pops into your head. This follows on from the last tip to be nice to yourself, but I want to reiterate this point again, as it’s so important. Your brain lies all the time. Humans have an 80% negative bias, so it’s normal to assume the worst before you can see any positives. Many of my guests on the Not Perfect Podcast have spoken openly about the fact that they tend to let negative thoughts get the better of them. Your brain likes to lie to protect you, but kindness and compassionate thoughts are a far better protective shield in the long-term. Sit down and write a daily list of things you like about yourself. List your strengths and the qualities you admire about yourself, and remember to refer back to this list when the mean voice inside tries to tell you differently.
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.” — Byron Katie
3. MOVE YOUR BODY. I’ve just written a book called Happy Not Perfect: Upgrade Your Mind, Challenge Your Thoughts, and Free Yourself from Anxiety (available for pre-order), and one of the main themes I discuss in the book is the importance of moving your body to upgrade your energy and to improve your thoughts and feelings. I personally feel like it’s virtually impossible to “think your way out of a problem”; however, I believe it is in fact possible to “move your way out of a problem.” Let me explain. Negative and anxious thoughts take away joy so quickly, and it’s very easy to become lost in a spiral of critical thoughts. The next time your mind starts to press play on negative chatter overload, stop listening to the horrid voice inside by moving your body. I like to put on some music and have a five-minute dance party by myself, or if I can’t boogie, I do these “micro energizes” as I like to call them. By just relaxing my shoulders, sitting up tall, tilting my head back, and smiling like a Cheshire cat, I begin to bio-hack my mind. Your body is constantly sending messages to your mind, so by changing your posture into one that tricks the mind into thinking you’re happy (like the above), it’s a really simple way to create new energy, and fresh thoughts along with it. Just as Einstein wrote, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Einstein
4. Start a CONTENT DIET. What kind of content are you consuming on a daily basis? There is nutritious content that makes you feel good after you’ve consumed it, and there’s unhealthy junk food content that causes you to feel overwhelmed and addicted. From the moment you wake up, where are you looking? What are you reading? What are you listening to? I’ve unfollowed loads of accounts that don’t make me feel good, and followed ones that make me pop with energy. Find podcasts, articles, and accounts that add value to your life. You only live once.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Einstein
5. Get outside and take a daily walk. Simple but effective! I recently swapped my sit-down meditation for a short walking or running meditation, and I am embracing the change. Getting outside in daylight is critical for your vitamin D levels, which are hugely helpful in boosting your mood and immunity. It’s so easy these days when so many are #WFH to stay stuck inside chained to your emails, but don’t let the laptop imprison you. Get outside during daylight hours to receive your happiness dose.
Walking is a man’s best medicine.” — Hippocrates
6. Phone a friend. Loneliness is more problematic than ever before with COVID separating people from their loved ones, but social distancing doesn’t have to mean emotional distancing. To be happy, you need to be connected! Make sure you are regularly checking in on your community. I recently received a phone call from a friend who even in a normal world I would usually only see every six months or so. She called out the blue to say hi, and it was so nice to chat with her. I left the call feeling so grateful that she’d reached out. I admired her proactiveness and now want to do the same for someone else.
“A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.” — Douglas Pagels
7. Your skincare ritual is more important than you think. Your moisturizing routine can play a huge part in feeling happier and can be a gateway into creating more oxytocin, a key happiness hormone. When you touch yourself, like massaging a mask into your skin, this stimulates the production of oxytocin. Skincare rituals are simple steps to happiness as they’re quiet moments just for you. I recently have been obsessed with Erno Laszlo’s Hydra-Therapy Memory Sleep Mask as it’s become a key step in winding down before bed.
“Beautiful skin requires commitment, not a miracle.” — Erno Laszlo
8. Get a good night’s sleep. The bedrock to more joy, wonder, and love is having enough life force energy to even think “happy.” I know I’m probably writing things that you’ve already been told a hundred times, but why not try going to bed an hour earlier for a week and see if this changes how you feel? I have recently been getting into bed about 45 minutes earlier than usual, and I’m really enjoying the benefits. Mornings are easier, I am feeling far less triggered, and I have more energy to get stuff done the next day. A nice little tip to help you sleep better is to write a gratitude diary before you doze off. Research has found that those who go to bed with more positive thoughts fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and have a better quality of sleep. Keep a notepad and pen by your bed or use an app like Happy Not Perfect, which has a built-in “sleep wind-down” experience that includes a gratitude diary along with five other short exercises you can do before bed.
“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama
9. Reduce your screen time. Busy, overwhelmed brains are not happy or joyous and don’t have enough space to welcome in wonder. Let your brain rest with no tech time. Bring out a pack of cards or a board game, or lose yourself in a good book. When I was writing my book last year, I felt the happiest I had in a long time, and I concluded that a big part of this must have been because of the time spent away from my phone and technology. While I have now very much returned to a tech-filled life, I still make sure to schedule in a few hours of tech-free time each day.
“It’s not your job to like me—it’s mine.” — Byron Katie
10. Remember that “happy” isn’t a permanent state. If you’re reading this and not feeling that happy, then that’s OK. And if you’re reading this and feeling happy, then that’s great, but please don’t be afraid of it leaving. Just like time passes, emotions come and go, and happiness will flow in and out of your life. It’s important to remind yourself that it’ll always come back. This is a really lovely and reassuring thing to remember.
“So, when life is good, make sure you enjoy and receive it fully. And when life is not so good, remember that it will not last forever and better days are on the way.” — Jenni Young