21 Ways to Be Happy in 2021
Not a regular consumer of the Saturday Guardian but I fancied a change last weekend (can’t think why, what with all that personal freedom and variety I’m currently getting)! The magazine had a focus on “21 Ways to be Happy in 2021,” which I found to be an entertaining and in places, enlightening read.
Thought my LinkedIn friends might appreciate a precis of the best bits (according to me);
1. Psychology professor Laurie Santos wrote about ‘Changing your Mindset.’ I think there’s an awful lot to be said about ‘reframing’ situations to better equip you with the mental strength to act with greatest impact. Research shows people are more driven to tackle new goals at shared temporal breaks than at random times of the year; the ‘fresh start effect,’ so in fact she encouraged people to use the New Year momentum. (I tend to counsel against throwing yourself into unrealistic and/or numerous behavioural change endeavours on Jan 1…) Research by University of Texas psychologist Kristen Neff has shown that its easier to change for the better if we treat ourselves kindly and recognise that suffering and frailty are just part of being human. Talk to yourself like a loving parent, soothe rather than scold. People who are self-compassionate eat better, exercise more and are happier with their bodies. Dr Santos’s podcast, The Happiness Lab, has more tips on forming better resolutions this month.
2. A piece called ‘Maximise Your Walk’ asserts that 20-30 minutes of walking in even the smallest amount of nature has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol and link to beneficial changes in blood pressure and heart rate. “Walking is the single most beneficial cardiovascular exercise anyone can do,” according to Tom Craggs, coach and trainer.
20-30 minutes of walking in even the smallest amount of nature has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol and link to beneficial changes in blood pressure and heart rate.
3. I loved an article entitled ‘Do One Thing at a Time’ by Oliver Burkeman. Few cracking quotes, ‘the single most important ingredient for a happier and more meaningful 2021 is to improve your capacity for doing only one thing at a time.’ Plenty of research testifies to the costs of ‘task-switching,’ wasting time and energy regaining a state of focus again and again. Worse, sometimes each activity becomes a way of avoiding every other activity (erm guilty…). A big part of the skill of doing one thing at a time is learning to handle the discomfort associated with knowing what you’re not getting done. Let go of the fact that spending three hours on that strategy deck will mean 30 unread emails.
4. There were ‘Lessons from your Elders,’ my favourite of which from David Cook, 79 who talked about suffering. “Don’t avoid people who are suffering; reach out to them, take their pain and enter into it. Listen, so you feel it yourself, then, with their permission, offer guidance; don’t bury or deny suffering. Embrace it. It’s power will be quickly diminished and you’ll grow as a result of it. Science teaches us that the very thing we try to avoid, to ignore, not to deal with, will be the thing that finds us or that grows in its power when we turn away.
5. Scent The Room; Introducing a pleasant ambient fragrance is one of the most effective ways to enhance mood and wellbeing. Lavender, vanilla, ylang ylang can relax us, peppermint, rosemary or citrus can perk us up when we’re struggling. (This was a great new idea as I’m got very into ‘micro-boosts’ during lockdowns, when we’re time poor, short sharp ways to reboot like 10 star jumps or losing it for 3 minutes to your favourite dance track) After a stressful meeting, introduce a strong smell like freshly ground coffee or herbs to jolt you into the present, clear your mind and energise your senses to move forward. Surrounding yourself with smells that remind you of a happy time, a holiday smell, childhood washing powder or perfume from your first date, can be all it takes to bring memories and associated positive vibes, flooding back (see final point).
6. Finally, ‘Learning How to Be Sad Better’ by Helen Russell, author. The ‘Tear Professor’ from Tilburg University, The Netherlands says, “Cortisol levels decrease in those who cry, since expressing sadness soothes us.” Sadness has a function. It denotes acceptance, closure, increases perseverance, promotes generosity and makes us appreciate what we’ve got. Thought suppression is futile as well as exacerbating the very emotions we’re trying to swerve as many studies such as the Harvard University white bear experiment of 1987 have proved.