We are all looking for things which will make us happier – advertising thrives by telling us that buying this or that will make us happy. But once the new item bought and another grey day rears its ugly head and another deadline approaches and another spot appears on your face; how do we stay happy?
I think it is important to say that we don’t have to be happy all the time, that would be impossible. Sometimes we are sad, angry, stressed – and that is ok. I am a big advocate for crying it out: watching a sad film or weepily telling a friend what is going on. If you are angry that can be good too: let it motivate you to fight for the many things which need to change in this world! Anger is an amazing tool if used properly, so let it fuel your fire. For me stress is just horrible… but it happens, and for some can also be a great motivator. Importantly stress will pass: there is light at the end of the tunnel and while things build and build you will be getting through them, and the to-do lists will get shorter.
We also need to find the joy and that can sometimes feel almost impossible. There are dozens of articles about “How to Be Happy” online*, and I have read most of them, so you don’t have to!
Being around happy people is one wonderful piece of advice which permeates many of these articles, for example The British Medical Journal affirms that happiness is catching. It is so clear in my own life that when surrounded by negative people, I too am more negative. However, what I find more interesting is that your own positivity might be caught by someone else! You have the power to offer someone else happiness and then they might pass it back to you, like a beautiful game of happiness tennis.
Listening to music is another tip, according to The Journal of Positive Psychology, listening to positive, upbeat, bubbly music can boost our mood. For me that would mean putting on Motown, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder or Lake Street Dive, to name a few. (Spotify have ‘Happy’ playlists ready made for you!) Alternatively, some have proclaimed the benefits of listening to sad music when gloomy, which I also understand, as it may allow you to better connect with these emotions and cathartically express them.
Going outside is a difficult one when we are having so many rainy days but an important one: a Global Environmental Change study found that people are happier outdoors than they are indoors. A walk in the rain under a big umbrella, wrapped in a scarf and gloves might actually make you happier than sitting inside all day. If you really can’t get outside even just opening the window can get some fresh air into your lungs. Any connection to nature has proven beneficial: just smelling flowers according to Rutgers University prompt the brain to increase feelings of happiness. Plos One researchers, and many others have found having “plantsaround reduces stress and anxiety.” (Quoted in The Mindful Company Online). When we are around animals, our brain releases oxytocin aka the “cuddle hormone,” which give us feelings of joy and contentment and lower our blood pressure and our stress levels. At Exeter Uni we have the benefits of Ted Tuesdays in DH1, so if you need a cuddle from a dog you can have one!
One tip I hadn’t heard before was wearing bright colours, according to a 2010 study in BMC Medical Research Methodology when we wear vivid colours, like orange or yellow, it positively affects our mood! I love this idea – I have found wearing bright colours can actually make other people happy too and have shared smiles with strangers when I pull out my yellow umbrella!
The pieces of almost yogic advice are these big three: Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Avoiding Comparison, which cropped up a lot in my research: often advising we write down that which we are grateful for; forgive ourselves and others; and not compare ourselves to others – positively or negatively as any comparison is toxic. These can be difficult ones, but once you begin your list of things you are grateful for, more and more ideas (hopefully) come to mind. But even if the list is short, the things you do think of are powerful: they are helping you and sustaining you every day. Forgiving others can be hard, but sometimes forgiving yourself can be harder: mistakes are made, it happens, but it does not define you unless you let it. There is no need to compare yourself to someone else: you are your own person – for everything they do better than you, you will have something they want!
Something which I think is not spoken about enough is generosity. According to Business Insider “those who spend their money on others have a higher level of happiness than those who spend money on themselves”. This is echoed by The Power of Positivity which states that “the most successful, happiest people are often the most generous. […] taking as little as 30 seconds to help someone will instantly flood your brain with feel-good chemicals”. This is a wonderful and simple piece of advice with mutual benefits: helping others, being kind, being generous with your time or money will improve your mood as well as others’, and (if it’s not too cliché to say) make the world a better place.
Many of these things may be familiar to us, but sometimes we need to be reminded that there are ways and things available to us right now to shake up our perspective and make us genuinely happy.