Stress and anxiety has a huge impact on our emotional well being and unfortunately it has become synonymous with modern day life. It impacts on our ability to be happy, which of course can never be a permanent state of being, but something we all strive to feel more frequently. So how can we be happier in the face of life's trials and tribulations?
The first thing we can do is realise that happiness is a choice and this means that we can change our circumstances and outlook on life to become happier. We are all predisposed in how easy we find it to feel happiness but people are not genetically coded to feel a certain amount of happiness so make the effort to try and keep tabs on what your mind is doing. Negative feelings like anger, jealousy and resentment can very easily take over. However if you are aware of when this is happening you can chose to work through them in a healthy way so they are less likely to erode your general well being. In fact, research has suggested that 40% of people’s happiness comes from the choices they make.
The longest running study on happiness undertaken by Harvard - the project followed 724 men throughout their adult lives and found specific traits that were associated with increased happiness across the group.
Those that were happier chose to focus more on what was important to them and didn't worry about the smaller stuff to the same degree that they did when they were younger. This is in support of other research that shows that older people are more inclined to let go of past failures rather than focus on them.
The study also found that those with strong personal relationships i.e. with spouses, family, friends and social circles were generally happier. If you focus on positive relationships you are more likely to let go of negative people or at least minimise your exposure to them. Socialisation tends to be a mood booster while isolation is a mood buster, research has shown that loneliness can be just a harmful to health as smoking and alcoholism.
Improve your emotional resilience
Basically this means getting back on the horse when you've fallen off. Life will always have it's ups and downs, we can't stop bad things from happening but we can learn to bounce back quicker. In fact, we can learn a lot about ourselves and gain confidence from how we choose to deal with adversity.
Don't sweat the little things
If you can feel your stress levels rising try asking yourself whether whatever its worth it. If is something that it out of your control or not that important to you then let it go.
Surround yourself with positive people - research has shown that being in an environment full of positivity increases your own happiness. Negative people and negative energy sabotage your own mental efforts to be happy so chose people who reflect the emotions you want to feel.
A study of over 4000 people over 20 years revealed that happiness is a network phenomenon - people who are connected to a strong 'happiness network' were found to be more likely to be happy years into the future.
Learn to be good at handling stress
Stress can be a downward spiral, the more overwhelmed we feel the more likely we are to make choices that make it harder for us to cope. This could include not getting enough sleep, eating unhealthily, increasing caffeine intake, drinking more alcohol or smoking more and we're also less likely to make time for exercise or relaxation.
Learning to recognise when things are getting too much will stop this negative chain of events in its tracks. You can then make a choice to engage in positive behaviours, they might mean asking for help if you've got too much on your plate or simply sharing your worries if you're feeling up against it. It could be looking at breaking down an overwhelming project into manageable tasks or simply learning that sometimes its better to say no. In fact in the long term your ability to know when to say no will be a very valuable attribute.
Be mindful of what you have to be thankful for
This is a proven habit of happy people - to practice gratitude. This means taking the time to observe the positive and beautiful things around you whether its a relationship, a special moment or something in nature.
A one study psychologists found that groups of people who kept a diary of just 5 things they were grateful for each week felt better about themselves, felt more optimistic, had fewer health problems and got more sleep.
Figure out what means something to you
It is easy for us to forget about the dreams and goals we had for ourselves when we were younger, life becomes about settling for the safer option or simply prioritsing others needs above our own but this can ultimately lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the way things are. It is never to late to do something about it, remember what you want and why you want it and then put all your efforts into achieving it.
Learn to let stuff go
If you can learn to forgive you will be a happier you. Studies have shown that people who can forgive have lower rates of depression, lower levels of anger, reduced anxiety and higher satisfaction with life.
Forgiveness also appears to reduce the risk of nicotine dependence, abuse of drugs and alcohol and antisocial behaviour.
Clinical psychologist Everett Worthington Jr. describes a way to forgive in a 5-step process known as REACH. Recall the situation and empathize to try to understand things from the other person’s point of view. Then, try to be altruistic, and remember a time when you were forgiven for something you did. Commit to your forgiveness by putting it in words, and hold on to your forgiveness.
Take care of your body as well as your mind
Emotional and physical well being are of course interlinked, feeling the best version of yourself physically will enhance your emotional well being and feelings of happiness.
Eating well, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly are all going to keep your body feeling healthy.
What is happiness to you?
There is no one thing that guarantees happiness, it means something different to each of us so its a case of figuring out what it is that makes you happy and then bringing about what's needed to achieve it.
Making a list is also a good exercise as it forces you to remind yourself of the things that make you happy and that you are thankful for in your own life. Then when you're struggling with negative emotions you can refer to that list. It could be anything from a childhood memory, a valued relationship or a personal accomplishment.