Rumination describes a tendency to compulsively focus on the symptoms and causes of your unhappiness and distress. It is the need to constantly ponder on the things that are causing you distress without taking any positive action to identify and make changes. It is that point at which you are wallowing in unhappiness with the mistaken belief that by focusing on your distress and your past failures you will find a way out to resolution and happiness.
October the 10th is World Mental Health Day. To mark the occasion and to raise awareness of the importance of good mental health WorkGuru is getting back to basics; we are revisiting the brilliant Foresight report and their Five Ways to Mental Wellbeing. Five simple things that we can all be doing to boost and maintain our mental wellbeing.
Connect with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
Go for a walk or a run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.
Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, as linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.
There is strong evidence that happier people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. Plus, research shows that this is a two-way relationship; it isn’t only our success that creates happiness, our happiness creates success. Here are our ten top tips for creating a sustainable boost to your levels of happiness:
1. Appreciate the sad times
Sad times are important. If we didn’t experience sadness then we wouldn’t appreciate the things that make us happy. It is often through the sad things in life that we find the greatest life meaning and wisdom.
2. Focus on your strengths
We all have our own personal strengths. Strengths are traits such as curiosity, wisdom, honesty, kindness, courage, perseverance, forgiveness and enthusiasm. Understanding and using our strengths in all elements of our lives help us to feel more energised, effective and happy. It is not enough just to recognise our strengths we need to be putting them into practice, and finding new ways of using them.
3. Learn to be grateful
People who practice being grateful become significantly happier than people who don’t. Try it for yourself. Over the next 8 weeks, once a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down 3 – 5 things that you are grateful or thankful for. By spending just a few minutes a week counting your blessings and focusing on the big and small things that you are grateful about you can sustainably increase your levels of happiness.
4. Adopt the ‘As If’ Principle
Research has shown that by acting as if you are experiencing an emotion, you are more likely to experience it. By adopting a powerful pose (think of an athlete expressing triumph) you are more likely to behave in a powerful, confident way, (you don’t need to do this in front of people, you can hold the pose for 2 minutes in private and still feel the benefits). By smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, you will feel happier. Sitting up straight will help you both appear and feel more confident.
If you want to feel enthusiasm, confidence, bravery, or happiness act as if you are experiencing them and the feelings will follow.
5. Be kind to others
Committing acts of kindness and helping others can boost your levels of happiness. Try it for yourself. Over the next few weeks, for one day a week, complete 5 acts of random kindness. Examples include, donating food to a food bank, cooking a meal for someone, smiling at others, or buying/picking flowers for someone. Vary your acts, so you are not completing the same ones every week.
6. Practice meditation
Meditation has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression and to boost levels of wellbeing. There are lots of books, CDs, and YouTube videos that can tell you more about meditation. WorkGuru has three Mindfulness meditations that you can download.
7. Share with others
There is a lot of evidence that having the support from people close to you, whether they are a supportive partner or family, or close friends, has a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Keeping your friends in your thoughts as you face a challenge has been shown to help you meet the challenge more easily, and sharing news of a positive event with others will give you an extra boost of happiness beyond that of the positive event itself.
8. Improve your physical health
Our mental and physical health are deeply entwined. Happiness is good for our physical health, and our physical health is important for our mental health. What small steps could you be taking to begin to improve your physical health?
9. Pursue goals that are important to you
Having a life goal that is positive (focusing on what you want to achieve not what you want to stop or prevent), important, meaningful, and focused on personal growth, is linked to long-term levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Spend sometime thinking about life goals that are important to you.
10. Live by your values
We all have core values. Values are the things that give our life meaning, a map by which we navigate the world. Our core values are the values that we just would not want to compromise on. Sometimes in life we lose sight of our core values. Spend some time thinking about the values that are really important to you.
Our brains have developed through a process of evolution. In their current form our brains have been around for about 100,000 years; a mere drop in the evolutionary bucket. It is important to remember evolution as we consider our behaviours today. Why have certain behaviours evolved? How might those behaviours promote survival or reproduction?
The way we live today is very different to that of our evolutionary ancestors when there were no cities, no agriculture and no technology. We would have lived as foragers. There are still some (an extremely small number) of forager societies living in the world today.
Anthropologists who have studied these societies observe the immediacy of people’s lives, the extreme focus on the present. If your hunt has been successfully you return to camp to eat, if not you search for an alternative food source. People live by the motto “If it is not here and now what does it matter where (or when) it is?”
In foraging societies there is little if any gap between the efforts you make and the feedback you receive about your efforts. In our society there is often a long delay between the efforts we make and the payoff. By the time we do get feedback it may be too late for us to change what we are doing. Take for example farming. Farmers need to plough the fields, plant the seeds, water the fields, monitor for weeds and pests, harvest and store the crop. By the time it is done it will be months before the farmer knows if they have been successful. It is much harder to resort to a plan B if it has all gone wrong.
Some researchers suggest that it is the move 10,000 years ago from a foraging society that focused on immediacy to an agricultural society where there is more uncertainty and a greater delay before outcomes are known, that has led to us experiencing anxiety. We evolved to live in a foraging society where our actions had immediate consequences but modern life means that we are living very differently.
What does this mean for us now? Well, I am not suggesting that we move back to living in foraging societies, but there is a lot that we can learn from that way of life. We live a life now that is very focused on the future – we hurtle towards that future at great speed without taking the time to enjoy the here and now.
Being aware that our brains did not evolve for the way that we live today can give us new understanding and compassion for our feelings of anxiety.
Being happy is good for you! There is strong evidence that happy people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. There is even research that shows that this is a 2-way relationship; it isn’t only our success that creates happiness, our happiness creates success (so happy people are more likely to be successful rather then just successful people are more likely to be happy).
The pursuit of happiness however isn’t straightforward – the more we strive towards it the more difficult it can be to obtain. Just the perception of a wide gap between where we are now and where we want to be in terms of our happiness levels is enough to create unhappiness and discontentment.
We cannot achieve happiness by trying to avoid negative experiences or thoughts. The more we try to avoid something the more significant it becomes (try telling yourself to stop thinking about chocolate – the more you try the more you think about it!).
Negative experiences are important. How can we appreciate the things that make us happy if we don’t experience the things that make us sad? It is through the bad things that happen to us that we often find the greatest life meaning and wisdom. Without sadness we would not appreciate our happiness.
Psychologists suggest that the optimal ratio of positive to negative experiences is 3 positive events for every negative event. A negative event has a greater impact on us so we need to counteract it with 3 positive events.
The extent to which we experience happiness isn’t predetermined.
It is estimated that 50% of our capacity to experience happiness is genetic (dependent on our genes), 10% is environmental (our life circumstances) and 40% is within our control. It is that 40% that we can directly influence.
We all have our own ‘happiness spectrum’, a scale that is normal for us. Some of us might be more naturally happy than other people. Events such as marriage, a promotion, winning the lottery might provide a boost to our levels of happiness but they will eventually return back to the ‘normal for us’ state (psychologists call this hedonic adaption).
Research has shown that there are things that we can be doing every day to influence that 40% of happiness that is in our control, things that can help us to sustainably boast our happiness levels to the top of our ‘normal for us’ spectrum and reduce the risk of hedonic adaption; simple cognitive and behavioural exercises that can reliably improve our levels of happiness.
It is fairly easy to temporarily boost happiness levels (doing things that we enjoy such as feeling the sun on our face, eating chocolate, having sex), these things are important, but what we are focusing on is achieving a sustainable, long-term boost to our happiness levels.
Examples of happiness-increasing activities include meditation, thinking optimistically, expressing gratitude, and acting kindly towards others.
Incorporating these elements into your everyday life can help you to sustainably boost your happiness. Try it for yourself. Over the next 8 weeks, once a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down 3 – 5 things that you are grateful or thankful for. By just spending a few minutes a week counting your blessings and focusing on the big and small things that you are grateful about you can sustainably increase your levels of happiness.