Happy your way to healthy

Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant. Bev works with individuals, groups and workplaces who want to take a more positive and proactive approach to enhancing wellbeing, and in turn achieve greater results.

Bev brings a unique perspective and authenticity to her work, having spent 18+ years performing high pressured management roles within the Finance and IT industries, in both the UK and Australia.

Today, through her business Practically Balanced, she draws on her experiences of performing in a business environment, and expertise in health and wellbeing, to provide training and services that can be utilised in daily life, whatever your business or life shape.

Bev completed a Diploma in Yoga with the highly respected Qi Yoga School in Sydney in 2012 and with Sivananda in India in 2015. She also completed a Certificate in Stress Management with the London Centre for Coaching and Counselling in 2014, an ILM with the Stress Management Society in 2014 and a Diploma in Meditation with the British School of Meditation in 2016.

Introduction

According to the World Happiness Report, Britons are amongst the happiest in the world.  The seventh report, based on research conducted between 2016 and 2018, placed us 15th in the 156-country ranking.

Personally, I was both impressed – albeit a little surprised – by that statistic.

So, what is it that makes you, or us Britons, happy?

Reflect for a few moments on your response to this question and what happiness means to you?  Write down your thoughts if you would like to.

It’s an interesting question, and one that is likely to trigger a different response in each of us.  You may be crystal clear, or you may have gone completely blank – or anything in between.

I have heard it said that we each have a fixed set point for happiness determined by genetics, behaviours, experiences and circumstances.  Whilst this gives each of us a baseline happiness level, approximately 40% of our happiness is apparently in our own hands.

To point out the obvious, this means that we can each increase our happiness levels by, well, up to 40%. Or at least a lot.   But like most things in life we have to learn how to be happy, and practice it regularly to become good at it.

In this blog I am going to explore:

  • what I understand happiness to be;
  • what might be getting in the way of your happiness;
  • some of the many benefits of “getting your happy on”; and
  • ways to increase your short-term and sustained happiness

What is happiness?

I’ve recently had a milestone birthday.  I had a run of celebrations, was fortunate enough to be surrounded by those nearest and dearest, and I was thoroughly spoilt with gifts and experiences flowing in.  Feeling happy was as easy as pie.

Today it’s Monday morning – I’ve got a heap of things I need to get done, it’s pouring down with rain and so dark that I’ve had to put a light on.  Not quite so easy to get my happy on.

So, does this mean that happiness is fleeting, or simply an emotional response to what is happening in our external world?

No, I don’t believe it is.

There are many views out there, scientific and non-scientific, as to what happiness is.  My personal belief is that there are two distinct types:

  1. Sustained happiness: the aspects of your life that bring a deeper sense of fulfilment and happiness
  2. Short-term happiness: the things you do regularly that bring about positive emotions and boost your happiness levels

One of the challenges to being happy is that it is easy to get confused between the two.

In the build-up to my birthday I spent some time reflecting on the core areas of my life that are in place and make me happy.  My partner, my friends and family, my dogs, my health, my home and where I live, my business, my life experiences and my financial position – for me these are some of the things that give me a deeper sense of fulfilment and happiness.

If my dogs play a game of chase through the house with muddy paws (which they have a habit of doing!), or eat yet another pair of my shoes (another habit!), it’s pretty likely I will be less than happy with them in the moment.  However, I wouldn’t want to be without the crazy duo, and there is an underlying happiness they add to my life that is always there.

On the other hand, receiving, buying, giving, experiencing, eating or drinking things can certainly provide instant gratification – a temporary boost in the moment to increase happiness levels.  But the happiness this brings is generally fleeting and the ‘high’ soon wears off.

I’m not saying though that these kinds of happiness boosters are a bad thing, providing you are turning to these to give yourself a conscious happiness boost.  They are not such a good thing if your choices are less than positive or you are relying on this type of quick fix for your only source of happiness.  Sometimes these can also come with negative consequences to, for instance, your wellbeing or your bank balance.

What gets in the way of your happiness?

Again, you might want to reflect for a few moments on your response to this question, and what gets in the way of your happiness?  Write down your thoughts if you would like to.

For some people this question is easier to answer than what makes you happy, and there is a good reason for that.

I once went to an interview, for one of my early roles in management, where I was asked to tell a joke and the only one I could think of was a rude one.  A really rude one!  Stood in front of the panel I told it and, although I got both a laugh and the job, it still makes me cringe!

You may be able to think of situations from way back, where a positive situation was drowned out by what you perceive to be a negative one?

Or perhaps you have found yourself going over and over a challenging conversation or experience?

Or focussing on the one negative aspect of an otherwise glowing personal report or a fabulous day?

These are just some examples of how, as human beings, we are drawn to the negative.

You only have to watch the news or flick through a trashy magazine!

There is actually a good reason for this, and you are likely to be experiencing what is deemed the ‘negativity bias’.

The negativity bias is a natural mechanism given to us by nature for a very good reason – to ensure our survival.  Being attuned to danger meant that our ancestors were able to avoid environmental threats such as the good old sabre-toothed tiger.

It’s not just that we are drawn to the negative, but our brain is apparently better at learning from bad experiences and not so great at learning from good experiences.  Makes sense when you think about it.  If our ancestors survived a dangerous experience, like escaping from a sabre-toothed tiger, they would want to ensure they remembered and avoided repeating it.

Whilst the negativity bias has its roots in evolution, our capacity to seek out threatening situations is still part of our genetic makeup today.   In fact, I have heard it said that our ability to seek out the negative outweighs our ability to seek out the positive by a whopping three to one ratio.

Add to this the fact that negative experiences are more easily and readily stored in your mind, and it’s not difficult to see why you are likely to end up with a memory full of negative feelings and thoughts.

Whilst the negativity bias is useful for our survival, it is not so useful in living happy and fulfilling lives.  The good news is that, with effort, it can be balanced out somewhat with conscious focus and absorption of the good stuff.  More to come on that later.

The benefits of being happy

Happiness and wellbeing go hand in hand.  When you are happy you are healthier and when you are healthy you are happier.

This isn’t a fluffy statement – plenty of research provides direct links to happiness and wellbeing.

Here are three examples:

Happy people live longer

A famous study published in 2001 saw researchers, from the University of Kentucky, analyse the handwritten autobiographies of nuns in the 1930’s, and provide a link between happiness and longevity.

Amongst their findings, the researchers discovered that the happiest nuns lived ten years longer than the least happy nuns. They also found that cheerful nuns had an 80% chance of getting to age 85, while the least cheerful nuns only had a 54% chance of reaching 85.

Interestingly, 54% of the happy nuns reached 94 while only 15% of the least happy nuns reached that age.   Additionally, for every one percent increase in the number of positive sentences in their writings, there was a 1.4% decrease in mortality rate.

Happiness strengthens the immune system

An experiment on dental students aimed to determine how an individual’s immune system can vary depending on their happiness levels.

Over a two-month period, the participants took tablets containing a harmless blood protein from rabbits, which causes an immune response in humans.

Participants were asked to rate the different positive moods they experienced each day whilst scientists measured the presence of an antibody in their saliva that defends against foreign substances.

Whilst there are many factors that can impact the immune system, what they found was that on days where the participants were happier, they had a better immune response.

Happiness supports stress recovery

In a 2009 study, researchers looked at the response and recovery of 65 students to an inevitably stressful situation.

The students were put in a room and asked to answer challenging questions that they thought they were going to be recorded and assessed on.

What they found was that higher positive traits exemplified during the exercise contributed to positive post-stress recovery.

How to get your happy on

I mentioned before that I envision there to be two types of happiness.  Let’s explore these in more detail and how you might go about increasing your baseline happiness, should you wish to:

Sustained Happiness

When I teach Time Management, I get participants to look at how they currently spend their day and what their ideal day might look like.   This exercise can uncover a number of things for different people. However, one that repeatedly comes up is that, even if we had all the free time in the world, many of us wouldn’t know what to do to with it.  In other words, many of us have little idea of what constitutes a happy life.

Happiness is ambiguous.  What is important to each of us and what makes us happy is different, so how do you determine this for yourself?

In truth, there are lots of different ways to go about it.

One I personally like is from a concept called ‘Level 10 Success’ or ‘Level 10 Life’ which comes from a book called ‘The Miracle Morning’, by Hal Elrod.

Hal Elrod defines 10 areas where you can measure your success and satisfaction, and where necessary take steps to enhance these areas to live your best (level 10) life.

The areas of life (wording slightly adapted for my palate and choices) for assessment and action include:

Where would you rate these areas in terms of your current happiness and fulfilment?

It makes sense that if any of the areas, that are important to you, are lacking then it’s likely to influence your sustained happiness.

Life can be challenging. There are of course going to be times and situations where you are unable to influence aspects of your life and in turn your happiness.

But for the purpose of this blog, let’s assume that you are able to, and are interested in assessing and enhancing the areas that are important to you.

Start by listing the 10 life areas and where you see each one in terms of current success and satisfaction.

Secondly, list up to 10 goals against each of the life areas that are important to you, or that you would like to focus on.  This might be a mix of short-term and long-term goals – think about what you can either start doing or stop doing.

If you are in the midst of challenging times, you may like to focus on one or two areas where you can bridge a few happiness gaps and work towards improving your sustained happiness.

A few bloggers have posted their level 10 goals which may be of interest or give you some ideas.   One example is Boho Berry.  Or of course you can check out the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.

We need to evaluate our sustained happiness regularly. What makes us happy when we are teenagers is not necessarily what makes us happy in our twenties and so on.

The start of a new year or a milestone birthday is also a good time for reflection.  As are significant life events such as when you commence, change or retire from working life, start a family or when children fly the nest.

Short-term happiness

Cultivating more happiness in your day can go a long way in planting the seeds for a happy life.

This is achieved by simply doing things that temporarily boost your happiness levels on a regular basis.

Personally, I like to include at least something in my daily schedule or to do list.  I used to colour code my activities and would list these as orange – so I call it putting orange in my day.

Remember though that these are likely to only provide a temporary boost in the moment to increase happiness levels.   The happiness high from these individually will not necessarily be long lasting.  However, in multiple I like to think about it as building a happiness savings account – the more you put in the more you will be able to draw on when you need it.

I recommend creating a list of things you will do regularly to boost your daily happiness, ensuring that these do not come with negative consequences to, for instance, your wellbeing or your bank balance.

Sounds a bit cheesy but I refer to this as a ‘happy list’.

Here are some ideas on what you may like to add to your happy list:

Take a break Practice meditation Give back (time or money)
Have a relaxing bath Phone a positive contact Learn something new
Sing Take a nap Do a puzzle
Read a good book Give an unexpected gift Watch a sunrise or sunset
Do some yoga Look back at old photos of positive experiences Connect with nature
Wear your favourite outfit Go for a walk Watch a comedy show
List the things you are grateful for Spend time with happy memories Enjoy breakfast in bed
Make time for your hobbies Create and listen to a playlist of uplifting or relaxing music Spend time with your nearest and dearest
Create and repeat a positive affirmation Do some gardening Treat yourself or someone else to an achievable gift or experience
Have an early night Listen to an inspiring podcast Do some mindfulness colouring
Cook your favourite meal Buy flowers (or look at them in nature) Spend time with pets
Have a relaxing bath Watch a positive movie or documentary Read or listen to jokes
Feel your bare feet on the grass or sand Visit an art gallery Dance
Take an exercise class Have a sleep in Enjoy the stars

 

You can always pick a few things and create your own happy hour!

One world of caution is to ensure that you don’t stack emotions.  If you are feeling grumpy, fed up, annoyed, sad, or any other of the valid human emotions we all experience, first try to determine how and why you are feeling this way.  If you ignore and don’t address your emotions they are likely to get louder, even outrageous.  Once you have done this you may like to take steps to shift your state to a happier one, assuming you are able to and want to.

I’m also a huge fan of keeping a gratitude diary or sharing with someone what went well or you enjoyed about your day.  Wayne Dyer said that if you focus on gratitude before you go to bed, that’s what you will marinate in whilst you sleep.  I love that idea.

Counteracting the negativity bias

Along with enhancing sustained and short-term happiness, we also need to factor in how we tackle our natural propensity to be drawn to the negative.

Cultivating more happiness in your day can go a long way in planting the seeds for a happy life.  Counteracting the negativity bias can help to make those seeds grow and potentially take roots.

Dr Rick Hanson provides a three-step process that helps to not let the good experiences go by, and to help your brain to hard wire them – balancing out the negativity bias.

Step One:  Look for the good facts and turn them into good experiences

This is often the simple yet powerful goodness we create and experience every day:

  • A delicious meal
  • An unexpected compliment
  • Hearing from a good friend
  • A beautiful day
  • Hearing your favourite songs on the radio

Or maybe focussing or reflecting on an area that brings a deeper sense of fulfilment:

  • Having people in your life you care about and who care about you
  • Your home or the area you live in
  • Being in employment you enjoy or working with great people

You get the idea. The key is to start to tune into and notice these experiences more.

Step Two:  Enrich the experience

Once you have tuned into a positive experience the next step is to really enjoy and savour it for 20 to 30 seconds, letting positive feelings and emotions intensify.

By opening yourself up to the feelings and sensations that arise from the experience you give your mind a chance to prepare to absorb it.

Step Three:  Absorb the experience

In absorbing the experience, we want to be able to allow the experience to sink in.   Some may like to visualise this spreading throughout them in a warm glow as the linked article suggests.  For a practical soul like me, I like to simply imagine the experience being moved from my mind’s short-term memory to Its long-term filing storage – occasionally bumping a negative file out of the way for good measure!

However you choose to enrich the experience, you need to set the intention and sense that the experience is becoming part of you and that it will be kept with you in memory.

This three-step process helps to balance out the negative bias, and to rewire the brain so that we have a mind comprising of a balance of both positive as well as negative experiences.

As most of what we experience is through our mind this three-step process helps to bring about more happiness from the inside out.

Summary

What is the moral of this blog?  Simple – to have a happy and fulfilled life.

Enhancing the areas of life that are important to you, including happiness boosters in your day, and tackling the mind’s negative focus can together support you in doing just that.

Happiness, like anything, is a life skill to be understood, learnt and practised. By getting better at it we all have the capacity to increase our baseline happiness levels and enjoy the many benefits of being happy.


Bev Alderson

Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant who works with individuals, groups and workplaces wanting to take a more positive and proactive approach to enhancing wellbeing and in turn achieving greater results.

Bev brings a unique perspective and authenticity to her work, having spent 18+ years performing high pressured management roles within the Finance and IT industries in both the UK and Australia.


With many thanks to Bev for this blog; if you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Clare via phone; 01684 310099 or e-mail [email protected]


Relevant Cytoplan products

5-HTP – contains 5-HTP from the shrub Griffonia. 5-HTP is the safe precursor to serotonin, this supplement also contains the other nutrients necessary for the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin – magnesium & vitamin B6.

L-theanine – an amino acid, found in tea leaves, that is used to support the relaxation response, sleep quality and memory.

Ashwagandha – used in traditional Ayurverdic medicine, Organic Ashwagandha comes at a potency of 500mg per capsule.


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3 thoughts on “Happy your way to healthy

  1. This was a brilliant article. It made so much sense. The pointers are very practical and the tasks very achievable. Thank you !

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