At Fresh Air Fridays whenever we run courses for individuals or organisations, we talk about all sorts of outcomes that people might experience. Sometimes I want to simplify the whole thing and say “you will be happier”.
When I talk to my friends about what we want for our children, when we share our stories about what they may or may not be doing, the conclusion we always draw is that in the long run we just want them to be happy.
Being happy sounds so simple and at the end of the day, it is what many, if not all of us, want to feel. We are constantly sold happiness through the media, what our friends are doing on social media and advertising. If we go on this holiday or buy that thing we are told it will make us happy. Happiness seems like the holy grail for many, so why can it seem so elusive? And how can we find more of it?
Happiness is an inside job
I am not certain who said it, but a quote I came across said: “I go away on holiday to amazing places but when I get there I find I am still here!” It’s obvious really, our feelings and whatever is going on in our head comes with us, wherever in the world, we are.
When we buy something that promises to make us happy, we do get a little internal shot of dopamine and experience a temporary high, but it doesn’t last long and then we feel just the way we did before we had the “thing”. The truth is that it isn’t external things that make us happy or unhappy; it’s the thoughts inside our head that have that effect.
Happiness can’t be bought or sold – it’s an inside job! So what can we do about it? How can we find that happy feeling on the inside?
Stop fighting what is
I was recently at an event that wasn’t how I had hoped it would be and, as a result, I spent the whole day being cross and grumpy. Feeling this way meant I missed out on a lot of great connections and didn’t have as much fun as I would have had if I had been in a different state of mind.
When we can accept, from moment to moment, that things are as they are, we free ourselves up to choose how we want to behave. On that note, this is not about ignoring injustice nor avoiding acting to improve areas that are important to us. Rather, it’s that when you get to a red traffic light there’s no need to make yourself miserable by sitting there saying there shouldn’t be a red light when clearly there is one. We run this sort of behaviour frequently, feeling things aren’t fair and they should be different and that affects our happiness.
You might like to try a day when you notice how many times you have some sort of complaint or resistance to what is actually a fact in that moment. You might even make a game out of noticing how you have been resisting “what is”. As we start to notice what’s happening, we create some freedom and choice.
“Oh, there’s a red light. I’m going to enjoy the music on the radio for a moment.”
“I think that person is being unreasonable. I don’t like it, what can I do now?”
Notice how different this response is to, “he shouldn’t be doing that”, which may be a more usual reaction. The fact is, the person is behaving in a particular way and it’s up to you to choose how to respond.
Notice what is working – practice gratitude
At Fresh Air Fridays, we practice gratitude on a daily basis and constantly notice what’s working.
It might be gratitude for a lovely cup of tea, or for the flowers in someone’s front garden, or for a lovely message from a friend. Size doesn’t matter – our brains don’t care about the magnitude of the “thing”. It’s that the more we notice what we are grateful for, the more our brain will look for, and find, those things.
When we start noticing what we already have, we stop chasing happiness and find we already have it in many ways.
Do things you love to do
It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and to fill every waking hour with the “stuff” we have to do. To make a difference to our happiness it’s important to prioritise at least one thing that we love to do.
What might that be for you? Was there something you used to love to do as a child? Is there a hobby you haven’t done for ages? Perhaps you have no idea, why not try a few different things over the coming months? It might be about finding something you think you would be good at or doing something you have no idea about. Check in with what feels right for you.
Sometimes things can feel hard and none of us is designed to function alone. It is worth finding things you can do with other people, whether that’s a hobby, joining a special interest group, or asking a neighbour round for a cup of tea.
It may feel really hard to take the first step, but you will be surprised how often other people are grateful that you have taken it. Finding like-minded people, whatever is going on for you in your life, can be a really helpful way to support your happiness and wellbeing.
Have some time in nature
We see daily in our work that when people step outside into green spaces they feel better.
We evolved in nature. When we stand under a tree we feel happier. Plan a short walk in your local park or past some houses where there are green front gardens. If you can get out into the countryside, treat yourself to a short stroll. Green spaces definitely help your happiness levels.