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Happy

Yesterday evening, I watched a documentary called Happy. This film explores what makes people happy. It was a welcome reminder of what happiness really is and all the ways we can work on and maintain happiness in our lives.

Interestingly, our genetic makeup determines 50 per cent of our happiness. Some of us are just born happier! Circumstance (where we live, our job, life events) only contributes 10 per cent towards our happiness. So we have a whole 40 per cent to work with. We have the power to boost our own happiness. It’s a personal choice. And one well worth making.

So because it’s always good to be reminded of how to be happy, and especially coming up to Christmas, I’m going to share a few of the best ways to promote happiness.

1. Gratitude: Recalling all the things you’re grateful for really makes you appreciate all you have. I’m currently keeping a 30-day gratitude journal where I write 10 things each day that I’m grateful for and the reasons why. Afterwards, I read them aloud. So by day 30, I’ll have 300 wonderful things to read. I’m only on Day 6 but already I’m feeling the change in my mood and my energy. And it’s making me more aware of the abundance of things I have to be grateful for as I go about my days.

2. Compassion: Caring for others is guaranteed to make you feel good too. Try completing a random act of kindness. Give a stranger a free parking ticket, donate clothes to the homeless or volunteer to work with the ill or the elderly. Helping others unites you with your fellow man. Doing meaningful things with your time fills you with a sense of purpose and pride. Another way of bringing compassion into your life is to do a Loving-Kindness meditation where you focus on sending love and kindness to yourself and to others. This form of meditation has even been known to help with depression.

3. Flow: Do things that bring you into a state of flow. When you’re in flow, you’re totally in tune with what you’re doing. You’re present. Time stands still. For some people, this could be painting or playing piano. It could be scuba diving or upcycling, surfing or sewing. Uncover your passion, get your creative juices bubbling and enter the flow.

4. Dopamine: Dopamine is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. In simple terms, it’s a feel-good chemical. We release this chemical when we perform rewarding activities like eating and having sex. However as we age, this hormone is produced less and less. The good news is that the more we show our bodies that we need this chemical, the more our bodies will continue to make it. It’s like a muscle that gets bigger the more we exercise it. Aerobic activity is great for stimulating dopamine release. Interestingly, if we work out in novel ways, even more dopamine is released. So instead of your usual jog, sign up for The Color Run. Rather than hitting the gym, go rock climbing or white water rafting. Replace walking around the estates with a hike to a spectacular location.

5. Mix it Up: Following on from the previous tip, another way to prevent yourself from sliding into monotony is to change things around. Take an alternate route when you’re walking your dog. Try out a different café. Attempt a fresh recipe from that book that’s been collecting dust ever since you received it three Christmasses ago. Join an adventure club. Attend a Meetup outing and make new friends. Travel to a destination on the opposite side of the map. After watching Happy, Bhutan is now on my bucket-list. Bhutan is a place located on the slopes of the Himalayas that officially uses Gross National Happiness as an indicator to measure quality of life in holistic and psychological terms. Now that’s my kinda country!

As you can see from the list above, the road to happiness is simple. And it’s free. In fact, once our basic needs are met, money does very little to increase happiness.

Happiness is sharing a meal with your loved ones. Happiness is laughing over a latte with friends. Happiness is being present with your children. Happiness is being astonished by the beauty of nature and the miracle of life. Happiness is when you realise  just how rich you really are.

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How different my life is…

I was watching an episode of Downton Abbey recently when I was struck by how different life was in the early 1900s. Any expression of emotion was frowned upon; the working class was forbidden from befriending the upper class and vice versa; and unwed mothers were cast into disrepute.

As the drama onscreen drew to a close, I began to give gratitude for all the freedoms I possess but usually take for granted. For example, how different my life is from that of a woman 200 years ago. I can vote in the elections during the day and read about how to bag a lover in a glossy magazine by night. I can attend university and choose how to make a living from any number of possible occupations.

How different my life is… from that of a strict Muslim. I can style my hair whichever way I please (and show it off as I strut down the street in a short skirt and stilettos). I can order a steak and sip on a Mojito, while holding hands with my latest fancy-man across the table.

How different my life is… from that of a prison inmate. I can leave my room whenever I choose. I can breathe in all the fresh air I need and stare up at the open sky for as long as I like… I can jump in the car and drive to whatever destination attracts me. I can live with love and determination and hope instead of fear and frustration and longing…

"Man is free at the moment he wishes to be." Voltaire

How different my life is… from that of a single parent. I can go away for a weekend at a moment’s notice. I can stay in bed all day when I’m under the weather… I can decide not to cook when I’m feeling lazy. I can read romance novels or watch soppy movies for hours on end… I can sleep through the night, without being woken up by a screaming infant or a mischievous teen.

How different my life is… from that of a person who’s confined to a wheelchair. I can walk and run and skip and cart-wheel. I can go on bike rides to the beach and roller blade in the park. I can dance with my future husband and play Tip the Can with my prospective children.

How different my life is… from that of an impoverished child in a forgotten third world country. I can afford to complain about eating too much and putting on weight. I can make myself a double-decker sandwich at 3am, after a night on the beer. I can stuff myself with smoked salmon and roast turkey and airport-sized Toblerones every Christmas. I can kiss my family good night without worrying that they’ll have starved to death before dawn.

How different my life is from that of an unemployed father… A victim of domestic abuse… An addict… A criminal… A widow… Somebody suffering from mental illness… A blind person… Somebody who’s just been told they have a terminal disease…

Most of the time, we’re too busy to give thanks for all that we’re fortunate enough to have. To a certain extent, we’re all afflicted with problems and difficulties. But do we ever stop to think about how lucky we really are? Why not pause for a moment to consider the other tree-lined avenues or dark alleyways our life journeys could have taken us down… Some of them appear to be fuller and richer and more exciting. But others are sad and horrid and painful.

Wherever you are right now, that is where you’re meant to be. Give thanks for that. And make the most of it. I know I will.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." John F. Kennedy

Images: http://www.fotolog.com.br/meninadetpm_s2/99789618; http://mrbiswinning.tumblr.com/; www.flickr.com; http://weheartit.com/entry/18528887;  http://youaretherhythm.tumblr.com/page/11