Choose happiness

It’s that time of year again. A time of new beginnings. The New Year always prompts us to pause and take a look at our year gone by and to set intentions for the year ahead. It presents us with the opportunity for a fresh start; to make resolutions to help us to become the people we think we would like to be – whether that’s to be slimmer, fitter or more successful.

But what if, when it all comes down to it, becoming all those things doesn’t really matter at all? What if we were to have just one intention – one goal – that would override all other wants or needs? A goal that in its very nature would result in us feeling more fulfilled.

What if our one goal guiding us through life was simply to be happy? As William James once said ‘The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude’. Being happy is indeed a choice that anyone can make.

Here are six ways in which you can influence your happiness this year:

1. Be grateful

In today’s world of advancement and perfection, there is sometimes a tendency to focus on who we are not or what we don’t have, rather than being content with who we are and what we already have. See if you can alter how you look at your life so that you start to accept things you cannot change and you’re thankful for all that you have. Learn to love the person you are. There are some lovely ways of keeping your focus on this. One is to write down things that you are grateful for throughout the year and keep them in a jar so that you can look back on them. Another is to complete the sentence ‘Today I am grateful for…..’ everyday so that gratitude is always front of mind.

2. Value the simple things

Identify simple things and experiences which nourish your soul. Take pleasure in doing simple tasks such as making a meal or watering the plants. Enjoy the space around you – being outdoors in the fresh air, sitting by the fire, having a candlelit bath or snuggling up to read a book. Make time for friends and family, and cherish every moment you spend with them. Prioritise nourishing experiences over mundane activities that add nothing to your life. You might like to explore Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) which is a Danish feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, everyday moments more meaningful, beautiful or special.

3. Live in the present

Rather than thinking about the conversation you just had with your partner or worrying about all the things on your to-do list, be mindful of your present moment experience. Take time to notice the sensation of the breeze on your face, the beauty of the mist lingering over a valley or the taste and texture of the food you are eating. Switch off your phone and the TV and have a conversation with a loved one. Take a break in your day to just sit and breathe.

4. Choose positivity

We are all familiar with the cup half full versus cup half empty analogy. Whatever your outlook tends to be, by heightening your awareness of your thought patterns – your inner narrative – you can start to change the way you look at things. Through the process of observing your thoughts, when a negative thought arises you can catch it, acknowledge it and then filter it out. Without becoming involved with it, or allowing it to play out, you can prevent the negativity from escalating further. Another key way to promote positivity in your life is to surround yourself with likeminded people who enhance your life rather than those who drain happiness from it. Start by looking at the people who you choose to spend time with and take steps to distance yourself from relationships which are destructive or do not bring you happiness.

5. Be kind to yourself

Life is busy and we all have lots going on. Just remember that you are doing the best you can. No matter how much you think you need to do in any one given day, remember that you also need and deserve time out to relax and let everything go – every day. Learn to value your wellbeing and to treat your body with respect. No matter how busy you are, stepping away to do something for yourself for just one hour a day will make you feel more energised, healthier and happier. You can then be more productive at work, more patient as a parent and more present as a partner. So, commit to getting away from your desk to go for a walk at lunchtime, make time to go to your yoga class (even if staying on the sofa seems more appealing at the time), or prioritise having a long soak in the bath over watching the TV. Ultimately you won’t ever regret that time spent on creating space for yourself. The more space that you create, the more well you feel and the more life seems a bit more manageable.

6. Be passionate

Identify a few things that you really love doing – things which bring you joy – and devote time to them. You could identify something that you’ve always wanted to do – a new hobby – and then cherish the process of learning to do that. By prioritising spending time doing activities which bring you happiness you will promote a way of life that ‘seizes the day’ and creates memories rather than wasting time on mundane things that do not enhance your life experience or benefit your wellbeing.  This will bring you a sense of fulfilment and is most likely to make you more active and sociable, which in turn could bring other positive changes in your life without you even expecting it.

So for this New Year, perhaps ditch the resolutions in favour of having this one intention: choose happiness. And you might then find that everything else slots into place, to the point where you find fewer things that need to be resolved. The positive changes simply come as a result of being happy.

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