“People take different roads seeking fulfilment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.” H Jackson Browne
Whilst there are certain universal principles which lead to greater happiness, like living in line with ones values for example, the path to happiness is just as unique and varied as each of us. Although our humanity unites us all, we each have idiosyncrasies and distinctly individual likes and dislikes. What brings me laughter and joy, another may not even find funny, and so it is with happiness. Even the basic principles of happiness, like living by ones values, are different for everyone. What struck me most about readers’ comments was the diversity of them, however, this should not really have been surprising when considering the wide spectrum of human nature.
That being said, a solid foundation needs to be in place before we are in a position to enhance our overall happiness. That solid foundation is a healthy or high level of self-esteem. Self-esteem in essence is both how we relate to ourselves and the ultimate worth we place on ourselves. It is the cornerstone from which all other happiness boosting activity takes place. After all, how many truly happy people do you know that constantly berate themselves and continuously feel unworthy? If I were to take a wild guess – not many.
There are many things which can affect self-esteem, an unhealthy relationship, a turbulent childhood or even workplace bullying, but sadly in truth there are too many causes to go into within this post. The good news is we can improve our self-esteem!
If you think you are suffering with low self-esteem or even just feel that there is room for improvement there is something you can do about it now and it need not take long. In fact, it is quite a fun exercise and is called the ‘Positive Qualities Record’. Simply imagine what your loved ones would say were your positive qualities; list fifteen traits or qualities if you can. If you are suffering from low self-esteem this may not be the easiest of exercises as you could be conditioned to dismiss the positive – but persevere – it will be worth it once you have a fabulous list of all your best qualities which you can refer to when you’re inner critic is activated!
Now go through the list once more, again thinking about what your loved ones would say, and give an example of when you displayed each quality. The examples can be from which ever time period you like, you just need to give one example per quality and if you think of more, that’s a bonus! I will shortly be writing an article on self-esteem where I will go into the tools we can all use to boost our self-esteem in much more depth, however for now, keep your new ‘Positive Qualities Record’ with you wherever you go. Every time your inner critic starts offering their two cents worth or someone is harsh towards you, refer to that list and keep re-reading it until the fact that you are a worthwhile person with much to offer the world sinks in.
Once you have a healthy level of self-esteem you can examine whether you have fostered attitudes which promote happiness. One of the most useful attitudes to have is one of gratitude. When you appreciate everything you do have, the brain begins to accumulate evidence to support your new perspective and actually seeks out examples of areas or things to be grateful for in future. This new evidence then has a cumulative effect and makes your attitude of gratitude even more resolute.
Being grateful has many benefits in my experience. It boosts your happiness by making you value what (or who) is in your life. This sense of fulfilment then manifests itself to others in your daily interactions with them and your general attitude is resultantly more open, which ultimately encourages more abundance of things (or people) to be grateful for.
Another valuable attitude to have is a positive one. This is similar however different to being grateful as being grateful relates to what you have rather than a positive perspective on situations or circumstances. For example, I am grateful I have loving and kind parents who are wonderful role models however I am positive about progressing up the career ladder. Being positive in today’s pessimistic society can be confused for being naive but I beg to differ. You can still be realistic in thinking there is a lot of hard work ahead of you. You can still be aware of the time and effort involved and have a suitably committed mind frame. Being aware of the challenges you may face down the line is simply good practice. Nevertheless, remaining positive that you are capable of achieving what you set out to and visualising a good outcome, not only improves your quality of life in the meantime, but also, perhaps surprisingly, improves your productivity.
I would like to think I am quite a positive person and I definitely try to foster a positive attitude. One of the ways I first started doing this was to re-post inspirational daily quotes on Facebook, in the beginning stages I found those quotes not only inspired me but subdued the pessimist lurking within me that for so many years had been given free rein. Now my Accessible Psychology Facebook page serves to reinforce what I already know to be true – that there is always a silver lining. When I look back on some of the toughest moments of my life I can now genuinely say I am grateful for each and every one. Each challenge, set back, heartbreak. For it was through those experiences that I learnt my biggest lessons, it was through those periods I grew and developed into who I am today. And I’m not perfect by any means but I’ve learnt that even in the midst of utter despair there is a silver lining – even though you may have to look very hard indeed to find one. So being positive is still possible when faced with a challenging life experience – you simply have to search extra hard and ask yourself the question ‘What is this teaching me?’. Of course I am not suggesting that if you are in a depressive state that it will necessarily be possible for you to see the silver lining, that may only happen in retrospect, but when you are ready it will be there waiting for you.
Now that your self-esteem is healthy and you have fostered an attitude of gratitude and positivity we can get into the details. Family (or even a second family – I call one of my best friends my sister) can provide you with a significant boost to your happiness. If you are blessed with a loving family this can bring a multitude of love and joy into your life. Simple things like touching base and sharing your day with someone that you know loves you unconditionally is so cathartic. Daily life and a hectic schedule can often get in the way of even the most loving families, so, should you be blessed with such a family, reach out and share your day with them whether it be by phone, text or even better, in person.
Hobbies are also a wonderful creative outlet. I like to write and sing but for you it may be photography, painting or even arts and crafts! My top tip would be to test run as many creative activities as you can until you find one you like. tasterlab.com has some fantastic taster sessions just waiting to be experienced! In my most creative moments, particularly when singing, I have found a sense of abandon and joy that few other activities allow me. I believe creativity is self-expression in its purest form.
Helping others and contributing back to society has an incredible impact upon your happiness too. The very act of making someone else’s day better, whether it be by buying a homeless man a cup of coffee and a sandwich or helping redesign your friends CV, can mean the world to them. The feeling of knowing you’ve genuinely helped someone can’t help but make your day too.
So, bearing in mind that everyone has their own unique path to happiness, what path would you like to begin carving out for yourself today?
Wishing you all a fabulous weekend,
PS Thank you to Sindurella, Sofia and Michael for your comments which contributed to this post!
Coming Soon: Stay tuned for my series on happiness starting Monday 6th October!