What do you read while you’re on holiday? The latest thriller or romantic novel? Perhaps an old classic or, God forbid, some work related material? This summer, why not pack something much more inspiring. We’ve come up with 7 excellent books of an altogether different nature – they’re all about finding happiness. Take your pick and happy reading!
1 – The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
When two of the most joyful people on the planet and self acclaimed ‘spiritual brothers’ get together to reflect on their own experiences of life and discuss the central question of how to achieve lasting happiness in a changing world, you’d be silly not to want to sit up and take notice. It’s an utterly joyful book about joy, peace and courage that we can all learn from.
2 – Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
What would happen if you said ‘yes’ to everything? Shonda Rhimes tried it for a whole year, accepting every opportunity that came her way, with revelationary and often humorous results. Read about her 12 months of learning to embrace, empower and love herself that has lessons for us all.
3 – Color Me Happy by Lacy Mucklow
Did you know that the simple, meditative act of ‘colouring in’ can reduce stress and help regain your focus? Art therapy and adult colouring books have soared in popularity over recent years. Color Me Happy along with its sister publications Color Me Stress Free, Color Me Calm and Color Me Fearless, will bring you back to the here and now in a heartbeat, channelling your problems into joyful creative accomplishments. Don’t forget to bring the crayons!
4 – The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
If you’ve never come across this enchanting novel and one of the best selling books of all time by acclaimed Brazilian author Paul Coelho, now is the time to pick it up and read it. The powerful story of Santiago, a shepherd boy, will inspire you to pursue your dreams and find the path of happiness that you were always meant to be on.
5 – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
This is a genius approach about decluttering your home and your life. Kondo will challenge you to reassess every item that you own with the question: does it bring you joy? Yes – keep it, no – get rid. It’s ruthless but you’ll soon find that space clearing will lead to a decluttered mind and the opportunity for joy.
6 – The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
One of the best books on happiness, a subject that has received huge attention recently, Rubin starts with the realisation that ‘the days are long but the years are short’. She gives herself 12 months to improve her life, focusing on what makes her happy and the things that really matter. It’s an eye opener.
7 – The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s classic fable about an old man, a young boy and a giant fish is one of the giants of modern literature. The novella gives a unique vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge against the elements, and of not giving up. It’s compelling reading, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Holiday season is here and we really hope that you’re in the middle of packing your suitcase ready to take a well earned break. But perhaps you’re not going away this summer? Too busy at work? Worried about what you’ll miss while you’re gone? Don’t really see the need for a break?
If you’re not booked to go on holiday, here’s some really good advice. Just go! We’ve got 5 important reasons why you should take that break.
1 – Destress and unwind
If you live a busy and stressful life, it’s essential to schedule in some time to rebalance your life. Stress has a habit of creeping up on you and you may not even realise how it’s affecting your mental health.
Stop thinking about work for a week and just relax. Whether this means sun, sea and sand, mountain walking or dancing the night away, it’s important to leave your worries at home and do something you totally different.
2 – Spend quality time with your loved ones
Holidays are the perfect time to reconnect with your partner, kids or friends. If possible, leave the laptop and smartphone at home (or go somewhere without WiFi or mobile signal!) and have fun together the old fashioned way.
Away from busy daily lives, you’ll be free of distractions. It’s an opportunity to talk to each other, to share experiences together and make memories. In years to come, you’ll be reminiscing over the adventure you had, with holiday pictures to remind you of some good times.
3 – Good for the body
Research has shown that people are more physically active on holiday than they are during a normal working week. From long promenade walks to daily swimming, practising watersports or just exploring the local area, plus the abundance of vitamin D obtained from the holiday sun – it’s a healthier lifestyle than back home.
On your return, you’ll feel physically refreshed, with a few good nights’ sleep under your belt and healthy tan to show off, ready to take on the world.
4 – Good for the mind
Travelling broadens the mind. Seeing new places, doing new things, experiencing different cultures or sampling exotic cuisines are learning experiences that shape who you are.
What’s more, you will feel inspired by your holiday experiences, Having had the time and head space to think about how and where your life is going, you’ll come back mentally clearer and ready for the challenges ahead. It’s amazing what some fresh air, laughter and relaxation can do for your wellbeing.
The Wheel of Life, aka the Wellness Wheel, is a great exercise that can be used to help create more balance and success in all aspects of your life. It’s a tool routinely used by counsellors and life coaches, gently encouraging you to take a close look at each key area of happiness:
Take an honest look at your physical health and ask yourself how fit and healthy you really feel. What about your energy levels, stress levels, sleep patterns? Are you physically active and do you eat healthily? Are there any medical issues that need addressing? Feeling good physically is a key indicator of your overall happiness.
While we can’t all be brain surgeons or rocket scientists, we can all aim to be fulfilled in our chosen career paths. Are you good at what you do and do you feel a sense of job satisfaction? Do you feel valued by your employer for the contribution that you make in the workplace?
Friends and Family
Take a look at your family relationships and wider social network. Do you spend quality time with your loved ones? Do you feel accepted just as you are as part of the wider family or are there any issues? Are you close to those around you and feel connected to your community? We all need positive friendships and a sense of belonging.
Take a look at your immediate surroundings – is there clutter at home, mess on your desk or chaos in your car? It may be a reflection of what goes on inside of you. Make sure there is space in your life for new thoughts and things that serve you and get rid of old (mental and actual) junk.
We don’t all have the resources of the young Duke of Westminster’s £9.5 billion fortune, but we can all ensure that we live within our means. Are you in control of your finances, including making provisions for the future and for those closest to you?
Fun & Recreation
Joy and happiness go together like strawberries and cream, but as we grow older and life takes over, it’s easy to forget how to have fun. How often do you connect with your inner child? Do you laugh and play, dream and dare just because it makes you feel alive?
Life is more than a series of chores, so think about the activities that feed your soul. Whether you love creative pursuits such as singing or painting, you like the intellectual stimulation of learning a new language or playing chess, or you take an active interest in current affairs, it’s important to be true to yourself. Do you feel connected to a higher power or an inner optimism to keep you grounded? Your mental wellbeing will increase if you can stay curious and engaged with the world around you.
How happy are you with your current relationship status? Are you quite happy being single, looking for your soulmate or feeling secure as part of a loving and supportive couple with shared values?
Mark each of the 8 segment of your overall happiness ‘pie’ on a scale of 1 to 10 to create an individual map that is a visual representation of your current state of personal contentment. Now take a long look at the shape of the results.
Are you happy with the overall amount of happiness in your life? Which segments are strongest and do you appreciate what you’ve got in these areas? What about areas for improvement? Armed with a clear picture, you’re now in a really good place to devise a positive plan of action.
Many of us have grown up to believe that if you’re not constantly working hard, or looking after those around you, you’re being selfish. The problem is that this kind of ingrained thinking puts your needs last, not first.
Think about it. If you don’t take care of yourself, making time for rest and relaxation to replenish your reserves, how can you be of any use to anyone else? How can you do your best in a high pressure job? Look after your family with love and patience? Conduct healthy relationships? You can’t give from an empty cup.
Time to say goodbye to self-hate and self-destruction, and go back to basics.
Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself – it is a set of thoughts and actions that, over time, develops healthy physical, psychological and spiritual growth. When you act in a way that supports your own needs, you will learn to acknowledge your strengths as well as accept your weaknesses, without the need to explain your shortcomings. Compassion and balanced will guide your values as you move through life with much greater fulfilment.
As a concept, self-love teaches you to release negative thoughts and self-criticism and to embrace more loving thoughts instead. It is these thoughts that will form the basis of your actions which, in turn, define your life.
That’s all very well, you may say, but how does it work in practice?
Self-love should be a very concrete, realistic thing that you practise every day. Here are our top 9 suggestions on how to look after Number One.
1 – You are what you eat
Fill your body with nourishing food and drink and take the time to appreciate mealtimes. Eating mindfully – not while multitasking, or in a hurry – means that you treat your body with the respect it deserves.
2 – Praise yourself
Rather than compiling a never ending To Do list, recognise your achievements at the end of each day. Did you finish a work assignment? Do the laundry? Make that important phone call? Play with the kids? Give yourself a well earned pat on the back.
3 – Practise gratitude
Find something to be grateful for every day, even on down days. Write it down – perhaps in a diary by the bedside – and you will find that by focusing on one positive thing per day, no matter how trivial, your mind set will shift away from the negative.
4 – Create a bedroom sanctuary
Does your bedroom need some TLC? Build a space that feels cosy and inviting by adding scented candles, a fluffy bedspread, fresh flowers or anything else that makes you feel good. Now you have a safe haven to retreat to when the going gets tough.
5 – Rediscover your inner child
Cast your mind back to the innocence of childhood and think about some of your favourite things back then. It could be picking wildflowers, making up silly rhymes, or having a hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. Now go and treat yourself and feel the warm feeling wash all over you.
6 – Get active
No doubt you’ve heard about endorphins – feelgood hormones that are released through exercise. Find a form of physical activity that you really love – gardening, cycling, gym, dancing, walking, etc – and enjoy it on a regular basis. You will feel happier.
7 – Lose yourself in a book
There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a great book for an hour or two. The act of reading encourages a sense of peace and tranquillity that is perfect for balancing a hectic lifestyle. It’s something you can look forward to every day.
8 – Take a break from digital
If you have a smartphone, an email account or a Twitter handle, you will know how easy it is to give hours of your daily life over to online activities. But it’s important to take time out from the internet to reconnect with actual life. Switch it off for an hour a day and notice the difference.
9 – Channel your inner creativity
Being creative is a need that we all have inside. Getting artistic will allow you to fell both mindful and productive, so find something you really want to do and go ahead. From cooking a meal to painting a picture, designing a garden or writing a poem, there’s bound to be something that makes your heart sing.
What could be easier than breathing? We do it all the time, and yet not all breaths are created equal.
Deep breathing can be a great tool to use when you’re in a state of anxiety, high stress or are dealing with a panic attack. The simple action of taking deep breaths is soothing and calming on body and mind.
If you want to use your breath to calm yourself, all you need to do is to stimulate the right part of the body’s nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest, relax and digest response. When it is activated, the body is in a state of calm, with dilated blood vessels and lower blood pressure, a slow heart rate and calm breathing.
How to get there? Your outbreath needs to be slightly longer than your inbreath. This stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the diaphragm all the way to the brain.
There are many different breathing exercises you can try to put your body into a parasympathetic state, but the simplest is this one:
Find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly in a relaxed pose but with your spine upright. Close your eyes and begin breathing normally through your nose.
Next, take a deep, slow breath in through your nose counting to two, hold for one count, and exhale counting to four, then hold again for one count. Make sure you breathe smoothly and evenly.
If this feels too easy, you could try inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 6, or even 6 inhales and 8 exhales, just so long as it still feels comfortable.
On the outbreath, try experimenting with breathing our through your nose, through pursed lips or through your mouth to see what feels best for you.
Do this breathing exercise for a minimum of 5 minutes and notice a real difference in your state of mind.
If you find breathing exercises helpful to combat stress and anxiety in your life, you may wish to try these 3 video guided exercises:
A good night’s sleep is something many people take for granted. But when it’s not happening, and you’re routinely suffering from lack of sleep or interrupted nights, this can take its toll on your physical health and emotional wellbeing.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health, adults need 7-9 hours’ sleep per night. However, the average time recorded in a recent sleep survey was 6.8 hours, and many people are suffering from restless nights or periods spent lying awake too.
Lack of sleep is related to increased stress and irritability, while poor sleep is known to increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Clearly, the benefits of getting sufficient good quality sleep are not to be underestimated.
Stress reduction – Just as lack of sleep can raise the level of stress hormones in the body, deep and regular sleep can lower them.
Lower blood pressure – Sufficient restful sleep keeps the body relaxed and has a beneficial effect on your blood pressure, lowering the chances of heart disease and stroke.
Better immunity – Lack of sleep makes your body less able to fight infections, while plenty of good quality sleep improves your immunity.
Brain boosting – While your body is resting, your brain is busy processing memories. With plenty of sleep, your cognitive function improves and you feel more attentive and focused.
Mood lifting – Getting a good night’s sleep will help keep you in a calm and balanced frame of mind, while lack of sleep will lead to irritability and may exacerbate depression, anxiety or anger management issues.
Weight control – Plenty of good sleep will help regulate the hormones that affect our appetite, while reducing cravings for the wrong foods.
To help improve your personal sleep patterns, it is recommended that you establish a regular bedtime routine to prepare your brain and body for sleep. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to keep your body clock regular. Wind down before bedtime so you are relaxed and ready for sleep
Did you know that spending time outdoors can benefit your physical and mental health? You don’t even have to be exercising energetically to reap the benefits. Simple everyday activities such walking to work, taking the dog out or having an after dinner stroll can really improve the way you feel.
We all know that a good walk in the fresh air can help you collect your thoughts, let off steam or simply relax, particularly when you’re experiencing high levels of stress. But it’s more than that. Walking can positively affect your overall wellbeing, and even help fight depression.
Here are just a few good reasons why it pays huge dividends to get outside more.
Walking, just like any other physical activity, releases endorphins. These are the ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain that are responsible for improving your mood and reducing anxiety and stress.
Regular walking can help improve your sleep patterns, leading to better quality and more refreshing sleep.
It is a well known scientific fact that people with active lifestyles have a lower risk of suffering from clinical depression.
It is a recognised benefit that spending time in contact with the natural environment – perhaps by walking in local parks, green spaces or woodland – can boost your mental health.
Regular physical exercise has been shown to be at least as effective a treatment for mild to moderate depression compared to taking antidepressant medication. What’s more, all the side effects of exercise are positive!
According to a recent clinical study, being surrounded by nature gives your brain a break from overstimulation, which can have a restorative effect – increasing your vitality, boosting energy levels and heightening your concentration.
Discovering your local area on foot is a great way to make you feel more at home. It gives you a greater sense of belonging, and makes you more likely to make contact and establish friendships with people who live close by.
A welcome by-product of regular walking is that you will feel fitter and may lose some weight. This can enhance your body image and improve confidence.
Group walking is a sociable activity that can make you feel more connected and overcome social isolation – all helpful in boosting your mental health.
Even if you don’t go for a walk but simply spend time outdoors, this will still improve your wellbeing. Why not take your lunch break on a park bench, or watch the children play in the playground on a sunny day?
Going to work is a daily fact for most of us – but what do you do if it leaves you stressed day in, day out? Obviously, if you really don’t like your job, then consulting a career coach or looking for alternative employment is an obvious way out. But sometimes, even if you love your job, work stress can get to you. Whether it’s the commute, the workload, the niggly backache, eye strain or headache, or even your co-workers, it can feel like the proverbial daily grind.
The good news is that there are many strategies you can employ to make yourself feel better at work, both mentally and physically. Whether you work 40 hours or 20 hours a week, here are 7 little tricks you should try.
1 – Get more sleep
Sleep is the magic ingredient to having positive energy to face the day. We know that sleep helps the body to recover from the day and repair and recharge, which in turn helps us to be more productive the following day.
Good quality sleep also puts you in a more positive frame of mind. In terms of neuroscience, the brain processes negative stimuli in the amygdala while neutral/positive memories are processed by the hippocampus. Bad sleep affects the hippocampus more than the amygdala, meaning that if you haven’t had enough sleep, your positive emotions are likely to be weaker than your negative ones.
2 – Eat breakfast
Yes, it’s true, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many studies have linked eating a proper breakfast to good health. Think about it: you need to put some fuel into your body to stimulate your metabolism, up your energy levels, improve your concentration and memory. Even if you’re not hungry first thing in the morning or don’t have time to sit down for breakfast, it’s never a good idea to work on an empty stomach.
However, just as important as having breakfast is the quality of what you eat. Whether you go for a wholesome porridge, an egg or fruit and yogurt, make sure your breakfast food is fresh, unprocessed and nutritious. A croissant on the way to work, or sugary cereals are really don’t doing anything for your energy levels.
3 – Arrive on time
Get to work late and the scene is set for a stressy day. Personal organisation is key for a smooth working day where you are in control the moment you walk into the office. From planning your wardrobe to sorting out your lunchbox, to setting your alarm on time, to sorting out the kids/partner etc, to leaving ample time to get to work (including unforeseen delays) – it will be worth the effort.
The office commute can have a surprising effect on your overall happiness. If you really live too far from work, you may want to consider making a change in the longer term – either to your job or your home.
4 – Beware the sedentary job
You may feel hardworking and productive sitting at your desk for hours, but it’s actually really bad for your body. Studies have shown that regularly sitting for long periods of time puts you at greater risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression, cancer and many more serious health conditions.
Make sure you take a break from sitting every half an hour or so, maybe do some desk yoga to stretch out, or try a standing desk to avoid sedentary posture problems altogether. You should also ensure that your work chair is ergonomically optimised to support your body’s correct posture and minimise back pain.
5 – Personalise your desk
Feeling ‘at home’ in the office can be achieved easily with the addition of a few carefully chosen items such as a framed photo of your loved ones, a house plant, or even a subtle scent diffuser. Your physical environment at work has a big influence on how you feel, so investing a bit of thought into how to make the office more homely is well worth the effort.
6 – Get out more
The temptation to stay at your desk all day long, particularly when you’re super busy, can be overwhelming. But there are actually very good health reasons for taking a lunch break and stepping outside the office during the working day.
Taking a break gives your brain the opportunity to recharge, making you more productive when you return. Spending time outside in the fresh air alleviates eye strain, boosts your positive mood, refreshes your thinking and improves your working memory. A recent study showed that natural environments had a more positive impact on happiness than urban environments.
7 – Practise smiling
Strange but true, smiling can make you feel better. While most people think we smile because we feel happy, it can actually work the other way round too: we feel happy because we are smiling. It’s called the facial feedback hypothesis.
Obviously, it’s most natural to smile because you’re having positive thoughts – a smile has been shown to improve attention and performance on cognitive tasks. But even forcing a smile when you don’t feel like is sufficient to lift your mood and lessen the pain or distress of an upsetting situation.
There’s been a lot of talk about gratitude in recent years. As a concept, gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what a person receives – it’s a way to acknowledge goodness in your life. Practising gratitude helps you connect to something beyond yourself as an individual, be it other people, nature or even a higher power.
The field of positive psychology makes a strong link between gratitude and greater happiness. Numerous scientific research studies have been carried out to show that practising gratitude regularly helps you feel more positive emotions, acknowledge and relish the good experiences that you have, improve your physical and mental health, deal with adversity and build stronger relationships. Other benefits include better sleep, increased self-esteem and a more empathetic (and less aggressive) attitude. It’s a positive mental state that grows stronger with use.
Gratitude can be expressed in many ways. Applied to the past, it’s about retrieving positive memories and being thankful for the good things that have happened. In the present, practising gratitude means not taking one’s good fortune for granted, while keeping a hopeful and optimistic attitude for the future. It’s a quality that can be practised and cultivated further.
Practising gratitude on a regular basis will help you refocus attention on what you have, instead of what you think you need to achieve before you can feel happy. Here are some easy ways we can all cultivate gratitude in our everyday lives:
Keep a daily ‘gratitude journal’
Create a daily calendar that you update every day. Make it a habit to write down at least one positive thing that happened during the day. At the end of the year, read through your journal and be proud of all the good things in the past year.
Write a ‘thank you’ note
Nurture your relationship with someone special by writing them a letter that expresses your appreciation and gratitude for the positive impact they’ve had on your life. Deliver it in person if you can and read it out loud. Why not make a habit of writing a gratitude letter every month, and don’t forget to send one to yourself now and again.
Enjoy nature in the moment
When you’re outside, take a moment to stop and stare in wonder at the world around you. Lift your head to the sky and simply give thanks to the universe for having created the sky and clouds, the sun and rain, the trees and flowers, the season you’re currently in etc. Feel nature’s incredible presence all around you. If you are religious, you could incorporate an element of prayer.
Appreciate the little things
It’s all too easy to go through life unaware of the little things. Make a point of noticing the shop assistant, the waitress, the postman, the petrol station attendant etc. Thank them individually for what they do for you – it will make their day, and leave you with a smile on your face. Don’t forget your nearest and dearest: small gestures such as feeding the cat or making a cup of tea should not be taken for granted.
Find a place to sit quietly and undisturbed and focus on the present moment without judgment or agenda. Observe nothing but your breath and simply let yourself ‘be’. Even a few minutes at a time will have a big impact on your mental wellbeing.
Christmas can be the highlight of the year, a chance to relax with friends and family and celebrate love and happiness. However, that isn’t always the case. Your loved ones may live far away, you may not have any close family or have experienced a recent bereavement.
According to Saga, about half a million elderly people in the UK spend every Christmas on their own. And according to Age Concern, 1.2 million people in the UK are chronically lonely. If you’re staring another lonely festive period in the face and are wondering how to cope, here are some ideas that may help.
1 – Volunteering
Why not shift the focus away from your negative feelings at Christmas and make it all about giving to others? Many charities and voluntary organisations are dedicated to helping those in need, especially at such a vulnerable time of year, and extra help is always welcome. Check for local events and activities and perhaps offer to help out at a community Christmas Dinner, visiting lonely residents at a Care Home or taking gifts to a children’s hospital.
2 – Going to work
Keep yourself busy over Christmas by going to work. With plenty of people needing time off work over the holidays, your offer to keep the wheels of business going may be very welcome. Develop a sense of yuletide camaraderie with other working colleagues and share some mince pies at the desk. And who knows, maybe you’ll be paid Christmas overtime rates too.
3 – Joining in with the community
You’ll be amazed how many other people locally have no-one to celebrate Christmas with. Why not find them and get together? Whether through your local church or community groups, see whether you can join a community dinner or carol singing or drinks meet-up? You never know, it could be the beginning of some beautiful new friendships.
4 – Online Christmas
If you have access to a computer or smartphone and internet, why not hook up with far flung friends and family online? From texting to social media, email and video calling, there are many ways you can keep in touch and exchange Christmas wishes. Why not set up virtual get-togethers via Skype or Facetime?
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