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How to grow your own – happiness, that is!

There are specific things we can do to personally influence how happy we are.  True, our genes play a role in how happy we are and so does our environment however, much of our happiness is created or not created by our daily habits and activities.  In fact, today’s psychology and brain research indicates that around 40% of our happiness depends on what we do each day and the habits we choose.

Pause for a moment and consider these four basic activities.  How much sleep did you get last night compared to how much your body actually needs?  How much water, caffeine free, alcohol free and carbonation free liquids do you consume daily? How much movement and exercise do you incorporate in your day? And, how nutritious is the food you are putting into your body each day?

Now, consider how different you feel mentally and physically when you provide yourself with enough sleep, water, nutrients or exercise.  Generally, people report increased levels of happiness when they look after their basic needs.  They also report less stress, less frustration, decreased anger, greater optimism and more joy in their life.

Making a change or multiple changes to your lifestyle works best for most people by doing it one step at a time.  Perhaps swap out one cup of coffee each day with a glass of water instead.  Or, park the car a block further away from your destination and enjoy a short walk.  Turn off all electronics 15 minutes before sleep time and allow your body to slow down.  Work towards increasing this to an hour.  Significantly reduce the amount of sugar caffeine and alcohol in your diet.

Some people become paralyzed or feel overwhelmed at the thought of implementing change regardless of how big or small that change is.  If this sounds like you, there is support available.  A psychologist can help you learn how to implement these and other life strategies so you are happier and more productive.

Here’s an exercise to help you get started.  Divide a piece of paper into four sections by drawing a line down the middle and across the center.  In each section, write a title (sleep, nutrition, water, exercise).  Now, list up to three possible activities under each category that you might consider doing to improve your happiness.  Next, look at each item you listed and see how you might break it into a smaller more manageable and therefore potentially more successful activity.

For example, if you wrote down go to sleep by 10 pm each night and you currently don’t get to bed before 1 am, you may want to start with a goal of getting to sleep by midnight first.  Then, once you’ve managed to do that regularly, you can move to 11:30 or 11 and gradually hit your 10 pm target.  Unless, moving directly to 10 pm feels completely achievable.  Then, by all means, go for it straight away.

Continue reviewing each of the items you wrote down and challenge yourself as to whether or not they can be successfully implemented by you as they are or if they need to be broken down further.

When you’ve made the activities small enough so that you feel comfortable that you can implement them successfully, the next step is to choose ONLY ONE item from your page and implement it starting right now.  Schedule in any reminders or notifications in your phone or on your calendar if this will increase your success with implementing your change.

Consider what are the potential obstacles, if any, that might prevent you from successfully implementing this change.  Potential obstacles can include people (including yourself), places and things.  Being aware of potential obstacles and understanding in advance where and how you might get sabotaged is important.  It allows you to proactively manage how you will react if one of these obstacles actually comes into play as you are implementing your change.

Finally, figure out what additional support you would like as you implement this change.  Perhaps, a conversation with your partner about what you want to do will be useful so your partner knows how to best be there for you. Reach out to a parent, colleague or a friend or go externally to a support group or seek counselling with a psychologist.  Taking any and all of the above steps will help to set you up for success as you move towards increasing your happiness.