Motivational Monday: Pursuit of Happiness | 04 August

(Disclaimer: not about the Will Smith movie, sorry!)

I usually choose my motivational monday topics on things which I’ve heard or have happened to me during the previous week and what I think could be learnt from these situations – this week’s post is about something which has stood out to me a lot lately and that’s the idea of deciding your own happiness. Although I had heard of the idea before, being my typical negative self I always used to pass it off as nonsense (“If only it was as easy as deciding your own happiness, you’d think they know that by now!”) but very recently I’ve been wondering, what if it was that easy? What if you could make your brain be happy?

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This started after watching a documentary called “How to be Happy” by Maureen Gaffney, a renowned clinical psychologist in Ireland. For this programme, she brought together a group of people with different life experiences – some who may have experienced times of depression/anxiety and some who just wanted to add a better sense of well-being and purpose to their lives, to introduce several new strategies and life-skills which she believed with practice would help improve their happiness.

But probably the most staggering fact I heard during the show was that 40% of our happiness is based on things we can influence ourselves! A whole 40%! According to research, only 50% of our happiness depends on our genetic make-up + DNA, a further 10% relies on life situations and circumstances which we cannot control (e.g. work, relationships, illness etc), but the rest is completely up to us. Basically, 40% of our ‘happiness-meter’ is based on how we react to things which happen in our life – it’s in our own hands! I’m not going to lie, this flummoxed me a bit because I had also believed happiness was just an emotion which came and went like fate and we had no control over it but now I was learning that all this time I was continuously wasting 40% of my happiness – all because I didn’t realise I had any other option.

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That is why I decided to come up with my own list of top 5 things to do to increase your happiness! None of these things are rocket science, they’re just simple things that I feel we should be doing anyway in order to improve both our physical and mental well-being, so here goes:

My ‘Happy List’

1. Exercise:  I cannot stress this point enough, something I’ve learnt in the last few months is that not only is exercise good for your physical health, it works wonders for your mind too! It’s suggested that we get at least 30 minutes exercise 3-4 times which may seem like a lot but if you think about it; 168 hours in a week..  now are you sure you cant spare 1-2? It doesn’t have to be marathon preparation or anything like it- hell, it doesn’t even have to involve running! But even getting gentle exercise like walking, swimming or taking up a pilates class is a sure way to get you motivated and help your mind relax.

2. Healthy Lifestyle Habits: This sounds strange but it  means making sure you get enough sleep at night (minimum 8 hours) and eating a healthy balanced diet – basically spending time taking care of yourself and not engaging in any negative behaviors which might have an effect on your mood.

3. Being Mindful: Meditation is a god send, I don’t care what  others may think of it but I have definitely begun to incorporate and rely on mindfulness meditation in my life over the past year. And contrary to what I used to believe, it doesn’t involve sitting cross-legged on a floor and levitating in the air when your reach ‘a higher place’ – instead it’s realising your surroundings; being aware of what’s going on around you and how you feel about it. It’s common nature for negativity to be the first port of call in our minds, but mindfulness teaches you to re-train your mind by making an effort to remind ourselves of all the positives around us too. If we constantly allow ourselves to be negative, then our mind develops a sort of harsh ‘self-talk’ or ‘inner-critic’ so by learning to be more accepting we’re able to appreciate life a bit more. This is especially helpful during stressful situations or when you’re in a bad mood!

4. Spending Time with Family and Friends: This is so so important; as necessary as it is to keep up to date with work in our lives, sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we ‘have to do’ that we forget what we ‘want to do’. Often I find myself so wrapped up in what’s going on in my own life, I tend to draw away from others which ultimately makes things worse but something so simple as spending time with your family and meeting up with your friends definitely gives your body a bit of comfort and reminds your brain it’s okay to have a bit of fun!

5. Me Time:  Okay, so I know I just spoke about how good it was to spend time with other people but it is also equally important to make sure you build in some relaxing time for yourself! Have a bath, turn off your phone and read a good book, or have a pamper night and watch a movie – anything that involves you taking some time for yourself to relax and wind-down.

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Happiness is not about how rich or good-lucking we are, it’s a science – we need three positives for every negative in our lives just to even it all out. But how do we get a positive? By reminding ourselves of all the good things in our lives, or rather by ‘counting our blessings’. It’s hard work and requires a lot of effort to re-train our brain, but isn’t it worth it?

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So that’s my challenge for this week; taking five minutes at the end of every day to remember 3 positive things about my life so I can test this theory at the end of the week to see if it works. Why don’t you try too! Let me know in the comments if you want to give it a go and we can do it together – I always find it so much harder to break my commitments when I’ve written them down (especially when they’re on here!).

Hope you all have a wonderful week,

Aoife

xo

(P.S if you want to watch the documentary I was talking about above, you can have a look at it here if you have access to the RTE Player!)

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