All suffering is caused by desire and craving – The Second Nobel Truth, Buddhism
There is no need to be a Buddhist to understand this simple truth. There seems to an innate drive in all of us to want more, whether it is nice food, time with loved ones or material possessions. There is always more to be had. And while we desire more we start to generate negative emotions, a slight feeling of missing out, perhaps, or the full-on envy of another.
The reason for mentioning the second noble truth is, simplicity. In a world where complexity of life is, for many, an overwhelming burden, perhaps simplifying life in some way is the best route to increased happiness. It can be the difference between endlessly chasing big goals that are no more tangible than a rainbow, and seeking out little pleasures on a daily basis. All the evidence suggests the latter will increase subjective happiness, whereas the former will more likely add to negative feelings. It’s important to remember that no single achievement will leave you happy for the rest of your life. So why is this?
Research by Professor Sonia Lyubomirsky states individual happiness is affected by three factors. The first is our DNA. Lyubomirsky states 50% of our happiness relates to a genetic set-point which we are born with and cannot change. The next factor is our circumstances, our career, house, family and car etc. These are the things many people strive to improve to increase their happiness. Unfortunately, these circumstances only contribute a measly 10% of our happiness! The remaining 40% is derived from thoughts and behaviors. How do we explain the events in life – positively or negatively. Is a stretching situation a challenge or something to be avoided?
This is the exciting factor because here is where we can make a real difference to our subjective happiness. And the best bit; it doesn’t cost money, take years of effort or require you to be anybody other than yourself. Start simple with some of the below exercises:
1. Jot in Your Journal – Over a period of 4 weeks, keep a journal listing three new things each day for which you are grateful. Doing this over time trains your brain to start spotting the good things in life, prioritising them over the negative. You can also look back on your journal when you’re feeling a little down.
2. Mindful Moment – Set some time aside to do something you really enjoy, such as taking a walk, having a coffee in the garden or enjoying a lovely, hot bath. Really savour this event, thinking about your senses and the details you experience while you complete it. Focusing on these details brings you fully into the here-and-now and reminds you to appreciate tasks you may not usually have time for or complete on autopilot.
3. Act of Kindness – Giving someone a compliment, holding a door open for someone, making someone a cup of tea to cheer them up: all of these actions can reduce stress, boost our immune systems and release lots of feel-good emotions. Not only that, happiness is contagious! Even just a smile can brighten someone’s day!
4. Be Nurtured by Nature – When was the last time you went for a walk and enjoyed being outside? As well as the obvious benefits that fresh air and exercise can offer, being in nature can reduce negative emotions, such as fear and stress, and increase happiness. Even just 30 minutes of walking can have a significant impact on your feelings and wellbeing!
5. Re-connect with a Relative – Making time to phone or text someone you haven’t spoken to for a while, either a friend or relative, can be a joyful job, giving you time to catch up, reconnect and check in with someone you care about. Our busy lives can mean that communication with loved ones can be limited to a quick ‘like’ on Facebook, but making the time to really speak to someone and maintain connections with people can keep things in perspective, offer essential support to both of you and is key to a happy and healthy life.
6. Down your Devices – turn off all of your electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops). Without these distractions, you may find time to do something completely different, such as cooking for enjoyment, chatting with a friend or just giving yourself a break. Some adults spend as much as 24 hours a week using social media. Imagine what you could do with that time if you have some device downtime!