Action for Happiness

a805b294b07abb114f631226215ab941--un-international-days-international-day-of-happiness“I will try to create more happiness in the world around me” was a pledge I made when I signed-up to Action for Happiness. You can do this to if you are moved to do so!

It has taken me on an amazing journey and one I am very grateful for. I have really woken up to how each small action, leads on to another and if you are open to the opportunities, they are endless!

In this case, I signed the pledge and joined the movement. I scoured Action for Happiness’ website and devoured all the really helpful materials and information contained within. It wasn’t that I was unhappy, far from it, but it had a draw for me and I don’t really know why. I liked the look of the Exploring What Matters course and wanted to join one in my area. However, there wasn’t one running and there wasn’t anything planned for near me. So, I decided to looking into starting a course up. It took a year before I finally put this message out on Facebook ‘I want to facilitate an Action for Happiness course, does anyone want to do this with me’. I had three offers from friends and people I was connected to. In the end, three of us decided to work together and applied to co-facilitate a course.

We ran the first course in Wolverhampton last year. It runs for 8 weeks and we ran it through the cold early winter months. It was hard work, but it was a challenge that was worth persevering with! So know we are putting ourselves back out there again and running a second course.

So, what is Exploring What Matters?

It is an 8-week course to help people learn, think about and discuss what really matters for a happy and meaningful life. We do this in a safe space, with volunteer facilitators and a group of like-minded people who are on a similar journey. The course involves lots of great ideas and conversations for discussion. The important part of the course, however, is that the participant be willing to do things differently. We all know that saying ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always had’ right? So, there is a bit of a challenge for participants to take action, if they want to make change for themselves and the world! However, it is a gentle, supportive journey and we can undertake it together.

Each week runs on the same format with a different theme to explore. The themes are:

  • What really matters in life?
  • What actually makes us happy?
  • Can we find peace of mind?
  • How should we treat others?
  • What makes for great relationships?
  • Can we be happier at work?
  • Can we build happier communities?
  • How can we create a happier world?

There is a gentle introduction to the techniques of mindfulness, views from experts delivered via inspirational videos, scientific based facts around the theme, room for discussion with our fellow participants and then an opportunity for you to reflect and take action. Each week, we check in with what action we have all taken to help us be accountable for the change we want to make.

You can just attend each week and interact with the materials and discussions. However, there is a wealth of reading and extra resources recommended, so if you want to go deeper into the subject, there is also the opportunity to really study the topics between the sessions.

Like the idea of joining a course? Well if you are reading this before 5th September 2018 then here is the link to sign-up for the course in Wolverhampton. If you are further away, or reading this at a later date, then click on the link about for Action for Happiness and all the courses are listed there.

Thanks for reading!

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Science of Wellbeing

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I was signposted to a Science of Wellbeing course run by Yale University online through Coursera.

It has some really helpful research information that backs up much of the things that I was learning or often knew, but chose not to act on!

In the first week I measured my authentic happiness, which was 3.67/5, this is a baseline in order to measure any increase in authentic happiness following the course. It was interesting to take the next survey to look at my character strengths and virtues. The synergy between courses was interesting. Some of the key points that I think are worth sharing follow.

So, it is not enough to learn or know something, we need to put these ideas into action. That may sound simple and obvious enough. However, it often isn’t simple. There are so many distractions and promises of shiny, sparkly things that distract us from what we really want and what will really make us happy and therefore improve our wellbeing.

There is an argument that Governments should do more to nudge us to make decisions in our lives that will lead to happiness and wellbeing. But actually often the opposite is true. Those who really want to live a life full of contentment, have to battle against a myriad of media, consumerism, capitalism, busyism (is that even a word?).

During the course, we looked a nmber of ‘rewirements’. These are things that if we aim to rewire our brains to focus on these goals, rather than more materialistic goals, will, according to the research, make us happier. So if you wanted to try these, you could follow these suggestions.

Savouring.

Try savouring one thing every day for seven days. Stay in the moment whilst doing whatever it is. Share with someone else, take a photo, talk about it, mention it on social media. Every night, write down what it is that you savoured and recall the experience, really try to experience the feeling again. Practice gratitude for the experience. I found this quite hard. I think this exercise is somewhere between mindfulness and gratitude journalling.

Gratitude.

There has been a lot written about practicing gratitude and journalling gratitude. As you may have read in previous posts, I love practicing and journialling gratitude. I write every morning and evening in my journal. The course, recommends a book by Robert Emmons entitled The Power of Gratitude. He puts forward that this practice can heal past hurts and can improve your life. He also says that it is important to acknowledge that other people or forces did this for you. There are different levels, we are all grateful for a present that we have been given. The next level might be that we practice gratitude and it becomes a habit. So this would be keeping a gratitude journal. This level is a good start and helps us to feel happier with a lives. However, being grateful as a way of life really helps us to be deeply happy and contented. Being grateful in all of life’s experiences tends to make the difference and helps people to live more fulfilling lives. This doesn’t mean that we are always grateful, even for the terrible things that happen in life, but that we look for the opportunities for learning or growing out of deeply challenging things that happen. People who live grateful lives, they tend to be more helpful and social, giving to others. Emmons says that people who see life as a gift rather than a burden are those who are living and practicing grateful living.

Mis-wanting.

One of the key concepts discussed in this course was the idea of mis-wanting. The term was introduced by Tim Wilson and Dan Gilbert. As humans, the research suggests, we mis-want lots of things in our lives. Things that we think will make us happy often don’t make us as happy as we perceive they will. Things, such as expensive cars, big houses, a job that pays more and so on. Of course, we are also told often that we want these things and that owning them will make them happy. However, certainly for those of us who live in wealthier countries, there is no correlation between life satisfaction and earning a high income. Once we have our basic needs met, more money does not make us happier. I am sure that we have all thought; ‘If only I had ………… I would be happy’. We think (and popular culture tells us) we need ‘awesome stuff’ to make us happy. Even thinking about wanting ‘stuff’ (materialsim) actually makes us less satisfied with our lives. Research shows that non-materialists tend to be happier. It isn’t only wanting things that leads us to mis-wanting. Research suggests that married people are happier for the first year or so, but after that, there is no difference. If you are in a marraige that isn’t a good one, it definitely doesn’t make you happier. Spending time on your looks, research shows, doesn’t make us happier. In one piece of research, those who lost weitht were unhappier than those who stayed the same or put weight on! Cosmetic surgery – those who want it are generally less happy than the general population and are even more unhappy after they have had the surgery. Getting good results in exams doesn’t make people as happy as they thought it would. Also, we see things that we have or that happen to us in relative terms. Research has looked at olympic medallists to look at their levels of happiness. Those that won a gold medal, as you might imagine were happy. However, those that won a silver medal, were less happy than those who won bronze. The silver medallists were apt to be disappointed in their performance, because they thought that if only they had done that little bit better, they could have won gold. Whereas, those who won bronze were happier because they nearly didn’t make it to the podium at all!

All this leads to the conclusion that our mind plays tricks on us – a lot! So, why do we not know what makes us happier or more contented? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, we are aiming for the wrong things to make us happy and our minds strongest intuition is often totally wrong. We are genetically programmed in our apptitude for happiness, 50% of our happiness is in our genes and 10% is down to our life circumstances. However, a massive 40% of our happiness comes from our thoughts, attitude and actions. This 40% is under our control.

Our minds are complicated, but the overwhelming message from this learning is that there are a lot of things we can do to help nudge our minds into feeling more content and helping to improve our mental and physical health. It does take commitment, but if really want to be happier, then we can make a habit of positive attitude leading to a more positive life. If the time isn’t right for you now, feel free to pop back when you feel ready!

By the end of the course, I had managed to lift my authentic happiness score to 4/5.

Living my Happiness year

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I mentioned in a previous post about creating a vision board following the Year Compass workshop. Like many, I thought vision boards were all about dreams of owning an expensive car, sticking it on the fridge, look at it every day and eventually your dream would become a reality.

In some ways, the vision board I created begins with the same premise. However, there is of course more science (and possibily a dash of magic) to creating and a vision board and making it a reality. It is about living an intentional year, five years, life. You put down in pictures and words what you want to ensure that you focus on through the year and then because it serves as a reminder every day, of what you want to work towards, it reminds you to take action toward your goals. ‘Thoughts become things’ I hear my mindset mastery coach telling me. I now find that I ‘waste’ less of my precious time.

I am sharing my vision board with you; another way of ensuring that you take action towards what you want in your life is to say it out loud, it makes it real and now you can help to hold me accountable for doing what I said that I would do.

My vision board contained the following elements:

My word for the year was happiness. Then my vision board was broken down into different areas of my life where I wanted to focus and that would help me to feel happier and contented, knowing that I had lived this year intentionally and having achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I realise that this is unfolding now that I look back after five months.

The areas I wanted to focus on were:

My family. I wanted to spend more time having fun together. I put pictures of candles, outdoor fires, camping, a picture of three little girls walking arm in arm (this represented spending more time with my two sisters), I also put a picture of two Border Terriers, I wanted to spend more time focussed on them.

Nature. Pictures of sunsets, walking, cycling, sea and trees. I wanted to spend more time being out in nature. I had noticed that for the past couple of years, I had spent more time indoors than ever before in my life. Time on the internet or watching television or doing housework chores.

Explore and expand my horizons. Along the same theme, my life had become quite small. I worked hard, came home and spent time inside. I wanted to spend more time on the south coast where most of my family are and where I was born and left at the age of 37. I wanted to take part in different activities, travel and be braver. Even walk the South Downs Way.

Moving toward my 5 year plan. To own a yurt again, move house, learn new ideas and skills and undertake research toward a business or different job. Amongst these might be coaching, therapy, happiness, play, nurturing and nature.

Nurturing myself. I found pictures to accompany words such as; Nurture, nourish, minduflness, yoga, water, noursihing food, exercise, mind, body and soul.

Community and Work. These are interchangeable as my work involves Wolverhampton communities. Make:shift, Action for Happiness, Eden Communities, Participatory City and active communities.

Finally, my house. I wrote that I wanted to create a beautiful inside and outside in my home and garden. Hang those pictures of the family that are hidden away. Inject some love and attention into the spaces that we live in and often take for granted and don’t even notice.

I wasn’t sure whether or how any of these things would manifest. But after a few months, I looked back and realised that they were definitely happening! I will share how these have manifested themselves in further posts.

Perhaps you would like to create a vision board to help you manifest and intentional year ahead.

 

Rhythm of the day

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In this weeks blog, I thought I would share how having a rhythm to my day, in particular to my morning, has transformed the way my days unfold and therefore how I live my life.

About six months ago, I began to get up a little earlier every day in order to meditate. I discussed how I created a mindfulness meditation habit in my previous post. The real change to my mornings began about three months ago whilst following a Mindset Mastery programme with the amazing Holly Luton from IGO yoga. In order to follow this new rhythm I get up at about 6am. It is a glorious time to get up, when I first began, I waking up with the birds, as the sang their dawn chorus, and as the sun began to rise. Currently, the birds and the sun are up too early for me at about 4:30am. So lately I have been savouring the warmth of the morning sun shining on my morning yoga routine it is a powerful feeling when practicing sun salutations with the sun warming your body, penetrating to every cell, and being able to actually feel it without having to visualise it!

So, my morning rhythm begins with a glass of water followed by yoga. Sun salutations, beginning slowly to stretch my body after a night in bed. Then a couple of rounds using my breath to guide each separate movement. Then some core strengthening exercises to help one of my weakest areas. Then I sit with my trusted journal, I begin with gratitude, writing down what I am grateful for this moring. Then I write the 5 key things I want to achieve during the day. Then I write down what my goals are for the mid and longer term. I then write a more detailed plan for my day, this helps me to ensure that I achieve what is important to me rather than being sidelined.  I repeat my affirmations and sometimes do a visualisation. Finally, I end my morning session with a mindfulness meditation. I sometimes sit in silence and listen to my heart. As Courtney Carver says in her book ‘Soulful Simplicity’ “listen to your heart, she knows the real you, trust the answers”.

I love the end of the meditation that reminds me to know what you are going to do next and take the intention of the meditation with you, take the feeling with you into your day. It is a little space that you can dip back into during the day to help you. It only takes a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath. That moment can help you respond rather than react or feel calm rather than anxious.

I have a shorter rhythm at the end of my day too. I take to my journal and write about my gratitude for things through the day. I write something that I have ‘won’ at and something that may have been a lesson to help me. I have added some new questions recently. I ask myself what acts of kindness did I undertake today, what new connections did I make, what did I do mindfully and what did I savour. These questions help me to live my life more intentionally. I don’t always have answers!