Happiness Is For Life, Not Just For New Year!

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New Year’s Resolutions – you’ve gotta love ’em. Vowing to be better, healthier and ultimately happier. Yes, 2016 will be my year! And so it should be. But even though it’s brilliant that people make promises to themselves to be better starting from 1st January (anything positive is a beautiful thing after all) we all know it rarely lasts a few days or maybe a month at most.

All these things we try to do to improve ourselves and ultimately make ourselves better, are things we should be doing every day. I sometimes feel that the new year deludes us somehow into believing that it’s always the perfect time to start putting things right but if you think about it, it’s really not. Assuming you live in the western world, Christmas has ended, you’re recovering from the purge on all the food you could get your hands on, you’re tired from Christmas parties, travelling to see family, generally overindulged and no doubt had a great time doing it…then reality hits and it’s back to work. Back to the humdrum of life and we meant well when we decided to go through with our resolutions but now they’re at the far reaches of our over-frazzled minds destined to become a far-off memory.

I’m obviously generalising here but you see what I’m getting at. Every day of the year is a great time to start improving yourself and getting on that road to happiness. Getting happy is a habit and it’s something we need to work on as much as we can. If we create this big, grand gesture of changing something in our lives starting 1st January then we are more likely to set unrealistic goals and therefore fail to achieve them, actually resulting in diminishing our happiness in a way.

Self-improvement is a very personal, individual thing. We should do it when we are ready, not when we feel pressured because it’s the start of a new year.

So if you feel you need to start improving yourself or taking care of your happiness then by all means start now – in the present moment. Read a book, listen to a great podcast, buy that running gear and go for a run but do it because this is going to be the start of a great habit and not because it’s the start of a new year 🙂

 

 

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Food For Thought: Mindful Eating

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In the spirit of Christmas and general over-eating (I’ve definitely had a few too many of everything over this period!) I thought I’d write a post about mindful eating 🙂

We’ve heard it all before…we live in a society where we seemingly have more and more things to do, more and more choices of food, periods of the year like Christmas where we seem to have an abundance of food at our fingertips.

Everything and everyone is in a rush. Fast food is big business, the speed and convenience fits wonderfully into our lifestyles. But I’m not just talking about KFC and Burger King. We’ve made a big shift in the last few years to a better focus on healthy eating which is great for our well-being and overall health.

But how much do we really think about the food that we eat? I’m not just talking about in a general sense, but about the food literally in front of you – the food you’re about to consume. Most of the time we make a conscious decision about what we eat unless, of course, you’re reaching for the first thing that comes to you if you’re in a rush. We all do it. But even if we’ve made that careful decision about what we’re going to eat, sometimes the mindfulness surrounding it stops there.

We can have a tendency to eat mindlessly, whether that’s at work in front of the computer, at home watching TV or just sitting and playing with our phones. There are endless distractions that we may not really be aware of since it’s become a habit. Say, for example, we’re eating a chocolate bar. The first bite tastes great – we always notice how great it tastes. Then the mindless eating begins because we’re either distracted or just stop thinking about what we’re doing. All of a sudden, before we know it, we’re down to the last bit of chocolate. How did that happen?! Suddenly you savour the last bit because you know it’s the last bit and after that, no more. So the mindfulness was present at the beginning and the end but got lost somewhere in the middle. Sound familiar?

So how do we get mindful about our eating? It’s all about creating a connection with the food in front of us – where did it come from? What were the processes that brought it to you? What are the flavours? What are the textures? The first thing you should do is just bring a sense of awareness to the moment by considering these questions.

Find a quiet place to eat

Creating a quiet space away from distractions like the internet, the TV or your smartphone is key. This can be challenging if you’re eating with other people (especially children) but try and agree to take a few minutes to just sit quietly. First think about the questions above – where it came from and how you think it got to be in front of you now.

Eat slowly

This is really important and actually a really good habit to get into. Not only is it healthier for our digestions but eating more slowly gives us time to really think about what we’re putting into our mouth. Some of us eat quickly out of habit so this can be quite a challenge (definitely is for me, anyway!) If you’re finding it difficult then you could try and use chopsticks (also a challenge for me despite living in China for 6 months!) this slows it down a lot.

Savour the flavours and textures

Really try to taste the food. This gets more trying after a few bites when our usual habits start to kick in – I wouldn’t necessarily say we get bored of the flavours after a while but we stop noticing them so much and take them for granted. So really savour this time – are there different flavours with each bite? Think about the sweet, the sour, the tanginess, the crunchiness.

Mindful eating is really important in establishing and creating a relationship with our food. It’s about enjoying our food more and appreciating where it’s come from and how it’s made. It’s also really thinking about what we are putting into our body and the choices we are making.

Obviously trying mindful eating for the first time probably won’t work so well sitting at a table with others and a nice big meal in front of you (although this could be a fun activity with others and even good for discussions). So you can start off small – maybe just with a piece of chocolate or fruit. Sit in a quiet room and take your time to practise. There also shouldn’t be any pressure to do this every time you eat something. That can be super difficult even to the most mindful of eaters! It’s just about trying to be more appreciative, more aware and just training the mind to be more present in the moment and hopefully making it more of a habit for happiness in our lives which is never a bad thing 🙂

 

 

 

 

Getting Happy And Healthy Through Meditation

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I briefly touched on what meditation was in an earlier blog post. Meditation has become more and more popular in the western world over the last two decades and due to this popularity spike, scientists have been keen to find out what the health benefits are, if any.

From my experience of meditation, I’ve noticed a change in my own emotional well-being and my mind has become less busy and more calm. So what are the health benefits to meditating? For thousands of years, Buddhists have claimed the long-term positives to meditating on a regular basis. Continued mindfulness contributes to less stress, less worry, increase of focus, less relationship problems, reduction in addictions and more. It also has an effect on the body so here’s a list of the most common benefits.

Improves immune systems 

Long-term stress can have a bad effect on our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to illness. Numerous studies have been carried out demonstrating that mindfulness meditation helps to reduce stress on the immune system: American Psychosomatic Medicine Journal. Not only this but also chronic arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease: Medical News Today. Amazingly, researchers at UCLA have even found that it helped slow down the progression of HIV: ScienceDaily.

Reduces blood pressure

High blood pressure is on the increase with our stressful and hectic lives. Exercise can make a real difference here but we aren’t always able to go for a run when we feel stressed in the day. Regular practise in meditation, however, has been found to help reduce blood pressure: NPR News. And since this is essentially contributing to a calmer mind all round, it will last far into your day and help you cope with stressful situations a lot better.

Lessens heart problems

Stress also puts a lot of strain on our hearts and regular meditation has been found to be a prevention to cardiovascular disease. Due to lower blood pressure, the risk of stroke and mortality from other cardiovascular problems are consequently lessened: American Heart Association. Aside from this, studies have also shown that it reduces heart rate and respiratory rate for up to eight months after meditation training: KoreaScience.

Reduces pain

Although not an outright cure, meditation has been found to reduce pain significantly. In some studies, pain has been reduced by up to 40% in individuals practising mindfulness meditation as the result of changes in certain areas of the brain: The Atlantic. These brain mechanisms are further explained in this article published in Elsevier.

Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s

Again, although not claiming to be any kind of cure for this debilitating disease, medical research has shown that meditation can help with both prevention and reduction of the progression of symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s. Of course, this also has a positive effect on the loved ones who care for Alzheimer sufferers: Hindawi.

Improves your mood and emotional well-being

Meditation is well-linked with emotional health and studies have found that regular meditation practice significantly reduces depression: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and research has even discovered it is more  effective than pharmaceutical interventions: The Lancet. Eradicating the need and reliance on medication for certain depressions can only be a good thing.

Even though the scientific research is relatively new, Buddhist monks have been claiming meditation to be a life-giving necessity for years. To me, it’s a no-brainer. For anyone who has pre-conceived ideas about meditation and why people even bother to practise it, well, I’m inclined to say if you’re looking for ways to improve your life in mind or body or just wanting a deeper sense of contentment and happiness (and who isn’t?!) then why wouldn’t you bother? 🙂

 

The Attitude of Gratitude

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It’s funny how we tend to only be grateful for things when we get them. We think we will be happy or at least happier once we receive the things that we want in life and only then the gratefulness and appreciation will follow. This is a natural tendency we have but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is linked strongly with greater happiness. Being grateful and appreciative in the here and now leads to more positive feelings, which in turn leads to better health, stronger relationships and an ability to deal better with any hardship presented in our lives.

So how do we get into the habit of being more appreciative? A lot of people (for example) want more money in their lives and yes, you may be happier once you get more money although that isn’t always necessarily the case, but I digress. It’s hard to feel grateful in the here and now when you’re struggling to pay the bills or wanting to go on holiday but not being able to afford it. We want the freedom that money will give us and we don’t feel like we can have that freedom until we get that cash.

The negativity surrounding the idea of lack in our lives make us more miserable than we think. Wouldn’t it be better to live a life of abundance even if we don’t yet have what will make us ‘happy’? Wouldn’t it be better energy spent acknowledging the things that we do have right now?

It’s really very simple. Just sit down and think of ten things that you are grateful for in your life. It could be the roof over your head, the food in your fridge, the great friends and family you have, the hot shower you get to have every morning…..the list can really be endless and whatever you have on this list, appreciate the crap out of them! These are things we do and have everyday yet we take them for granted and are so overlooked.

Recognising what we have and feeling positive about them will reap numerous benefits but it’s something that we need to make a habit of. You may have heard of making a Gratitude List which is a great way of really getting you to think and notice what you’re truly grateful for. Each night, make a habit of listing everything you’ve been grateful for that day. Every morning, wake up and appreciate that warm bed and the hot shower you get to take. It really is a mind shift and one that will really make a huge difference in your daily outlook. You’ll feel brighter and more optimistic which will attract better things into your life.

People are important. The relationships we have within our own networks, whether at home with our families, our friends, colleagues or communities, play a huge role in our lives. The bonds we form with others bears a massive impact on our happiness and one way of strengthening these is to express gratitude and appreciation.

We are all conditioned to say ‘thank you’ from a young age which is culturally a positive thing. But does this become an automation rather than an emotional appreciation? Do we really express true, deep gratitude towards someone who has done something kind for us or is it a conditioned thanks void of feeling? This isn’t to say we always do this but we should really step back and think about how the other person will feel receiving the gratitude.

Christopher Peterson, a psychologist who worked extensively with positive psychology used the term ‘other people matter’. We tend to talk about positivity in terms of ourselves and how to make ourselves happier (which is great) but actually our quality of relationships with others makes a massive impact on our happiness. And one of the best ways to do this is to express appreciation. Not only does it make you feel good, it obviously makes the other person feel good too. It’s powerful stuff.

There are good ways of expressing gratitude and there are even better ways. When you are truly grateful towards another person because they did something nice for you, you make the appreciation about them. We can have a tendency to say ‘thank you’ and say how much it means to us but we should also maybe add how we notice they do this a lot and what a beautiful trait it is. This becomes more about them and highlights the fact that they are a wonderful person and you acknowledge this.

And studies have shown that being more grateful allows you to cope better with everyday stress and even boosts your immune system so even more reasons to show a bit of appreciation!

So don’t buy into the idea that not having the things you want right now in your life is a reason to not notice what you do have. It will make you feel more abundant which is a feeling that really most of us crave to have. Make sure you really appreciate the people in your life not just to make yourself feel better but to benefit the other person – make it about them. Better relationships lead to a more positive and happier life. Focusing on the abundance rather than the lack is all a state of mind so why not choose to make that a more positive and happy one? 🙂

The Art of Positive Thinking

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Us humans are funny, aren’t we? We are always striving to live happier lives yet we actually spend a lot of the time focusing on the lack rather than the abundance.

We have a tendency of seeing the negatives rather than the positives in a situation. We look at the things that are going wrong in our lives rather than what is going right.

And I don’t just mean on a large scale – our everyday thinking and perspectives on things can cause a huge impact on our mood and general emotional wellbeing. Choosing to purposefully see what’s good in a situation really does have an amazing effect on our minds.

For larger parts of our lives, maybe you don’t love your job but you have a good boss and you work with great people. You might be single but you’re able to have the time and freedom to do activities that you love, or meet up with good friends.

Positive thinking is a mind shift and an easy one really. When things don’t seem to be going right in our lives, that in itself is just a perspective that we choose to see. We have the power to change the way we perceive things and the situations going on around us. We can choose to see the negative or we can choose to see the positive. It’s really that simple. And which one would you rather do?

I can’t stress enough how we only have one life. Why choose to spend it worrying and living in a constant state of lack and unhappiness? (ok, it might not be that bad, but we probably tend to do this more often than we think!) Why not shift the thinking to a more positive spectrum? If this will guarantee a happier life then it seems the logical way to go. And the more we think positively and the more we radiate it, the more it will affect the people around us, our relationships with others which, in turn, will bring more positivity into our lives.

So in your daily life, just note how you react to things. Are you thinking in a negative way or a positive way? Also, notice the words that you speak. Are you speaking with a negative slant? Are you always complaining and moaning about things rather than talking about things in a good light? You may be surprised at how much the negativity is apparent in your daily life and this may just be fixed with a simple mind shift. Try and stop yourself when you find the negative chatter coming in and think of a way to spin it around on its head. A rainy, miserable day is only that because you’ve chosen to see it that way. I’m not saying to pretend it’s beautifully sunny but life and plans don’t have to stop because it’s wet outside. If it wasn’t for rain, we’d be living in a barren desert. Find ways to enjoy the rain or just embrace it more. If not, then at least find a more neutral way of looking at it.

So maybe make a habit of thinking more positively. Experiment over a couple of days and see how it changes your general outlook. And remember…you can’t live a positive life with a negative mind 🙂

 

Meditation: What Is It and Should I Be Doing It?

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I have to admit I was always a bit sceptical about meditation. It never really entered my awareness and when it did, I just thought I’d leave it for the hippies and Buddhist monks halfway up a mountain in Tibet. I mean, what good does it really do?

Then about a year ago, a friend of mine mentioned a mobile app called Headspace. I was having a bit of a stressful time and decided to give it a go. This really is a great little app. For newbies like me it takes you through 30 days of guided meditation sessions for 10-20 minutes a day, building it up and teaching you the basics of focusing the mind.

Fast forward a year and yes, I’m still using this app. Am I any better at meditation? I’m not so sure but I do believe it’s made a really huge impact on me since I started.

Meditation has been used by Buddhist monks for centuries and for the last few decades it’s been making its way over to the western world. It seems to be a popular way to take some time out and just focus the mind on something that’s not going on around you.

It’s all about being in the present moment which sounds silly because aren’t we always living in the present moment? Well, actually no we’re not. At least our minds aren’t. How often can you say that you’re not thinking about something in the past or something that’s going to happen in the near or distant future?

Meditation gives you the chance to really be in the moment. Sitting quietly and hearing the sounds going on around you, feeling the weight of your body in the chair and noticing and feeling each breathe that you take. You are essentially connecting yourself to yourself and this really isn’t something we consciously do enough.

I’m not going to lie, it’s really really difficult to sit there and not really think about anything. Your mind is going to fight you on this. One minute in and you realise you’re thinking about what you want to have for dinner this evening or that you really must get around to fixing that door NOW. This is usually the point where people give up and decide meditation’s not for them, it doesn’t work or that they’re just crap at it so no point carrying on.

I was one of those people, still sort of am but I’ve kept at it. Just 15 minutes a day, everyday and now I’m definitely better at it. It’s given me a greater appreciation of what’s going on around me, my mind doesn’t seem to be racing around at 100mph like it used to. Both leading to a happier vibe all round.

Meditation is essentially exercise for the mind. It transforms our minds from negative to positive. There are definite scientific benefits to meditation but that will be saved for a future blog post 🙂  So… why not start today and give it a go?