So as promised in my last post ‘Time to Change‘ this post is on improving your well being, or as I optimistically named this post ‘How to be Happy’, whether or not you suffer from mental illness. Now obviously not all these things will make everybody happy, however these are things which are mostly proven to improve well being and create a sense of happiness; so if increasing a sense of well being is something you are interested in, read on dear friend!
- Have goals
Having clear goals has been shown to improve happiness and well being because it gives you something to work towards. Whether the goal is to achieve a certain grade in school, or simply to get out of bed and buy milk from the shops, having a clear and realistic goal is important. I personally don’t actually follow this action because if I fail in my goals it just increases my sense of uselessness, however if you are better at actually setting yourself realistic goals than me (realistic here is key!), you may find this useful, but like I said, not every action is for everyone.
- Do things
This is a very broad one, I know! I learned in CBT that if you do things (literally anything) then this will increase your sense of competence in that area, which should generalize to other areas of your life and increase your confidence. So if you go out and buy milk from the shops one day, you realise you can do it, and this might increase your confidence to later do something a bit scarier, like going to a seminar. Obviously again you need to be realistic with yourself and what you would be comfortable doing.
- Do things you used to enjoy/think you might enjoy
So if you don’t suffer from a mental illness the previous ‘do things’ point probably confused you a little, and this point is probably more suited to everyone. If you stopped doing things you enjoyed, whether for mental health reasons like depression, or just because maybe circumstances changed (a new job taking up more of your time for example), doing things you used to enjoy should increase your sense of well being and happiness. And if doing something you used to enjoy is off the cards (for me it was horse riding, which is now WAY out of my price range) then perhaps pick something you think you might enjoy. Join a new club or class, whether its learning to do make clay pots or going bowling :)
- Do things which give your life meaning
Now this one is a bit tricky because obviously you have to first find what gives your life meaning, which can be confusing. I generally follow this one however by trying to help others. I’m not sure who said it, or if it just one of those general phrases, but I remember being told once that the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. So while at university last year I went to a school and volunteered reading with the children. This summer I am volunteering helping out in a charity shop. If you look around there are lots of volunteering opportunities, and these don’t even have to be organised activities, you could do something as simple as offering to walk your elderly neighbor’s dog.
- Social interaction
So this one has been sort of latent in the previous three bits of advice, but social interaction has been shown to improve our sense of well being.
Exercise is another one which has been reliably proven to increase well being. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel better, and it also gets you out of the house and out of your own head somewhat. Now for me exercise is another one I struggle with, perhaps because I am impatient and also a tad on the lazy side. Exercise doesn’t have to mean going for a three mile run every morning though, or joining the gym and devising yourself an intense exercise routine. The thought of either of those make me want to curl up in bed for the next 4 years :P Simpler exercises like going for a walk or a gentle swim count too, or if there is a sport you always wanted to try out like tennis or dance, then you’ll be not only checking exercise off this list, but also trying something new, and social interaction! Go you ;)
In the same vein as exercise, diet is also important not only for our physical health, but it can also help our mental health *guiltily wipes cookie crumbs from corners of mouth*
Now if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a physical or mental illness, then you, like me, might find this one a tad patronizing. I’m sorry. But sleep has been shown to increase levels of well being, so if you are lucky enough not be affected by insomnia or another sleep disorder, then by getting your 8ish hours of sleep a night, then your well being should increase. For those of you who like me struggle with sleep, just ignore this one.
These three were always ones I found a little….kooky. But studies have shown that they can help in increasing well being. Mindfulness is based around the idea of living in the present moment, and mindfulness practices often focus a lot on meditation. I’m not pretending to be an expert on this…in fact last week I brought an audiobook entitled ‘Mindfulness for Dummies’. As all three of these have been shown to be useful for some people however, I have provided links below which may give you some more information.
- Eliminate negative thinking patterns
This is one I learned from my CBT sessions, and it aims to make you think less negatively. So if you mess up when making a cake and it ends up looking like a pancake, rather than berating yourself about it, you might think “Well the dog seemed to enjoy it anyway”, or “at least I made the icing alright” or “who needs to make cakes anyway, I’m a whizz at solitaire!”
- Thinking positively
Apparently it has been shown that thinking of three goof things about each day at the end of each day has been shown to increase well being. I am actually trying this one and have created a ‘happy things’ book, which forces you to see the good in the day as well as the bad.
- Get help
Obviously if you are here because you think you may have a problem or are suffering from a mental illness, then there is no shame in getting help, perhaps by confiding in a friend, going to therapy, or seeking help and advice from your doctor or medical professional. Nobody should suffer alone.
I hope these helped, please feel free to let me know in the comments below if you have any other things you feel would help people increase their well being or sense of happiness. Let me know also if you try any of these out and they help you…or feel free to have a go if you join a tennis club and hurt your ankle :P I think my next post in this mental health vein will be about ‘coming out’ about mental health issues, so please check back (or follow me/subscribe ;) ). Until next time, stay safe :) xxx
*Disclaimer* – By following these actions I cannot guarantee your well being will improve or that you will become happier, these are simply actions and activities which have been proven to increase well being and happiness in many people. This is not a medical site and so cannot posit to offer advice for any symptoms or conditions you may or may not have. Information posted on or linked by this site is not guaranteed to be accurate. The consequences of any use of information posted on this site is entirely at your own discretion. Batteries not included.
http://www.actionforhappiness.org/ – this organisation is specifically aimed at increasing well being and happiness, and has some really useful information, resources, and ideas for actions you can take if you are interested in reading more.
http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8000_cognitive_behaviour_therapy – An overview of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) by the organisation MIND
http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/M/mindfulness/?gclid=CLC6sJ_ghrkCFQTHtAodQggAoQ – Information on mindfulness from the mentalhealth.org