Sharon Ní Chonchúir looks at how we can be happier
DON’T worry. Be happy. Bob Marley may have hit on the secret to good health when he sang this song. Studies now link happy emotions to healthier hearts, stronger immune systems, and longer lives. One 2005 study even found that happiness could improve chronic aches and pains.
In his new book,15 Minutes to Happiness, therapist Richard Nicholls shares some ways in which we can become happier in our daily lives.
He believes that if we take a few minutes each day to monitor the workings of our minds, we’ll soon improve our sense of wellbeing. Here are three ways in which he thinks we can do just that.
Number one is writing our feelings in a journal. This is a good way of gaining a healthy perspective on things. Research has even shown it to have similar benefits to counselling.
So grab a notepad and pen and start writing. Date your entry and try to write quickly so that your inner critic doesn’t get in the way of your self-expression.
If you don’t know where to begin, ask yourself a few questions. How do you feel right now? What’s on your mind? Or begin by writing the words ‘Today I feel…’ or ‘I want…’ and carry on from there.
Nicholls encourages rereading previous entries so that you notice how time and experience can change how you think and feel about what you wrote. This rereading is as helpful as writing because it allows you to see how you’ve developed over time.
Suggestion number two is to use ‘thought-stopping’ techniques. These techniques have been around for a while and sometimes involve wearing an elastic band on your wrist. When you find yourself obsessing over something, pull on the elastic band and let it snap on your wrist so that you’re distracted from your thoughts and start thinking about something else.
In the case of emotional and mental health, trying not to think about upsetting things actually encourages the brain to focus on them even more so you need to develop effective techniques that allow you to control where your thoughts go.
His third suggestion is to check for double standards. This helps you to recognise if you are asking yourself to live up to expectations that are simply too high.
Nicholls’ exercise asks you to sit down for 15 minutes with a pen and paper. Think about the standards you set yourself in a particular area of your life, be it your relationship, your work, your friendships or your children. Be as specific as you can in describing what you expect of yourself.
When you’re finished, reread what you’ve written as if you are expecting those standards of someone else, someone close to you. Cross off any expectations that you think would be unfair to ask of them.
Look at the items you’ve crossed off the list and consider how you could replace them with healthier expectations. For example, if you always rewrite work emails several times before sending them, decide that you’re only going to reread them carefully once. Once you’ve changed that habit, have a look at another item on your list and think about changing that too. Before you know it, you’ll be more like Bob Marley — happier and hopefully healthier.
15 Minutes to Happiness is published by Blink Publishing and retails at €12.60.
STAY POSITIVE: Richard Nicholls shares some ways in which we can become happier in our daily lives.