HOW TO EX­ER­CISE YOUR HAP­PI­NESS MUS­CLE

Wash­ing hands? Wal­low­ing in grief? Not go­ing to a friend’s birth­day party? A new book of­fers some un­usual ad­vice to wash away your blues, says Colin Drury

Friday - - The Big Story -

‘Be happy for this mo­ment,’ the revered philoso­pher Omar Khayyám fa­mously de­clared in the 11th cen­tury. ‘For this mo­ment is your life.’

It’s, in­con­testably, good ad­vice. Yet in the 21st cen­tury, and es­pe­cially in big cities like Dubai, it’s not, it seems, always easy to fol­low.

Busy sched­ules, myr­iad com­mit­ments and stress­ful pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives mean many of us are feel­ing un­hap­pier and men­tally un­health­ier than ever be­fore.

Stud­ies con­tin­u­ally sup­port this: a 2014 Ip­sos Mori sur­vey found a quar­ter of peo­ple in the de­vel­oped world iden­ti­fied as dis­con­tent, while the use of an­tide­pres­sants has in­creased hugely dur­ing the past decade, ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment. In some coun­tries – in­clud­ing the US, Aus­tralia and Ice­land – more than 10 per cent of adults now take such med­i­ca­tion for de­pres­sion.

In the UN’s 2016 World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, the UAE ranked a very re­spectable 28 out of 157 coun­tries, a rat­ing driven by the gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing mis­sion to pri­ori­tise the well-be­ing of peo­ple here.

Yet, there is no doubt that many of us still suc­cumb to bouts of neg­a­tiv­ity, de­spon­dency, stress and anx­i­ety.

So, here’s some good news: re­searchers at Ky­oto Univer­sity in Ja­pan have lately dis­cov­ered a so-called hap­pi­ness mus­cle. They say that an area of the brain called the pre­cuneus is larger in peo­ple who are pre­dis­posed to pos­i­tiv­ity. And – the re­ally sig­nif­i­cant bit – like any other mus­cle, its size, ef­fi­ciency and power are all boosted if we give it reg­u­lar work­outs.

Now a new book, which com­ple­ments these find­ings, sug­gests a whole range of meth­ods and tech­niques by which we can give this piece of grey mat­ter a

thor­ough ex­er­cise – and, thus, train our­selves to be happy.

Walk­ing On Sun­shine by Bri­tish jour­nal­ist, men­tal health cam­paigner and self­con­fessed anx­i­ety-suf­ferer Rachel Kelly of­fers 52 such rou­tines. But while some are the well-charted ter­ri­tory of al­most ev­ery other self-help book – pos­i­tive thought, med­i­ta­tion and a good diet all get plenty of space – there are also a whole bunch of more un­usual hints and tips.

‘Hap­pi­ness is a very nu­anced and in­di­vid­ual thing,’ says Rachel, a 50-year-old mother of five. ‘Yet peo­ple can get very mes­sianic about it – “You must do this if you want to be as happy as me”.

‘I don’t be­lieve that. There’s no one-size-fits-all. I be­lieve ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent. This book isn’t about say­ing all these tech­niques will work for ev­ery­one. Rather, it’s a salad box of ideas for

Study af­ter STUDY has found that OWN­ING a PET bumps up our SERO­TONIN lev­els and LOW­ERS our blood PRES­SURE. They are, in essence, walk­ing, breath­ing FEEL-GOOD PROVIDERS

peo­ple to pick and choose from.’

In­deed, with that in mind, Rachel ex­plains why eight of her more off-the-radar rou­tines may as­sist even the most stressed of us to achieve hap­pi­ness…

1 WASH YOUR HANDS

Soap­ing your hands is ad­vice more usu­ally con­nected to hy­giene. But Rachel in­sists it can gen­uinely help lift mood.

How so? By giv­ing you a mo­ment away from the hus­tle and bus­tle, the ques­tions and con­ver­sa­tion, of ev­ery­day life – and al­low­ing you to be at one with your­self.

‘Peo­ple are sus­pi­cious of the word mind­ful­ness,’ she says. ‘But that’s what this is. It’s just about choos­ing an ac­tiv­ity you can fit eas­ily into your day – it doesn’t have to be wash­ing your hands; it can be brush­ing your hair or clean­ing your teeth, for in­stance – and then us­ing that mo­ment to clear your mind and bring your­self to the present and en­joy the phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions of that par­tic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity.’

It is, she says, a small pocket of peace. You leave the bath­room feel­ing not just cleansed of hand but re­freshed of mind too.

2 TAKE A PET

An­i­mals in the house are ex­pen­sive, time-de­mand­ing, messy, and, when the dog chews up yet an­other pair of shoes, ex­traor­di­nar­ily stress­ful.

They are also thought to be one of the sin­gle big­gest boosts to hu­man men­tal well-be­ing there is. Study af­ter study has found that own­ing a pet bumps up our sero­tonin lev­els, low­ers our blood pres­sure and, by re­quir­ing reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, im­proves our phys­i­cal fit­ness.

Their de­mands for af­fec­tion, mean­while, have also been shown to lower the heart rate of the per­son tasked with ad­min­is­trat­ing stroking du­ties.

They are, in essence, walk­ing, breath­ing feel-good providers.

3 MISS YOUR FRIEND’S BIRTH­DAY

Con­tro­ver­sial, maybe, but this re­ally could boost our feel-good hor­mones. The the­ory runs that, in a city like Dubai where mak­ing

pro­fes­sional and per­sonal con­nec­tions is ever im­por­tant, one of the largest causes of un­ease is Fomo, Fear Of Miss­ing Out.

As a re­sult, we fraz­zle our­selves try­ing to get to ev­ery so­cial oc­ca­sion go­ing.

We don’t need to do this, says Rachel. In­stead, we need to grasp Jomo, the Joy Of Miss­ing Out.

‘The se­cret is this: even if I did man­age to ac­cept ev­ery in­vi­ta­tion and never miss any event I’d still be miss­ing out: on the seren­ity and free­dom of do­ing noth­ing,’ she says. ‘It’s known as the op­por­tu­nity cost.

‘What­ever path you choose, an op­tion has been fore­gone. So in­stead of fret­ting about miss­ing the party, learn to savour ly­ing in bed with a hot-wa­ter bot­tle and a de­tec­tive novel.’

4 MAKE MIS­TAKES

There is an old English post­card: ‘I’ve made so many mis­takes,’ it runs, ‘and I’ve learnt so much, I’m think­ing of mak­ing some more.’

Herein lies the se­cret to boost­ing one’s joy even when faced with a tough de­ci­sion. Sim­ply re­mem­ber, what­ever you de­cide, the con­se­quences will be both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive.

Ev­ery­one makes choices they end up re­gret­ting, but suc­cess­ful – and con­tent – peo­ple re­act to that re­gret well. They see set­backs as op­por­tu­ni­ties, and they are hap­pier as a re­sult.

‘The dif­fer­ence be­tween stum­bling blocks and step­ping stones is how we use them,’ says Rachel. ‘When I learned this, mak­ing tough choices sud­denly stopped seem­ing so painful.’

5 BINGE ON BOX SETS

Re­ceived wis­dom is that watch­ing too much TV is bad for you – so­cially, phys­i­cally, and when you open the cur­tains and re­alise it’s the morn­ing and you’ve spent all night in front of The Wire, from a sleep point of view too.

Re­ceived wis­dom may just be wrong, how­ever.

Sci­ence says scary or dra­matic sto­ries boost a sense of per­sonal well-be­ing by ac­ti­vat­ing the pro­duc­tion of our happy hor­mones, dopamine and sero­tonin. It’s sim­i­lar to riding a roller coaster, es­sen­tially: ex­hil­a­rat­ing, thrilling and a lit­tle nerve-tin­gling.

‘These con­trolled ex­pe­ri­ences of fear help us feel more em­pow­ered by in­creas­ing our tol­er­ance for the un­known and un­ex­pected while si­mul­ta­ne­ously high­light­ing our rel­a­tive safety and con­tent­ment,’ con­cludes Rachel.

6 CLEAN THE HOUSE

Prob­a­bly no one in the world ever sought nir­vana through dust­ing the shelves – but they should have. Phys­i­cal clut­ter in the liv­ing and work space is a known cause of men­tal clut­ter; and men­tal clut­ter means stress.

‘By clear­ing away mess, or­gan­is­ing our space into some form of or­der, and throw­ing away things we don’t need in­stead of hoard­ing, we set our­selves free from the worry and con­cerns that we as­so­ciate with this,’ says Rachel.

In short: clear house, clear mind; clear mind, happy mind.

7 IG­NORE PRAISE

Get­ting good feed­back at work, praise from a friend or a suit­able com­pli­ment from a stranger? These are all things to feel good about, right? Wrong.

If we al­low our­selves to be too built up by the ad­mi­ra­tion and flat­tery of oth­ers, the in­evitable re­verse is that neg­a­tive com­ments, in­dif­fer­ence and out­right in­sults will leave us feel­ing en­tirely empty.

We must be bal­anced about both, says Rachel. This way we can rely on our own self of worth for our own sense of hap­pi­ness. ‘I don’t want to be a killjoy,’ she says. ‘But the prob­lem with be­liev­ing the “I’m so spe­cial” phase that fol­lows a suc­cess is that, when your luck changes, you are likely to be­lieve just the op­po­site: “I’m so worth­less”. In fact, nei­ther is true. Cher­ish your mid­point.’

8 SOME­TIMES, WAL­LOW

It can feel counter-in­tu­itive to dwell on the cause of our un­hap­pi­ness. Do­ing so will surely only make us un­hap­pier. Not nec­es­sar­ily, it seems. Some­times wal­low­ing in our sad­ness is en­tirely pos­i­tive. Not to do so – to try and move on with­out deal­ing with the cause of a cer­tain grief – is to bury our head in the sand. It is to not ad­dress the emo­tions we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing at our core.

In fact, we should be em­brac­ing these feel­ings. Break them down. Un­der­stand and process them. Rea­son with them. And then al­low them to dis­si­pate with­out lin­ger­ing.

This is a tech­nique called con­struc­tive wal­low­ing and was de­vised by the author Tina Gil­bert­son. ‘And for me,’ says Rachel, ‘it is ab­so­lutely cathar­tic.’

Some­times, it seems, the best way to boost your hap­pi­ness mus­cle is to al­low your un­hap­pi­ness to take hold for a lit­tle while.

Author Rachel says hap­pi­ness is a nu­anced, in­di­vid­ual thing – there’s no one-size-fits-all

Suf­fer from Fomo, the Fear of Miss­ing Out? In­stead, em­brace Jomo, the Joy of Miss­ing Out – learn to savour what you do, how­ever lit­tle

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