Well, we’ve reached the Happiness Project finale! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the strategies available to all of us to increase our happiness levels. When I first started the project I was already pretty happy thanks to my years of working closely with Zimmy (who David accurately refers to as my “guru”). But the three months I spent closely monitoring the way I think, and the things I do, actually increased my happiness score significantly. For some of us, constant vigilance and consistency is necessary in order to be happy. For others, dipping in and out, as required is enough to do the trick. Everyone is different, but we all deserve happiness, so read on to learn about the final seven rewirements of the project.
Yoga is amazing because it ticks so many boxes on the path to happiness. Contrary to popular belief, the core purpose of yoga isn’t actually achieving pretzel pose perfection, but rather the accompanying breathing (though the poses and stretches are a fantastic workout). I always walk away from a yoga session with a sense of euphoria, and the great thing is that almost anyone can do it. A simple series of movements called a sun salutation done first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start your day. It gets the blood and energy in your body flowing, and it eases the transition from sleep to wakefulness for both the body and the mind.
Zimmy considers that our personalities are actually a composite of beliefs, behaviours and habits that we develop to cope with previous traumas, or challenging events from our past. What she would like us to do is to ask ourselves who we are outside of our pain, anxiety, insecurities and fears. What would we be? How would we think, or feel, if we stopped living our lives as a product of the story we have created about ourselves? To be honest, I initially misinterpreted this rewirement as needing to change the way I viewed the world, and in particular my feelings towards Dubai. But when I discussed this with Zimmy during one of our in-person sessions, she pointed out that it wasn’t about affirming a new intention but actually adopting a whole new personality and then basically trying that new personality out, like in a role-playing game (kind of like faking it ‘til you make it). I totally understand how this rewirement has the potential to make me happier. By taking on a survivor mentality about living in Dubai, I’m creating that reality around me. This one isn’t easy – you have to first identify the obsolete dominating personality and then lovingly let it go, while supporting another, healthier personality to come forward.
Forgiveness does not mean letting someone “get away with it”. It doesn’t mean that what they did is OK. What it does mean is that you release the burden of holding onto resentment and negativity because of what someone did to you. Isn’t it crazy that painfully holding onto that shit can sometimes seem easier than just letting it go? This rewirement is definitely one that requires you to put in the work, especially if you have something major you’d like to let go of. But when you can learn to forgive, easily and without feeling like you’re losing something in the process, you will feel a weight lift from your shoulders. You’ll be empowered because your well-being is no longer dependent on other people’s actions and words. And, as a bonus, you’ll also experience health benefits like a stronger immune system, heart health and self-esteem. Holding onto pain and resentment and anger only hurts you, not the other person. Even worse, it tethers you to them, and what they did. Forgiving is freeing. Let karma take care of the rest.
As I already mentioned in Part 1, stuff doesn’t make us happy. And research shows that it can actually make us stressed, anxious and unhappy. It’s human nature to gather stuff. If you’ve ever moved house you’ll know the shock of realising exactly how much shit you’ve accumulated over the years. What feels less natural is getting rid of it, but that’s exactly what you need to do in order to be happier. It might feel really difficult to let go of some things, but the catharsis you’ll feel by decluttering makes it worth the effort. I have a general rule of thumb whenever I get the urge to spring clean – if I haven’t used it or enjoyed it in over a year, I try to get rid of it. I’ll admit I’m not as brutal as I could be when it comes to throwing things out, but I do know I love to live in a minimal house that isn’t full of crap. The state of your home can have a real impact on the state of your mind, so see how it feels to start decluttering it.
BE MORE CHARITABLE
The benefits of being charitable are fairly well documented, and I’m proud to say that most of my friends are already pretty amazing in this regard. Every time David and I raise money for a food handout I’m always overwhelmed by the huge response. It’s funny when I thank my friends for donating, how many of them thank me back for actually doing the handout but really, that’s the most rewarding part of the experience. Seeing someone’s face express joy, gratitude or even just relief at receiving something given with no expectation of anything in return is an incredible feeling and I actually feel lucky that I can be so hands-on with making a difference. But there are so many other ways in which you can be charitable. Of course you can volunteer at an organisation that helps others. You can declutter your home and give your unwanted items to someone who needs them, or to a charity. You can donate blood, and hair (if it’s long enough), or the ultimate charitable act, your organs. You can help someone cross the street or carry their shopping to their car. You can foster an animal (or a child)! There are so many ways to help out our fellow humans, and in the process of making the world a better place, you also end up helping yourself.
Think about the last time someone was kind to you. How did their act of compassion or generosity make you feel? I bet it was good. When you do something kind for someone, or when you’re the recipient of someone’s kindness, incredible things happen in your brain. A whole bunch of feel-good hormones get released into your body. Stuff like endorphins, which you also get after running a marathon. Serotonin, which is the hormone released when you take lots of ecstasy (though kindness has the benefit of being a lot less illegal, and a lot better for you). Dopamine, which is known as the reward hormone, and the reason some people become addicted to gambling (though I reckon kindness is a helluva nicer thing to be addicted to). And finally, oxytocin, known as the “love” hormone, which also floods the body during orgasm. I’ll just leave that there for you to think about. 😉
So tell me guys, why do kids get to have all the fun? When did we, as grown ups, stop playing? And more importantly, why? It’s well known that kids need to play in order for their brains to develop empathy, communication and resilience. But adults can also benefit by incorporating some playtime into their day. Firstly, the act of playing releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But more than that, it’s been proven to increase productivity, creativity and connection. Which is why the most progressive companies in the world factor playtime into their office design and schedules. Being playful doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured thing, either. Finding the humour in situations, being silly, making jokes, flirting, play-fighting and role-playing all contribute to our well-being, as well as making us healthier and happier. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?!