During these uncertain times, it is only natural to be feeling a bit low and anxious. Rather fittingly, one of my most recent assignment topics is happiness, and the psychological research surrounding it, so today I’d like to share with you some of the science on how to keep smiling 🙂
Keep in contact with loved ones
Money may not buy happiness, but sending a Gif of a dancing dog to your tech-savvy gran just might improve your wellbeing. While we may be unable to physically interact with some of our close friends and family members at the moment, technology provides a great means to communicate from afar.
Research has shown that people who live a long, fulfilled life tend to be those who have cultivated and maintained strong social bonds. After all, it’s a nice feeling to know that there are people out there who care about and support you, and to be able to mirror this yourself.
It’s the small things that count
Being stuck at home is the ideal environment for binge-watching Netflix and scrolling through Instagram until your thumb feels like it’ll fall off. Yet, while technology has its perks (see above!), isolating inside may actually provide a fantastic opportunity for some more ‘wholesome’ activities.
Think board games, playing cards, cooking, and gardening. Or maybe that dusty old guitar sitting in your room could do with some strumming? Whatever you choose to do to fill the hours of the day, try and make some of it non-screen-orientated.
Materialism, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t lead to great excesses of happiness, at least not in the long-term. This is because it can make us overlook the little things in life and simple pleasures, such as nature and small acts of kindness from family/friends.
Speaking of treating people with kindness, you don’t have to wait for them to happen to you. Why not be the initiator of these things, for example by grabbing some groceries for a vulnerable neighbour, or walking their dog (if safe to do so). This will also go some way to strengthening social bonds, as mentioned before. A double-dose of happiness!
Don’t be fooled by your own mind
While there is no doubt that the current situation is scary and unprecedented, sometimes we are responsible for increasing our anxieties by getting caught up in negative thought patterns.
‘Impact bias’ is a term used to describe the way in which we often overestimate the potential negative outcomes of a certain event. Basically, we are not very good at predicting things!
So, how can we decrease this relatively automatic process of jumping to the worst-case scenarios? The answer may lie in mindfulness.
When we are mindful, we focus on the present, not the downfalls of the past or uncertainties of the future. It is fine to worry about things (we’re only human!), but the key here is in accepting fears instead of dwelling on them and consequently building them up.
It can be helpful to say your fears/worries out loud so they don’t feel ‘trapped’. Re-wording things is another technique, where things are phrased as less definitive and certain (e.g. “I am going to…”) but instead acknowledged as thoughts (e.g. “Currently, I am thinking that I am going to…). This can help you to realise that any anxiety may be stemming from your own mind rather than anything concrete happening around you.
Let me take a moment to point out that I am not a mindfulness expert – I’ve only recently got into it myself. Personally, I just take a few minutes each day to complete a mindfulness exercise, which is easily accessible online with a quick Google search. I definitely feel the positive effects, happiness, and fulfilment being the main ones, and with the extra time I now have on my hands, I might have to increase my sessions!
And if the idea of deep breathing and silent concentration doesn’t appeal too much to you, mindfulness doesn’t have to be restricted to this. You can apply it to various aspects of your day, even eating!
This essentially means that, instead of scrolling through your phone during breakfast, you take the time to focus more on the textures and tastes of your food. Ideally, this will increase your happiness and allow you to really savour culinary experiences more. Or at least help you re-discover how amazing food is!
Hopefully, this post has helped you to see that there are positives to be found amongst awful situations. Everybody deserves to be happy; it can be frustrating when we realise that the person causing some of our anxiety is actually ourselves!
In the meantime, take care of yourself and others. Stay safe and, in doing so, stay happy!
Here are some links to interesting articles/videos on the information I’ve mentioned. They’re experts, so if you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe them!
o Nancy Etcoff – Happiness and its surprises
o Dan Gilbert - The surprising science of happiness https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_surprising_science_of_happiness
o Robert Waldinger – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness
o A light-hearted video explaining mindfulness
o An article from the charity Mind, outlining some mindfulness activities