Wednesday, 10 November 2010

10 Steps to Happiness

Wellbeing experts believe happiness is not the result of buying something like a car or achieving a goal such as your perfect weight. Rather, it is produced by the things we enjoy doing.

They say happiness is an attitude; something you can make happen, work at and share. Here are our top ten steps to start you on the path to happiness.

1. Take a reality check
Winning the lottery might get you lots of nice things but it isn't going to bring true happiness. In fact, studies have found a multimillionaire is just as likely to be as dissatisfied with their lot as anyone else. Truth is, long-term happiness is a joyous jigsaw, the pieces of which we find and make our whole life long. What have you got in your life that makes you feel happy right now? Isn't that worth more than millions?

2. Cherish friends and family
There is a wealth of research that clearly shows people who invest time and energy in their important relationships have higher happiness levels and live longer too. Paying attention to best friends and family is essential to our wellbeing; it allows us to feel part of something special, and care for and support one another.

3. Show affection
We produce the same chemical when we hug, pet an animal and fall in love. This natural wonderdrug is called oxytocin, or the "love hormone". The latest scientific studies reveal that it makes us more trusting and generous, reverses the effects of a poor diet, and eats up free radicals - a major cause of disease and ageing. So hug lots and look younger!

4. Be kind often
We know it feels good to do someone a favour. Now science has just revealed kindness actually causes chemical and structural changes in the brain and body that make us healthier and happier. Pick one day a week and carry out three acts of kindness on that day - listen to a friend, smile at a stranger, or send someone a card. Your self-esteem and happiness levels will start to rise as a result. To increase the effects, chop and change your kind deeds.

5. Have a laugh
Hands up who's so busy earning money, doing chores and sticking to commitments they forget to enjoy themselves? Well, make a new commitment to having fun and laughing. Laughter also causes hormones to be released in the brain that boost your feelings of joy and contentment. No-one died regretting they didn't answer more emails, so leave work early and rent a funny film or see some local free comedy this evening.
6. Look after yourself Life is no fun if you're too ill to enjoy it. "To be happy you must never compromise your health," says Robert Holden, co-founder of the Happiness Project. This means eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep. Even better, add meditation to the list.

7. Be grateful
Every day, write down at least three things you're thankful for and over time this will help boost your happiness levels. A study by the University of California asked volunteers to write down five things that happened in the past week they were grateful for while another group was asked to list five hassles. The results showed the gratitude group were not only 25% happier, but were more optimistic, exercised more, and suffered from fewer illnesses.

8. Spend time in nature
Get outside in some green space every day, if you can. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found just five minutes of exercise in a green space such as a park can boost mental health. The effects were even greater when combined with "blue space" like a lake or river.

9. Learn to relax
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" said Beatles star John Lennon, but it doesn't have to be that way. Learn to take it easy now and again - the world's not going to end if you're late for work because you took time walking through the park to get there. Try swapping a girls' night out for a group meditation class, helping those you care most about chill out too.

10. Forgive
Forgiveness - letting go of the past - is a major act of kindness towards yourself and the other person. Research shows it leads to big drops in anger, depression, pain, tiredness and pessimism.

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