We all want to be happy, but it is not something that we can expect to come to us without effort or care. Rather, it is something we all need to practice and cultivate. It hinges on our choices, our attitudes and our thoughts.
In the story below, Penny actively cultivates happiness as she goes about her (very ordinary) day. As you read her story, see if you can spot the different ways she makes herself happy.
After 8 hours sleep, Penny rises early. She begins her day by working for an hour on an assignment she has been given for her photography class. After making good progress, she stops for a healthy breakfast of fruit and nuts before waking the kids and taking the dog for a walk.
As she walks, Penny takes the time, as she always does, to count her blessings and plan her day. Halfway through the walk, she pauses and spends a few minutes simply drinking in the view around her.
Later, once the kids are ready for school, she drives them to the train station. As her son gets out of the car, he realizes that – for the third time in as many weeks – he has forgotten his football boots. Although she is frustrated, Penny fights the urge to scold her son, taking a deep breath instead and promising herself that she will set up some new rules to make sure he is not so forgetful in the future.
Penny then drives into the city, where she works part-time in an accountancy firm. For three hours, she loses herself in a set of accounts she is preparing for an important client, before leaving the office to meet up with a group of friends at a nearby café, something she does once every week. The gathering is great fun, as it always is, although her closest friend, Mary, has an issue with her son that is worrying her. Penny listens closely to Mary’s concerns and offers what support she can. After lunch, Penny makes her way back to the office, pausing along the way to buy a cup of coffee for a homeless man she often sees about town.
At 3pm, Penny leaves work and drives to her children’s school, where she helps out for an hour in the Literacy Unit, reading with a young boy who has learning difficulties. With the kids in tow, she then heads back home. On the way, Penny stops at a convenience store, where she buys her favourite magazine and spends a short time talking with the shopkeeper, smiling and laughing as she does so.
Once she is home, Penny sets her kids up with their homework before meditating for 15 minutes, letting go of the day. She then prepares dinner, watches some television with her kids and then ushers them to bed, where an impromptu pillow fight breaks out.
Once the kids are asleep, Penny curls up on the couch with her magazine. At 10 o’clock she prepares for sleep, promising herself that she will wake early again tomorrow and continue working on her assignment.
So, how many ways did you spot Penny making herself happy? Ultimately, the answer is subjective (we will all differ on what, exactly, makes us happy) but listed below are 20 actions Penny takes which research shows will contribute to her happiness:
- Sleep – Penny has ensured she gets 8 hours sleep. Sleep is essential to our feelings of wellbeing and overall happiness
- Start the Day Strong – By getting up and working on her assignment, Penny starts her day strong, completing a task she set herself the previous evening. Research shows that by beginning our day in a meaningful way (rather than getting up late and rushing around), we will feel empowered and on top of the world.
- Photography Class – By pursuing an interest in photography – and challenging herself – Penny is satisfying a desire to learn, as well as improving her skills in a pursuit which gives her pleasure.
- Eat Well, Eat Healthy – From the start of her day, Penny looks after her health by eating well. Healthy eating habits contribute to our emotional wellbeing every bit as much as our physical wellbeing.
- Exercise – Penny’s morning walk is part of her daily exercise program. Exercise not only releases ‘feel-good’ endorphins, it is essential to our wellbeing and helps us feel better about ourselves.
- Be Grateful – As she walks, Penny takes the time to count her blessings. When we take time out to be grateful for what we have, negative emotions are washed away and we feel more content.
- Be Mindful – Penny also pays attention to the world around her as she walks. Simply by being mindful and staying in the moment we can better appreciate the wonders of life.
- Be Forgiving – Rather than reacting angrily when her son forgets his football boots, Penny chooses to forgive him. Research has shown that the ability to forgive ourselves and others (rather than nurse our frustration and/or anger) is important to our levels of happiness.
- Get Lost In Your Undertaking – By committing ourselves to a task and losing ourselves in it, as Penny does when she gets to work, we experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, describes as ‘flow”, a state of mind where we become focused on doing something as well as possible, to the point of losing ourselves in it. Although we may not be aware of being happy at the time, we derive immense satisfaction from it afterwards.
- Nourish Your Connections – Penny meets up with friends for her weekly lunch. We should always make time for friends. They make us happy.
- Be a Good Listener – Penny takes the time to listen closely to her friend’s problems. Good listeners not only empathise better with others, they can derive real satisfaction from being connected.
- Be Kind and Compassionate – Penny buys a homeless man a cup of coffee on the way back to work. Small, random acts of kindness not only help others, they help us feel good about ourselves.
- Find Purpose – Penny helps out for an hour at her daughter’s school. Finding a purpose outside ourselves gives us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- Treat or Nourish Yourself – By buying the magazine she wants to read, Penny is treating herself. We should always try to find time in our day to reward ourselves in some small way.
- Smile – Simply by smiling when she talks with the shopkeeper, Penny is helping herself and the person she interacts with feel better.
- Meditate – Meditating for a small time each day, as Penny does, helps to make us calmer, healthier and happier.
- Be Playful – Penny ’s pillow fight with her kids is not only for their benefit, it’s good for her. Being playful keeps us young and happy.
- Take Time Out – Once her kids are asleep, Penny takes time out to relax on the couch and read her magazine, an enjoyable treat at the end of the day. Everyone enjoys relaxing!
- Prepare for Sleep – Just as Penny starts her day strong, she ends it strong, preparing for sleep rather than simply falling into bed. What this means will vary for all of us, but a simple routine of cleaning up any mess, brushing our teeth, and maybe even a few light stretches, can help us go to bed happy and sleep well, especially if these things become part of a set routine.
- Set Yourself up for the Following Day – The very last thing Penny does before she goes to sleep is to make a promise to herself that she will continue working on her assignment when she wakes. Knowing where the next day will start and what it will bring helps us feel more secure and contented.