Positive Psychology: 9 Habits of Happy People

happypeepsOften, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.

There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).

Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.

I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:

1. Be Kind, Always 

People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.

Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is).  It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses 

Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.

I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.

Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.

Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.

3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉

Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.

Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.

Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .

4. Laugh 

Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.

Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.

It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.

Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.

5. Live healthy and Move 

I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.

To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉

Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.

6. Nurture Positive Relationships  

Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.

The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.

Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.

7. Be Inspired to Grow 

There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.

8. Find a Balance 

Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not  all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)

Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.

For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.

9. Make an Effort  

Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.

If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!

Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …

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“When we try our hardest not to be a f°ker, but we end up being a bigger f°ker just to outf°k the f°ckers”: Can’t we all just get along?

After a recent rage induced build up, resulting in my first public argument with a total stranger, I got to thinking why the number of ‘assholes’ seems to have increased in our society over the last few years? Have they always been there? Am I just more susceptible to them now? Or worse even.. am I an asshole myself?

I did a little brainstorming session on the possible causes responsible for “assehole-itis” (which funnily enough is actually a term already defined on the internet).

1. Delusional Anonymity

Because the world is becoming vastly overpopulated, it’s only natural we’re running out of space. The morning rush on public transport with a sea of nameless faces, endless traffic jams and access to the Internet behind a hidden desk; all provide us with this false sense of anonymity. We can pretty much do what we want and no-one knows who we are or where they can find us, which in turn could lead us to forget about the consequences of our own crappy behaviors. You see, “we try our hardest not to be a fucker, but people we deal with everyday are fuckers, so we become a bigger fucker, just to outfuck the fuckers” . I read that somewhere a while back, I couldn’t tell you the original author, but they were spot on! I think most of us do try to be the best we can be, but even the best intentions have their limits.

Treatment for this does not require taking drastic measures, like hugging random strangers out of the blue, but rather starting with the basics, like the common smile. When making eye contact with someone, a smile goes a long way (please note: this can be brief and minimal – staring with an overbearing grin for longer than 4 seconds will most likely result in the person freaking out a bit and probably changing seats). If you accidentally bump into someone,that’s okay, sh*t happens, but excuse yourself and continue on your busy day.

When in the car, I know- I for one- have a very short fuse.. It drives me crazy when people don’t indicate, drive careless and don’t even get me started on what I think of texting and driving (idiots). It would be unrealistic to expect we all drive like saints following the speed limit to the dot with our hands on the 10 and 2 position at the wheel…and yes, it becomes a bit of an ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality on the road at times, but just be careful. It goes without saying that if your driving also puts others at significant risk, you’re not considering the consequences (and if you do think about the consequences but still don’t care, well then my friend, you’re an asshole).

2. Social Media overload 

It’s true that social media networks have given every man and his dog a platform to share their ideas. I remember the days where our news feeds were flooded with people’s lunches, holiday pics and baby/pet gushers… but lately the majority of posts seem to comprise more opinion pieces, scary documentaries and 500 different ways on how I will get cancer from pretty much anything I eat…. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the right for absolutely anyone to share their opinions and info (our differences is what makes us such a dynamic bunch!). However, when social media is no longer based on sharing information but rather aiming towards judging others for not thinking the same and downright spreading the hatred, that’s another story (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). This isn’t just limited to the big guns like politics and religion though, as people are becoming more and more divided on daily topics (what we eat, marriage equality, how we parent, the things we watch on TV, the fact we even watch TV at all, etc)

Since when did it become an intolerant “us vs them” mentality as opposed to the less aggressive “let’s agree to disagree” attitude? I’m not suggesting we all go hug a tree together, but unless someone’s opinion or actions are directly affecting your life in a negative way, do we really need to break each other down the way we do and create even more hatred in an already pissed-off society?

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder 

This is an actual mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder, and ends when the weather becomes warmer. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer. It seems to be related more to daylight rather than temperature.  That being said, of course, not every Grouchy Marx in winter is diagnosed with this disorder, but I have noticed a difference in behaviors during the colder seasons (especially on the train where people are sweaty from their thick coats and pressed together like sardines).

For those who truly struggle with this, treatments such as light therapy and medication (for more severe cases) are available. For the rest of us who are just grumpier in winter, we need to acknowledge that it’s not our neighbor’s fault that it rained last night nor can the woman on the bus help it that you slipped on that patch of ice earlier (unless she pushed you, then well..).

4. The Departure of Basic Etiquette 

Gone are the days of curtsying, bowing and throwing your coat over a puddle. But it seems that basic etiquette rules have reduced (and a few disappeared all together) for some people. Again, this doesn’t have to go to the extreme case of shaking everyone’s hand in the store and striking up a conversation, but knowing a few basic terms will help us go a long way and not shit on anyone’s day. Words such as “hello”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome” and “goodbye” are still in today’s dictionary… let’s use them more often.

I stopped counting the times where I’ve seen people buy something at the store without eye contact or any form of acknowledgement of the seller, or where strangers tell another stranger to ‘fuck off’ merely because they were standing in their way, and many more examples come to mind.

It’s okay to not be the friendliest, most social person in the world… just don’t be a dick.

5. Someone else’s story 

Of course, anonymous-fast and the furious-Facebook-users standing in the cold, are not the only ones that can act out and behave like an a-hole. We don’t know everyone’s backstory and you could be having the worst day of your life, with someone else’s feelings being the last thing on your mind. But be mindful, that this goes both ways..

Just be kind to people, always, as everyone is battling their own demons that we know nothing about…

The last thing I want, is to encourage a divided society of thin skinned wieners who get offended at the slightest hint of conflict. We can of course still clash with each and show our annoyance at others…we can be angry, grumpy, and downright moody when we need to.. but there are many ways we can do so, and being an asshole is just not a very productive one.

Disagree, just don’t be disagreeable…

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Introduction

Hi there,

Having been an expat for a large part of my childhood, it was only natural I fell in love with a foreigner and continued to live and work abroad. Originally from Belgium, I’ve lived in the US, Saudi-Arabia, Belgium, Australia, France, Poland and now we’re based in Hong Kong.
A psychologist by trade, having our first child made me shelve the practice for a while and I’m now doing some basic wellness coaching.

The aim of my “Life’s a Recipe Book” Blog is to take a different look at certain everyday situations (whether this is through humor, sarcasm or mindfulness). And as I enjoy cooking and writing I figured I’d mix both in a bowl (cheesy pun intended) and turn such situations into recipes.

I’ll do my very best to provide you with witty stories and useful life tips, but as there are so many amazing writers out there, it’s just about having a go right now… so here goes…

bon appetit!